Tattoos are an increasingly common sight. Some surveys suggest that a fifth of all Americans now have one or more tattoos. Tattoos are also becoming less controversial in the workplace in many industries. You may see several co-workers, your boss, or executive management sporting visible tattoos, even in a traditional office environment.
The popularity of tattoos may make you think that tattoos aren’t all that risky to get. But getting a tattoo does carry some risk: to introduce foreign matter or infections into your body, inserting an ink-covered needle into your skin has the potential.
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Getting a tattoo from a person or a shop that doesn’t properly clean their tools — or provide you with instructions for keeping your fresh tattoo clean — can lead to skin conditions, infections, or other health problems.
Here’s what you need to know about recognizing a possible infection, treating the affected area, and more.
How to identify an infected tattoo
The most common symptom of a tattoo infection could be a rash or red, bumpy skin around the area where you have got the tattoo.
In some cases, your skin may be irritated due to the needle, especially if you have got sensitive skin. If this is often the case, your symptoms should fade after a couple of days.
If you experience one or more of the following, see your doctor:
- feeling waves of heat and cold
- abnormal shivering
- swelling of the tattooed area
- pus beginning of the tattooed area
- red lesions around the tattooed area
- areas of hard raised tissue
Is staph infection likely?
A staph infection is one kind of infection you would possibly get with a tattoo. Although staph infections are treatable, staph bacteria can often develop resistance to regular antibiotics, making prescription treatments ineffective.
Staph bacteria, especially methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can also get into your bloodstream and internal organs. When this happens, other conditions can develop, such as sepsis, arthritis, and toxic shock syndrome.
Some common symptoms of a staph infection include:
- extreme thirst
- aches or pains in your bones or muscles
- high fever of 102 degrees F (38.9 degrees C) or more
- swelling of the infected area
- sores in the infected area and filled with pus or fluid
- impetigo (a honey-crusted rash)
- See your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if you have any of these symptoms after getting a tattoo.
How to treat an infected tattoo
Minor bumps and rashes can usually be managed at home with antibacterial ointment, proper cleaning, and rest.
If you’re experiencing an infection, treatment depends on the cause. Your doctor may take a sample of the tissue (biopsy) to see what 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 infection, antibiotic treatments may last for weeks or months.
If your infection was caused by MRSA bacteria, antibiotics might not be beneficial. If MRSA causes an abscess, your doctor may drain it rather than providing you with antibiotics.
In rare cases of infection, surgery is often required to repair your flesh. If your tissue has died because of the infection (necrosis), surgery could also be needed to completely remove the infected tissue.
Persistent, sometimes itchy, and painful bumps in your tattoo could also be signs of an atypical mycobacterial infection. this needs long-term antibiotic treatment.
How to prevent tattoo infection
Find out if you’re allergic to any ingredients in tattoo ink before getting a tattoo. Ensure you ask your tattoo artist what ingredients their inks contain. If you’re allergic to any of the ingredients, ask for a different ink or avoid getting a tattoo altogether. However, keep in mind that it may be difficult to know what exactly is in tattoo inks as they aren’t regulated in any way.
Make sure that all items that touch your skin have been properly sterilized. Don’t feel shy about asking the parlour about how they sterilize their instruments and meet safety standards. It’s your health!
Before getting a tattoo, other things to consider include:
- Is the tattoo parlour licensed? Licensed parlours have to be inspected by a health agency and meet certain safety requirements in order to stay open.
- Is the tattoo parlour reputable? It’s worth visiting a few tattoo parlours before you decide to get a tattoo to see how trustworthy the parlour is. Reading reviews online or hearing about the shop through word of mouth are good ways to gauge how safe the shop is.
- Does your potential tattoo artist follow safety procedures? Every time they start a tattoo, your tattoo artist should use a new, sterilized needle. They should also wear gloves at all times.
Follow the instructions closely if your tattoo artist gives you instructions on how to take care of your tattoo. If they didn’t provide you with clear guidelines afterwards, give them a call. They should be able to provide you with aftercare information.
In general, you should do the following to make sure the area heals properly:
- Three to five hours after you’ve gotten the tattoo, remove the bandage.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water.
- Use a clean, dry washcloth or paper towel to pat the area (to dry it and to remove blood, serum, or excess pigment).
- Let the area air-dry for a few minutes. Don’t rub it dry. This can damage the skin.
- Put an ointment (not a lotion), such as Vaseline, on the area. Dab off the excess.
- Repeat these steps about four times a day for at least four days.
Any activity that compromises the skin barrier or introduces foreign materials into the body increases the danger of an infection or other reaction. Many people experience a small inflammation, but if symptoms persist, an individual should see their doctor.
A tattoo-related infection can usually be resolved with Antibiotic treatment. Without treatment, complications of a skin infection, like a deeper infection, and, rarely, sepsis may occur in some people. When this happens, this can be life-threatening.
Before choosing a tattoo, people should learn the maximum amount as they will about the possible short term effects and how to prevent a problem.