7 Signs of an Infected Tattoo

7 Signs of an Infected Tattoo

May 24, 2022 | Bridget Reed

Worried your tattoo may be infected? Don’t freak out. Infections can happen at different levels of severity, and can be taken care of swiftly if caught at an early stage.

Tattoo infections aren’t too common, but if you get one, don’t fret. You’re a normal person with a wound! Your body is naturally fighting infection at all times. Thank your body! Most times if an evil bacteria enters your wound your body will fight it off and win.

On the off-chance it doesn’t, we are going to load you up with some red flags that can act as signs of an infected tattoo.

1. Swelling

Your tattoo area will naturally swell and feel sore for the first day or two after getting your tattoo, but then that swelling should start to subside. If swelling persists or gets worse after those first couple of days – you might have an infection.

Gently press on the skin surrounding the tattoo to test how much it’s swelling. Does your tattoo feel tight? Does it hurt when you touch the area? If yes, this could be a sign you are experiencing swelling and might have an infection.

2. Tightness

Your first sign of an infection might be tightness. If your skin feels like it's not elastic enough and you have noticeable pain from it, your wound is probably swelling.

If it just feels a little tight or painful and you aren’t seeing swelling or redness, then it could just be that your tattoo needs to be moisturized. If your wound is dried out, then the skin will feel tight.

It’s important to keep your tattoo moisturized and the skin elastic so it can heal properly. Make sure you are using a safe product for moisturization like our CBD Healing Balm.

3. Pus

Tattoo oozing is normal for the first day or so after getting a tattoo. If your tattoo continues to ooze after this, then take a closer look at what’s coming out of your wound. The ooze might be pus, which is a sign of infection.

Pus is typically whitish-yellow or possibly a light brown-yellow. It will look different than your tattoo ink or blood coming out. It’s also typically accompanied by inflamed, red skin.

4. Redness

Again, redness is a side effect that is normal for the first day or so. If it continues, gets worse, or comes back later during the healing process, you might have an infection on your hands—literally if you got a hand tattoo.

Redness typically occurs at the edge of the wound. You will see redness lining the tattoo and spreading out past the lines of the wound. Usually it is a bit swollen, feels tight, and maybe even a little warmth and heat radiating from the wound.

You might also see a red streak, which is kind of the opposite of the redness that occurs at the edge of the wound. Instead you will see the redness radiating out from the middle of the wound. These are probably harder to spot with tattoo wounds, especially if it’s a colored tattoo.

5. Pain (like, PAIN).

Healing tattoos may be uncomfortable but they shouldn’t be painful.

If it feels like you’re getting a tattoo all over again—that’s a warning sign. The most painful part of your tattoo should be when you’re getting it done. Even when you use the best tattoo numbing gel on the planet, you’ll feel something.

If you’re feeling pain, pay attention. Take a good look at your tattoo and see if there are other signs of infection.

6. Heat

If you hover your hand over your tattoo and you can feel heat radiating off of it, this could also be a sign that your tattoo is infected. Typically, you are going to need another sign or two to pair this one with. If you’re feeling heat from your wound and nothing else is wrong, there’s probably nothing wrong.

If your tattoo is red, swelling, and hot your body’s probably trying to fight off infection.

7. Fever

Fever and chills? Seek medical advice.

If it’s not a common cold and your tattoo isn’t healing quite right, you might have an infection, homie. And if it’s giving you a fever, it may be more severe than a mild infection.

Consult a doctor.

How Does a Tattoo Get Infected?

The most common culprits of an infected tattoo are dirty needles or crappy ink—things that you can only control and prevent by picking a trusted tattoo artist. Choose an artist whose style you love and whose hygiene you trust!

If you see your artist trying to come at you with unwashed, ungloved hands, or they try to tattoo you without washing your skin… GTFO ASAP!

Sticking up for the health of your body and the future of your art is way more important than being afraid to speak up if the vibes and environment just don’t seem right.

If you trust your artist but you’re just a worrier, let them know! Tell them your fears and give your artist a chance to explain their sterilization practices. Make sure you feel in good hands before those needles come into contact with your skin.

Infections can also come from anywhere. If your immune system isn’t hitting 100s at the moment, then you are more subject to infection. If you rubbed your new tattoo, unprotected, up against some dirty subway pole, that can also suck for the future of your new wound.

Remember: All tattoos start as a wound. Protect them!

How To Treat an Infected Tattoo at Home

First, be certain your tattoo is infected. Don’t go picking and messing with your tattoo unless you’re sure it’s infected. Even when you think you’re absolutely sure it’s infected – it’s best to consult with a doctor first to figure out next steps.

But in the meantime, there are a few ways to stave off worse infection.

  1. Water-board your infected tattoo. Don’t power wash, but do run some warm water over it for a while in hopes to clear out some of the nasty bacteria that’s making a home in your new ink.
  2. Wash it gently with antibacterial tattoo soap. Do this once you’ve thoroughly water-boarded your tattoo and you feel that’s done all it can do. Use clean hands to lather up your infected tattoo and gently wash your tattoo out. Maybe twice so it’s squeaky clean. Pat dry with a clean towel.
  3. Apply a thin layer of our healing balm — make sure it’s not too thick so your wound can still breathe.
  4. Leave it uncovered unless it’s in an area that could easily get dirty. If you are staying home or in one place for a bit, it’s best to uncover your wound so that it can air out and dry up a bit. You don’t want it to get muy dry though so keep it moisturized with that healing balm.
  5. See a doctor. If your infection feels more severe than you feel comfortable handling – don’t handle it! Go to a trusted profession and get some help.

Mild infections can usually be cleared up in the comfort of your own home. Keep cleaning your wound (not too often!) and give it a day or two to feel better. If it doesn’t seem to be getting better, take yourself to the doctor.

Sorry champ, but there’s also a piece of art you want to preserve in there – better to get a professional opinion.

How To Prevent Infection

If your tattoo gets infected, that doesn’t mean you did a bad job! You did your best. Right? Please tell us you followed your aftercare instructions?

Following good aftercare instructions for your tattoo is the best way to prevent infection.

  • Clean your new tattoo with our CBD Foam Soap and warm water daily.
  • Use a trusted ointment, like our CBD Healing Balm, to help keep your new tattoo moisturized, soothed, and protected.
  • Keep it out of the sun for the first 14 days and protect it with sunscreen forever after that.
  • Don’t pick! Mostly, you’re gonna wanna leave it alone.

Need to brush up on the aftercare process? Read more on our blog.

Round Up

The worst thing you can do if you think you have an infected tattoo is freak out. Don’t worry, spotting the infection is the first step to healing it, and it can be healed!

So, if you are experiencing:

  • Swelling
  • Tightness
  • Pus
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Heat
  • Fever

You probably have an infected tattoo (lo siento, amigo).

Clean it out, protect it with an antibiotic ointment, and consult a doctor if necessary.

Once your infection is taken care of, get back to your aftercare regime and get that tattoo healed without any more road bumps!


Tattoos and infection: Think before you ink | Harvard Health

Wound Infection | Seattle Childrens

Caring for Cuts, Scrapes, and Wounds | American Family Physician

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