Signs of Infection and Treatment Options

  • An infected tattoo often comes with symptoms such as redness, swelling, pus, and blisters.
  • If your symptoms are accompanied by fever or chills, you should seek immediate medical attention.
  • Treatment for infected tattoos most often includes a course of antibiotics from your doctor.
  • Visit the Insider Health Reference Library for more tips.

Tattoos can be a great way to get creative and express your individuality, but ink comes with risks. For example, until 6% of people with tattoos experience an infection from their tattoo at some point.

Infections can occur if your tattooist uses sterile equipment, the ink is contaminated, or if you practice poor tattoo care. Here’s how to identify the signs of an infected tattoo, and the steps you can take to treat it.

Signs of an infected tattoo

It’s normal to experience a bit of redness around your tattoo for a couple of days after you’re done. However, if any other symptoms appear, this may be a red flag.

If your tattoo is infected, you may experience the following symptoms, he says Christopher G. Bunick, MD, Yale Medicine dermatologist and associate professor Yale School of Medicine:

  1. Red that persists or worsens after a couple of days
  2. Heat to the touch
  3. Swelling
  4. Pain
  5. Pus drainage
  6. Small blisters
  7. Small pink or red caps

If the pain or swelling is severe, if there is a stinking pus, or if you have a fever and chills, you should seek medical attention immediately as it could be a sign of a life-threatening infection called sepsis, he says. Susan Massick, MD, a dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

How to Treat an Infected Tattoo |

How you treat an infected tattoo will depend on the type of infection. Here are the different types of tattoo infections and how to treat them:

  • Staph infections: This is the most common type of tattoo-related infection and is caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. If you have a staph infection, Bunick says this can typically be treated with a seven- to 14-day course of oral antibiotics.
  • MRSA: If your infection is due to MRSA, a type of antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus, then you may need a specialized type of antibiotic. Although the medication may be different, the course of treatment will be the same as a regular staphylococcal infection: about one to two weeks of oral antibiotics.
  • Atypical mycobacterial infection: Massick says that antibiotic treatment for this type of infection is longer, and you can be prescribed oral antibiotics for several months.

In cases of severe deep skin infections, surgical treatments that involve removing the skin with the tattoo may be necessary over antibiotics, says Massick.

Take away the Insider

Because of the possibility of infection, it is important that you minimize the risk as much as possible when you get a new tattoo. Massick says you should only look for reputable tattoo studios and professional licensed tattoo artists and be sure to ask questions about sterilization practices.

Equally important, follow the instructions after treatment. Take a good look at the symptoms of infection, and deal with them quickly to avoid a more serious infection that may require surgery and could ruin your new art.

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