Help! My Tattoo Has Problems

Getting a tattoo isn’t a pain-free process, but how do you know if the pain you’re feeling after getting inked is normal? Bad reactions can happen right after you get a tattoo and even years later, so you need to pay attention to your skin and know how to spot the signs of allergic reactions, infections, and other problems.

Allergic Reactions

One of the most common problems you can experience is an allergic reaction to tattoo pigment. Allergic reactions to red tattoo pigments are the most common.

If you are having an allergic reaction to your tattoo, you might get a rash that is usually red, bumpy, or itchy. These symptoms can crop up in the days after you first get your tattoo or can appear months or years later. You can most likely treat the area with a topical steroid ointment.

Another cause for itching and swelling is an autoimmune disorder called sarcoidosis. It can show up decades after you get your tattoo. And although it’s not directly caused by the ink, when it shows up in the skin, it tends to show up on the tattoo. A topical cream should help your skin symptoms, but if your case is severe, you might need an immunosuppressant medication from your doctor.

If you have eczema or psoriasis, there’s a chance your new tattoo can cause flare ups of your condition, including bumps, itching, and rash.



Infections aren’t as common as allergic reactions, but they can happen. Your tattoo can become infected for a variety of reasons, including the use of contaminated tools. This is why it’s important to find an artist and a facility you trust.

Dirty tools can pass bacterial infections like staph and impetigo, and in rare cases, serious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, from person to person.

Atypical mycobacterial infections can be caused by contaminated ink. Symptoms like lesions and red bumps show up on your skin, but only in the areas where the ink was injected. You may think you are having an allergic reaction, but you may need to get a skin biopsy done to get a proper diagnosis.

If you have this kind of infection, you might need to take antibiotics for several months to get rid of it.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Tenderness and pain
  • Swelling
  • Pus or any substance draining from the tattoo
  • Fever

How to Prevent Problems

Luckily, there are many ways you can minimize your chances of having a bad reaction to your tattoo:

  • Do your research and choose a professional tattoo parlor. Make sure your artist has the correct licensing for your state.
  • Ask to see the equipment before you get your tattoo and make sure everything is in sterile packaging.
  • Contact your tattoo artist if you notice something suspicious about your tattoo after you get inked. But if the problem lasts more than a week, make an appointment with a dermatologist.
  • Talk to your dermatologist before you get a tattoo if you have a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis.
  • Choose an area of skin that’s free of moles. Covering them up with ink will make it harder to diagnose any changes or problems that may come up later.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before touching your new tattoo or the bandage the artist will use to cover it. Leave that bandage in place for 24 hours.
  • Avoid scratching or picking at your tattoo while it heals since this can introduce bacteria into the skin.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 04, 2019



American Academy of Dermatology: “Caring for tattooed skin,” “Dermatologist warns consumers about complications linked to newer tattoo inks.”

DermNet New Zealand: “Tattoo-associated skin reactions.”

FDA: “Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?”

The New England Journal of Medicine: “Tattoo Ink -- Related Infections -- Awareness, Diagnosis, Reporting, and Prevention.”

HealthGuidance: “Tattoo Ink Poisoning Symptoms.”

San Mateo County Health System: “Tattoo Aftercare.”

Mayo Clinic: “Tattoos and Piercings.”

Free Tattoo Designs: “Tattoo Care.”

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open: “Squamous-cell Carcinoma Arises in Red Parts of Multicolored Tattoo within Months.”

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