Getting a tattoo is a fun time. You plan out your design, anticipate sitting in the chair, worry about your design, and imagine what it will look like when it's done. You don't typically think about anything going wrong once the perfect piece is placed on your arm, but it can.
Tattoos are a wound, and like any other wound, you need to care for it a specific way to ensure that it heals properly. The tattoo site is susceptible to bacteria and other germs. There are several types of skin infections that can take hold of your tattoo, if it is not cared for correctly or your artist didn't take the proper precautions, like improper sterilization or cross contamination. Even if you follow all the guidelines, there are still things that are out of your control like an allergic reaction or keloid scarring.
MRSA tattoo infection
Bacteria live on your skin at varying degrees all the time. Every time you get a cut or a scrape, you are opening yourself up to bacteria, including staph infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). With a tattoo, you are adding hundreds, possibly thousands, of tiny breaks in the skin, opening it up to MRSA. At first, MRSA can present itself as a small opening or pimple, but it can grow into a large open wound or abscess with leaking pus, which will require medical intervention with antibiotics.
To limit your chances of developing MRSA in your fresh tattoo, ensure that you follow all the guidelines provided by your artist, like applying ointment or dressings, and avoiding submerging it in water. Additionally, you'll want to ensure that the facility that you are using is reputable and sterile to avoid cross contamination.
Remember to practice good hand washing, as this is the most effective way to prevent MRSA, outside of making sure your artist runs a clean facility. Always wash your hands before coming into contact with your tattoo, and remind anyone else who may come into contact with your tattoo (for example, if someone is helping you care for it or change the dressings the first day or two) to wash his or her hands as well. Well-meaning friends may also want to touch your awesome new tattoo, but steer clear of others touching it if they haven't washed their hands first.
While some swelling and skin changes are normal during the healing process, you might be developing a skin infection if the skin is slimy or sickly looking. If it is also tender to the touch, you might want to visit your physician to see if a round of antibiotics or other treatment is necessary.
While skin infections aren't unavoidable completely, you can ensure that your artist or facility has an OSHA or Red Cross certification for blood-borne pathogens. Additionally, ask about their sterilization techniques and ensure all packages and areas used for the tattoo are cleaned, and proper materials are used.
Very Infected Tattoo With Thick Scabs
Scabs are a normal part of the healing processes for tattoos; however, thick crusted scabs surrounded by inflamed flesh or cracked areas signal an infection. These cracked areas can split and bleed, leaving deep craters in the tattooed skin. If the skin is hot to the touch and tender, or you are running a fever or have chills, you should see a physician immediately. You might need to get a round of antibiotics or other treatment.
In addition to following aftercare instructions to the letter and checking the facility, you might also want to look into the dyes used by the artist. Some dyes can be contaminated and cause the infections themselves. Or, it might be the chemicals within the dye that made you more suspectible to a skin reaction. Therefore, it might be helpful to ask your artist about the dyes they use before sitting in the chair.
Grossly Infected Tattoo
Infected tattoos may exhibit different symptoms, from crusty scabs to tenderness, redness and itching. Severe infections may show symptoms of fever, extreme tiredness, and chills/body aches. These types of infections need medical intervention immediately because they can be signs of a serious condition known as sepsis. Additionally, if you have red streaks coming from your tattoo, this could be a sign of blood poisoning known as septicemia.
To help prevent these conditions, on the first sign of infection, visit your doctor to have your tattoo checked out. Additionally, follow the aftercare guidelines provided by the artist and ensure your tattoo stays clean and dry. This includes replacing coverings if they get dirty or washing with antibacterial soap. While infections can't be 100 percent prevented, following all the guidelines can help to lessen your risk.
Keloid formation at the site of a tattoo
Keloid scars on a tattoo are something even the best tattoo artist can't avoid through thorough sterilization and precautions. That's simply because keloid scars are dependent on the person, and even doctors aren't exactly sure why they form (though heredity plays a part).
A keloid is a large overgrowth of scar tissue or collagen that forms to repair the skin when a tattoo needle pierces it. A keloid can even spread beyond the tattoo itself, since the scar tissue is growing out of control. If you or a family member are prone to keloids, you might want to seriously rethink your tattoo. Additionally, if one has already formed, doctors can treat it with steroids, but that doesn't guarantee it will go away.
Tattoo inks contain several different ingredients like aluminum and iron oxide. Any of these chemicals have the possibility of causing an allergic reaction. This is particularly common with red inks. When you have an allergic reaction typically the area will become red and irritated, and the sight might also become swollen. Other symptoms can include bumps, flaky and scaly skin, as well as granulomas (small bumps).
It can be helpful to talk to the artist about the inks they use and discuss any specific chemicals that you might be allergic to. This can help you pick an alternative color that might not cause a reaction. You can also research inks online to find ones that have a lower reaction and discuss these with your artist as well.
Tattoos can be found on all walks of life, and you can typically find a tattoo parlor or two in every city or town. While tattoo parlors are becoming mainstream, you always want to ensure that the place you go to get that butterfly tattoo you've been eyeing is reputable. Just like you wouldn't go to just any hospital to get surgery, you shouldn't just assume that any parlor will be clean and following all regulations. You need to do your research to ensure that they follow all the precautions to help you avoid serious skin complications like infections, scarring, and even MRSA.