More and more people have tattoos at any age. These are becoming less judged in the workplace and social, so we may see multiple co-workers or bosses sporting visible tattoos.
The popularity of this perennial body paint may lead you to believe that it is not that risky for your skin, but getting a tattoo carries minimal danger. Inserting an ink-covered needle into the skin has the potential to introduce foreign matter or infection into the body. Getting a tattoo from a tattoo artist or shop that doesn’t properly clean their tools, or doesn’t advise you on the proper instructions to keep it clean, can lead to skin conditions, infections, or other health problems.
Main causes of infection
Inkjet introduces substances into the body that our body does not usually find. Whether it is components of the ink or bacteria, viruses or other pathogens, there is a risk of an infection or reaction.
Bacteria and Viruses
Contaminated material and ink can introduce bacteria to the wound site. Several species of bacteria can cause infection after a tattoo, including staph and strep. Some of these pathogens respond to antibiotics, but others do not. If someone develops an infection and does not seek medical help, it can lead to complications, such as deeper infections and, in rare cases, sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
Anyone with signs of an infection, including fever and chills, should see a doctor. Conditions that can result from a bacterial or viral infection can be impetigo, cellulitis, herpes simplex, viral warts, atypical mycobacterial infection, syphilis, viral hepatitis, or HIV.
In some cases, using ink that is contaminated or diluted with non-sterile water can lead to infection.
A few years ago there was an outbreak of the bacterium Mycobacterium chelonae. This causes skin and soft tissue infections. Symptoms included a persistent rash with redness, swelling and scabs at the tattoo site. In this case, several tattooists had used a prediluted ink that had contamination before purchasing it.
To stay more calm, it is best to talk to the tattoo artist to tell you where the ink comes from.
How to know if a tattoo is infected?
The most common symptom of a tattoo infection is a bumpy, red rash or skin around the tattoo area. In some cases, the skin may be irritated by the needle, especially if we have sensitive skin. If this is the case, the symptoms should disappear after a few days.
But in the event that they continue for a week or more, it is recommended to go to the tattoo artist or an emergency doctor. Above all, it is advisable to go if we notice any (or several) of the following symptoms:
- Hot and cold changes
- Abnormal tremors
- Swelling of the tattooed area
- Pus leaving the area
- Red lesions around the area
- Red stripes on tattoo
- Hard and raised tissue areas
Infection is relatively rare after a tattoo, but other reactions can occur. For instance:
- New or worsening symptoms of an existing skin condition, such as psoriasis .
- Skin reactions such as allergic contact dermatitis and photoallergic dermatitis.
- A red, inflamed rash and scaly, scaly skin, depending on the reaction.
Treatments for infected tattoos
Mild bumps and rashes can usually be treated at home with an antibacterial ointment , proper cleaning , and rest.
If we have an infection, the treatment depends on the cause. The doctor may take a sample from the tattooed area or pierce a pocket of pus (if there is one) to see which bacteria or virus is causing the infection. In most cases, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to help stop the infection. In severe cases of tattoo infection, antibiotic treatments can last for weeks or months.
If the infection was caused by MRSA bacteria , antibiotics may not be helpful. If MRSA causes a pocket of tissue with pus, the doctor may drain it instead of giving antibiotics. In rare cases of infection, surgery may be required. If the tissue has died due to infection (necrosis), surgery may be necessary to remove it.
Persistent bumps, sometimes including itchiness and pain in the tattoo can be signs of an atypical mycobacterial infection. This requires long-term antibiotic treatment.
Can you avoid having tattoos with infection?
Before getting a tattoo, it is recommended to find out if we are allergic to any ingredient in tattoo ink. Be sure to ask the tattoo artist what ingredients their inks contain. If you are allergic to any of the ingredients, try a different ink or avoid getting the tattoo permanently. However, keep in mind that it can be difficult to know exactly what tattoo inks contain, as they are not regulated in any way.
Make sure all items that touch the skin have been properly sterilized. Feel free to ask the professional about how they sterilize their instruments and if they comply with safety regulations. Remember that it is your health that is put at risk and a bad decision can have a fatal result.
Other things to consider before getting a tattoo should be:
- Tattoo center license . Licensed facilities must be inspected by a health agency and meet certain safety requirements to remain open.
- Good reputation. It is recommended to visit some tattoo centers before deciding to get a tattoo. This will help you to know if it is really safe and shows confidence. Reading reviews on the internet or listening to word of mouth recommendations are good ways to assess whether it is a safe bet.
- Safety and hygiene standards. The tattoo artist must use a new, sterilized needle each time a tattoo is started. They should also wear gloves at all times and clean the stretcher before you get on.
If the tattoo artist gives instructions on how to care for the tattoo, we recommend that you follow these guidelines. However, if you were not informed about the care, it is best to call to find out what tricks to perform. In general, we must do the following to ensure that the area heals properly:
- Take off the bandage 3 to 5 hours after getting a tattoo.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water (pH neutral).
- Use a clean, dry cloth or paper towel to pat the tattoo dry (to dry and remove blood, serum, or excess pigment).
- Let the area air dry for a few minutes.
- Do not rub it dry, this can damage the skin.
- Apply an ointment (not a lotion), such as petroleum jelly or Bepanthol.
- Clean up the excess.
- Repeat these steps about 4 times a day for at least 4 days.
There are also other techniques, such as Saniderm or Dermalize, that allow you to stick a dressing on the tattoo and avoid having to wash it every few hours. Once the tattooed area begins to scab over, it is best to use a moisturizer or lotion to prevent the skin from becoming too dry or damaged. Don’t scratch or pinch the skin. This can cause the area to heal improperly, which can make us more susceptible to infection. Even part of the tattoo could be removed and we would need to review it.