Published on June 5, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on June 21, 2024 at 8:01

Tattoos have become increasingly popular over the last few decades. This information sheet explains how to prevent complications and keep your tattoo looking its best.

Prevention

Tattooing carries health risks, including local reactions such as a skin infection or reaction (e.g., an allergic reaction, unsightly scar tissue formation). Tattoos can also lead to the transmission of viruses or other microbes in the blood (e.g., hepatitis B and C, HIV, herpes).

To minimize these risks, it's a good idea to consult a health care professional before you get a tattoo, especially if you take any medications or have a chronic illness. Furthermore, when choosing your tattoo artist and studio, make sure they take the following safety precautions:

  • They disinfect your skin before tattooing.
  • They use sterilized or single-use equipment.
  • The environment is clean (e.g., surfaces are disinfected, hazardous materials are properly disposed of).
  • The tattoo artist uses disposable gloves and washes their hands.

Topical anesthetics are products applied before the procedure to reduce pain, such as tetracaine (Ametop) and lidocaine (Xylocaine, Emla). These are generally not recommended. In fact, they can make the artist's job more difficult and may even cause issues with wound healing.

Treatment

Slight discharge, swelling, or redness after getting a tattoo is normal. These reactions usually resolve within 2 to 3 weeks. However, if the situation doesn't improve, it may be a sign of infection.

Think of your tattoo as a wound. Be sure to follow recommended hygiene measures to prevent your tattoo from becoming infected. This document lists general recommendations. Please note that information may vary from one tattoo studio to another.

  • Take the time to wash your hands thoroughly before touching your tattooed skin, and avoid touching it unnecessarily.
  • If a dressing was applied during tattooing, find out when and how to remove it.
  • Once the dressing is removed, clean the tattoo 2 times a day:
    • Use a mild, unscented soap and water. Products specifically marketed for tattoos have not been shown to be more effective.
  • Dry the area gently with a clean cloth, such as a disposable gauze pad.
  • Apply an unscented moisturizer to the skin after cleansing. Choose a water-based formula, such as a cream or lotion.

Generally, tattoos take around 2 weeks to heal, but it can take longer. It's recommended to continue aftercare until your skin has fully healed.

Precautions

During the healing process, avoid touching, scratching, or pulling off any scabs that may form on the tattoo. This could delay healing and reduce the quality of your new tattoo.

To promote healing, it's best to avoid applying certain products to your fresh tattoo:

  • Alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for cleaning, as these can delay healing.
  • Topical products in ointment form (i.e., products containing petroleum jelly). These can interfere with healing and dull the tattoo's appearance.

Irritating fabrics such as wool, acrylic, and nylon should be avoided. Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing to prevent friction on the tattoo site while it heals.

To prevent infection, avoid submerging your tattoo in any body of water (lakes, rivers, the ocean, spas, pools, etc.) until it's fully healed.

In addition, it's recommended to take showers instead of baths while your tattoo is still healing. This is because there's a lower risk of the tattoo coming into contact with germs from the bathtub or other parts of your body. If you do take a bath, be sure to clean the bathtub thoroughly before use and rinse your tattoo as soon as you get out.

Avoid exposure to the sun or sunlamps for one month after getting a tattoo. Afterwards, it's recommended to use sunscreen or cover the tattooed area before exposure to the sun to prevent discoloration and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Don't apply transdermal patches over your tattoo, regardless of whether the skin has healed. We don't know if tattoos impact the efficacy of transdermal medications, or if these medications affect tattoos.

Before undergoing surgery, X-rays, or other medical procedures, inform the care team that you have one or more tattoos. The tattooed area may have to be avoided due to the presence of metals in certain inks, among other reasons.

You may have to wait a certain amount of time after getting a tattoo before giving blood or plasma.

When should I see a health care professional?

Speak with your health care provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Signs of infection, such as:
    • Significant redness that gets worse or doesn't go away
    • Pus
    • Unusual pain
    • Fever and chills
  • Signs of an allergy, such as:
    • A rash
    • Itching
    • Trouble breathing (wheezing or chest pain)
    • Swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, or mouth
  • Any other worsening, persistent, or new symptoms
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