How to take care of a new tattoo (and signs of trouble)
Last Modified: August 23, 2023
Family Medicine, Safety & Prevention
Tattoos are often synonymous with self-expression. Those willing to sit still long enough can have whatever words or images they want placed in the spot of their choosing. This body art doesn’t seem to be slowing down, either, with individuals of all ages proudly displaying designs on their bodies. While the finished product can be meaningful or beautiful, playful or profound, there are some serious risks you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about getting some ink.
Tattoos are a series of puncture wounds that carry ink into different levels of the skin, making permanent changes to the body. Because the skin is being wounded and injected with a foreign substance, issues can arise, including:
An infected tattoo can be serious. With an infection, the area around your tattoo may be painful, swollen, red and hot. You may see red streaks or pus at the tattoo site and/or have a fever. Or you may notice swollen or tender lymph nodes.
If you think you have an infection, call your doctor right away. Early treatment may prevent health problems or damage to your tattoo. Here’s some steps you should follow when treating your infection:
Some people have an allergic reaction to the ink used for their tattoo, with reactions ranging from mild and annoying to sudden and life-threatening. An allergic reaction can be local and produce swelling, itching or hives in the area of contact with the allergen. Local reactions can usually be handled at home and are not life-threatening.
However, sometimes a local allergic reaction can be the start of a more serious whole-body reaction to the allergen. More serious reactions can include swelling of the throat, nausea or vomiting, wheezing or problems breathing (anaphylaxis). This is a medical emergency. Emergency care is always needed for an anaphylactic reaction.
Allergic reactions do not always occur the first time you are exposed to the tattoo ink. For example, if you have had three or four tattoos without any problems, you could have an allergic reaction to the ink the next time you get one. Each time you get a tattoo, you must watch for signs of an allergy and get help based on the severity of your reaction.
Most minor swelling and redness (inflammation) from a tattoo can be treated at home. If your tattoo artist gave you instructions, follow them carefully. If you didn't get instructions for skin care of the tattoo site, try using these:
If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, go to a reputable studio. Look for or ask about the following:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages everyone to report adverse reactions to permanent and temporary tattoos and permanent makeup to the FDA's MedWatch. This agency monitors problems caused by cosmetic products and ingredients, including color additives. To report a problem, contact MedWatch online or at 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20852-9787
Take the decision to get a tattoo seriously. Not only could it cause health issues, but it’s also a permanent addition to your body, as tattoo removal is difficult, may cause scarring and may not be completely successful. That’s why it’s critical to think about all aspects of the procedure, including the risks and complications you may face.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.Tattoos are often synonymous with self-expression. Those willing to sit still long enough can have whatever words or images they want placed in the spot of their choosing. This body art doesn’t seem to be slowing down, either, with individuals of all ages proudly displaying designs on their bodies. While the finished product can be meaningful or beautiful, playful or profound, there are some serious risks you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about getting some ink.Stop any bleeding.Apply a cold pack.Take an antihistamine to treat hives and relieve itching.Protect your tattoo with a bandage — especially if you think your tattoo might become dirty or irritated.