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FutureStarrTattoo Infection: Symptoms and Treatment
Authors of a 2014 study note that there have been cases of an overlap between squamous cell carcinoma and reactions at the site of a tattoo, raising concerns about skin cancer.
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The healing process for a tattoo can last between two to four weeks. After-care instructions vary among tattoo artists, but they all generally agree with following these strategies. After your appointment, your tattoo will be covered with a bandage or plastic wrapping, which can be removed after about six hours. Wash your tattoo three times per day with unscented antibacterial soap, pat dry with a paper towel, and cover with a thin layer of ointment.
Seeing pus draining from the tattoo site is the most specific sign that your tattoo is infected. Tonkovic-Capin says you'll definitely want to visit the doctor if this occurs in order to determine if the infection is one that can be treated at home or not.
If anything strikes you as odd or particularly painful, head to the doctor. It’s important to act as soon as you think something is wrong. “If you don’t care for an infected tattoo, you can risk an undesirable aesthetic appearance of the tattooed area or a disseminated soft tissue infection,” says Devgan. “Tattoos are controlled injuries to the skin, so they represent a break in the skin that must be treated like an open wound, with great care taken to keep it clean.”
Ideally, you'll have a problem-free tattoo. Follow Tonkovic-Capin’s advice for mitigating risk before scheduling your appointment at the tattoo parlor.
“Any part of the body is at risk for infection,” says Ife Rodney, M.D., F.A.A.D., board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, Maryland. “But places that are prone to more moisture and bacteria — like under the arms, the lip and feet — get infected more easily. Plus, the lower extremities, in general, take a bit longer to heal, making them more prone to infections.” However, you really want to be careful with hands and fingers. “We touch so many different surfaces every day, that these tattoos have the greatest risk, especially since we will need to control ourselves from using our hands while the tattoo heals,” explains Dr. Rodney.
“While most infections happen in aftercare, some start right at the tattoo parlor,” says Dr. Rodney. “Make sure the tattoo parlor is licensed because licensed parlors are regularly inspected by a health agency. Also, do a little research beforehand to check the safety/infection record of the artist and ask them about their equipment sterilization practices and protocols. They should have no problem with you seeing them in action.”
Even if your artist does everything correctly, what happens after you leave the shop is the key to healthy healing. "A tattoo that is properly done by a reputable artist is pretty resilient. It will heal if just left alone and kept clean," Lathe-Vitale says. "It's outside bacteria that can cause problems."
If you've ever gotten a tattoo, you know it's par for the course to have pain and swelling after a session — and both Dr. Rodney and Dr. Zeichner agree that's normal. However, anything beyond that may be cause for concern, especially if symptoms last for three or more days. "If you are developing significant warmth, redness or tenderness, you may have developed an infection," says Dr. Zeichner. "If you feel unwell or have a fever or any pus in the area of the tattoo, these can be other signs of an infection." You’ll also want to be aware of leaking ink or excessive itching, notes Dr. Rodney.
You cannot count on an infection to clear up without medication. "If not treated, infections typically do not resolve on their own,” says Dr. Zeichner. “They can grow in size and become quite large and tender. As with any skin infection, in severe cases bacteria can enter your bloodstream and actually become life-threatening." (Source: www.goodhousekeeping.com)
Even if your previous tattoos have healed perfectly, it's imperative to consult a board-certified dermatologist if you have signs of an infection. “Other conditions, like allergic reactions to tattoo ink, may present in a similar manner, with redness, itching and swelling,” says Dr. Rodney. “As treatment for both of these conditions is different, it is best to figure out the correct diagnosis ASAP.”
"If an infection occurs, it's not the end of the world," says Lathe-Vitale. "Once it's cleared up, the tattoo can always be touched up if necessary." The important thing is to wait until the skin has fully recovered because an infection can hinder the healing of the original tattoo. "This may mean that tattoo pigment is not properly retained in the skin,” explains Dr. Zeichner. "It's okay to get a touch up; however, I recommend waiting at least one to two months after the infection has resolved to make sure that the skin is fully healed.” At that point, Lathe-Vitale advises letting your artist visually inspect the tattoo to determine if it's ready.