Tattoos involve piercing the skin repeatedly with a hand-held machine which inserts tiny ink droplets to colour the skin. Because the needles cause one or more open wounds, getting a tattoo carries the risk that infectious pathogens could be introduced to the body, especially if the equipment used is not sterilised.
Your tattooist is legally responsible for your safety. As well as making sure you aren’t under the influence (see “Inked Under the Influence” for more details) they should be tattooing you with sterile equipment in a clinical environment. Check that your needles and tubes are new and have come from clean, sterile packages. The tattoo gun should have been cleaned using an autoclave and any fixtures and fittings that cannot be replaced or autoclaved should be cleaned after each tattooing session with commercial-quality disinfectant. The tattooist themselves should be wearing fresh gloves. If anything doesn’t look quite right, get out of there!
Check your tattooist out online and make sure you have a way of contacting them if anything goes wrong — if you have any concerns about the healing process, they should be your first port of call. After your tattoo session, they should walk you through a comprehensive aftercare procedure and provide you with any dressings or creams you might need. The aftercare process should be extensive and well-thought out.
And never go to a tattooist working out of their own home (unless they are licensed and have a dedicated room with the features above).
Although most tattoos heal without any issues, there are several complications that can arise. All tattoo colours excluding black (and especially blue, green, yellow and red) can cause allergic reactions. If you are having a coloured tattoo you should have an allergy test prior to your tattoo.
It is possible to get several kinds of skin infection, even if the tattooing environment was perfectly sterile, so follow your aftercare advice to the letter! There is also a risk of raised bumps and patches around your tattoo as a reaction to the ink. If the tattooing environment wasn’t perfectly sterile there is a risk of bloodborne diseases including Hepatitis and HIV. Always, always make sure you go to a licensed tattooist.
Many infections are easy to treat if you catch them early. If you’re concerned, always see a doctor. The after-effects of tattooing will die down after 48 hours (or longer for larger tattoos) and tattoos will often feel hot to the touch for several days. A little pain and heat for a few days after your tattoo is normal. A lot of pain and heat for a prolonged period of days could indicate an infection.
If your tattoo is radiating heat (and you can feel the heat without touching the tattoo) you should see your doctor as soon as possible. You should also see your GP as soon as possible if your tattoo is still severely itching after a week, has an unpleasant or odd smell, has been severely inflamed for several days, the tattoo is bubbling, you have a fever or you are in pain and the pain is increasing.
For more serious symptoms, such as shooting pains, increasing or darkening redness around the tattoo or the swelling around the tattoo not decreasing after a day you should go to A&E if your doctor isn’t available.
If your tattoo is discharging pus, has developed a sore or there are red streaks radiating from the tattoo you should go to A&E immediately — you may have a staph infection or blood poisoning.
Don’t be afraid to contact your tattoo artist if you have concerns about your healing process. They will have seen many infected tattoos over the course of their work and will often know exactly what is wrong, and it is in their best interests for you to have a quick recovery. If you are still concerned see your GP.
For most infections your GP will most likely give you antibiotics to treat the infection and may take blood for testing in case you have contracted a bloodborne disease. They will probably also give you a topical ointment to soothe the tattoo. Do not buy and use these without doctor’s orders — your new tattoo needs to breathe to continue the healing process. Make sure you take your full course of antibiotics and if the infection hasn’t gone down near the end of the course return to your GP for more.
You should also keep your tattoo dry. Do not swim until it is fully healed and try not to get it wet when bathing. Never expose an infected tattoo to direct sunlight and always wear sunscreen over any tattoos.
Clean Start Tattoo Removal offers a professional laser tattoo removal service in Epsom, Surrey. We use only the latest and most advanced laser technology to achieve the best results and ensure that tattoos no longer need to be permanent. Want your tattoo removed? Visit www.cleanstart.org.uk for a quote.