Better Me

Is My Tattoo Infected? 5 Signs and What to Do About It

Tattoos are personal pieces of art you carry with you everywhere. Getting one is a unique experience and an investment. You may have spent a lot of time deciding on the perfect design and spent hours wincing as it was inked onto your body. However, the excitement and pride of sporting your new ink can quickly turn to worry if your tattoo gets infected. 

Tattooing can lead to an infection from bacteria, viruses or other unwanted substances entering your body through broken skin.

“Tattoo infections happen from poor hygiene during the tattooing process, dirty equipment or contaminated ink or simply bad tattoo aftercare,” said Samia Kadri, a family nurse practitioner with Banner Health.

Like any investment, taking care of your tattoo is important in maintaining its beauty and ensuring a positive experience. Don’t let an infection cast a shadow on the joy of your new body art. 

Read on to learn the signs of tattoo infection and the steps to keep your new inked masterpiece looking its best. 

Signs of a tattoo infection

A bit of pain and swelling is normal for a couple of days after getting a tattoo. But if the pain gets worse instead of getting better, that may be a sign it’s infected. 

“If your tattoo is infected, you may experience redness, swelling and warmth around the tattooed area,” Kadri said. “Seeing thick, bad-smelling yellow or brown pus (discharge) is a clear sign of an infection.”

The infection might appear across the entire tattoo or only a part of the tattoo. Other signs and symptoms of an infected tattoo might include chills, fever and sweating.

Treatment of an infected tattoo

Any signs of a potential infection should be checked out by your health care provider right away. It’s important to act as soon as you think something is wrong.

“Left untreated, the infection could result in excess scarring, which can affect the look of the tattoo,” Kadri said. “Worst case, an infection can be life-threatening, leading to loss of limbs or septic shock or death if not seen and treated by a health care professional.”

Your provider will examine your skin for signs of an infection or allergic reaction. Sometimes, they will swab the area to see which bacteria or virus is causing it. Treatment most often includes a course of antibiotics and creams.

“Early infection treatment can be with oral antibiotics, but if the infection worsens you may have to be hospitalized and given IV antibiotics,” Kadri said. “Severe, deep-skin infections may require short- and long-term wound healing and surgical treatments.”

Preventing future infections

To ensure your tattoo experience is as positive as the art on your skin, Kadri shared some tips to help prevent a future infection.

  1. Talk to your provider: If you have a weakened immune system, heart disease, diabetes, a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema or a bleeding problem, you should talk to your provider before going ahead with a tattoo.
  2. Choose a reputable studio: Research and read reviews to ensure the studio follows proper hygiene standards, uses sterile equipment and maintains a clean environment. 
  3. Verify artist credentials: Check to see if the artist is licensed and certified, how many years they have been practicing and what their reputation is online. Ask to look through the artist’s portfolio of work and walk you through the tattoo process.
  4. Follow aftercare instructions: A skilled tattoo artist will provide clear instructions on caring for your tattoo. This often involves keeping the tattoo clean, moisturized and protected from the sun.
  5. Moisturize: Treat your tattoo like a skin wound and keep the area clean and covered with a water-based moisturizer and bandage. Don’t use petroleum-based lotions like Vaseline or Neosporin as these can trap moisture and bacteria, which can lead to infections and scarring.
  6. Resist the itch: As your tattoo heals, you may experience itching. Resist the urge to scratch and apply moisturizer to the skin to relieve itching.
  7. Clothing matters: Choose loose-fitting, breathable clothes during the healing process to prevent irritation and promote airflow to the tattooed area. Tight clothing can rub against the tattoo, increasing the risk of infection.
  8. Watch for signs of infection: Contact your health care provider if you notice any abnormal signs.


Getting a tattoo is a personal piece of art you will want to admire for years. Don’t let an infection get in the way. Follow these simple steps to help your new tattoo heal so you can enjoy it. 

If you have concerns about your tattoo’s healing process, contact your tattoo artist, health care provider or a Banner Health specialist for advice. 

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