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How to Know if Tattoo is Infected

If you’re worried that your tattoo is infected, you can learn about signs of infection and treat potential infections in a few simple steps.

Getting a tattoo from someone who does not properly clean their tools or does not provide instructions for keeping your new tattoo clean can cause skin infections. Inserting an ink-covered needle into your skin may introduce infections into your body.

The best way to avoid infection is to keep your new tattoo clean and dry.

Here’s everything you need to know about detecting an infected tattoo, treating the affected area, and more.

Identify Symptoms of Infection

New tattoos will be painful, comparable to a severe sunburn. It’s difficult to tell whether an infection has set in within the first 48 hours of getting a tattoo, so don’t rush.

It is critical to follow proper tattoo aftercare procedures and to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. A rash or red, bumpy skin around the tattoo is the most common symptom of an infected tattoo.

Sometimes, the needle may simply irritate your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin. If this is the case, your symptoms should subside in a few days.

However, if these symptoms persist for a week or more, consult your tattoo artist or a doctor. Some signs and symptoms of an infected tattoo may include (1):

  • fever of 103 F (39.4 C) or higher
  • swelling of the tattooed area
  • waves of heat and cold,
  • red streaking from the area
  • abnormal shivering
  • pus coming out of the area
  • red lesions around the area
  • areas of hard, raised tissue

If your tattoo artist is using equipment and ink that are contaminated, the bacteria will spread into your skin. Staphylococcus aureus is bacteria that can cause infection after getting a tattoo (2, 3, 4).

Although these infections are treatable, staph bacteria frequently develop resistance to standard antibiotics, rendering prescription medications ineffective (5).

Staph bacteria, particularly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can enter the bloodstream and internal organs (6).

Symptoms such as bone pain, muscle pain, fever, extreme thirst, sores filled with pus or fluid in the infected area, and swelling of the infected area are common indicators of staph infection (7).

If you experience any of these symptoms after getting a tattoo, see your doctor right away or go to the emergency room.

Treating Infection

If you’re worried about your tattoo but aren’t sure if it’s infected, the best person to talk to is the artist who gave it to you. Show them how it’s going and ask them to assess it.

If you have severe symptoms, such as foul-smelling discharge and severe pain, skip this step and go to the doctor or emergency room right away.

In most cases, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to help you get rid of the infection. Antibiotic treatments can last weeks or months in severe cases of infection.

However, antibiotics may be ineffective if MRSA bacteria caused your infection (5).

If MRSA causes an abscess, your doctor may choose to drain it rather than treat you with antibiotics.

If your tissue has died because of the infection (necrosis), you may need surgery to remove it. However, surgery may be required in rare cases of infection.

Preventing Infection

If you’re going to get a new tattoo, do some research on talented artists in your area, and make sure the artist you choose has a license and that the parlor has an excellent track record of cleanliness and customer satisfaction.

Good tattoo artists prioritize cleanliness and will take steps to show you they are opening new needles and putting on gloves.

Similarly, a good tattoo parlor should make this clear and respect your concern for your own safety. It is best to use disposable needles and equipment.

If the shop re-uses materials, even if they’ve been sterilized, you’re more likely to get infected. Always follow the tattoo aftercare instructions right after getting a new one.

Tattoo artists will usually give you a tube of topical ointment or cream. Apply the ointment to the tattoo for at least 3–5 days after receiving it to keep it clean and healing properly.

It’s critical to keep a new tattoo as comfortable as possible during the first few days to allow it to heal naturally.

Don’t apply too much ointment because the skin needs to breathe. To avoid bleeding the ink, avoid wearing tight clothing that may irritate the tattoo area, and also avoid sun exposure as much as possible.

While it is uncommon, some people are allergic to certain ingredients in tattoo ink, which can lead to an unpleasant and painful experience right after getting a new tattoo.

If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, it’s best to get an allergy test first. However, black ink rarely contains anything that people are allergic to, but colored inks frequently contain other additives that can cause reactions in some people.

If you have sensitive skin, you can also request that the artist use vegan ink made from natural ingredients.


Tattoo infections are usually simple to treat and even simpler to avoid.

Most infections can be treated with antibiotics within a week.

However, some infections are extremely serious and require the use of long-term antibiotics or other medications.

Learning how to select a good tattoo artist and how to care for your tattoo are critical to ensuring that it heals properly.

Severe infections may require long-term antibiotic treatment, but they rarely cause long-term health problems.

However, it is possible to contract a viral infection with a tattoo needle, though this is uncommon.

In these cases, you may need more intensive, long-term care.

Naeem Durrani BSc
I am a retired pharmacist, nutritionist, and food system expert. My interests include medical research and the scientific evidence around effective wellness practices that empower people to transform their lives.


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