Tattoos and permanent makeup have been used by most cultures for centuries and recently have become very popular with both men and women. Most people who have a tattoo do not develop any problems. Home treatment can help speed healing and prevent problems.
A tattoo is a series of puncture wounds that carry dye into the different levels of the skin. At first, the tattoo may be swollen and there may be some crusting on the surface. It is normal for the tattoo to ooze small amounts of blood for up to 24 hours, and it may ooze clear, yellow, or blood-tinged fluid for several days.
Problems with tattoos include:
- Infection at the tattoo site.
- Minor skin reactions (contact dermatitis) or serious allergic reactions to the tattooing method or dye.
- Scarring, which can include raised scar tissue (keloids).
- Spread of infectious disease, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, tetanus, or HIV, if a dirty method or equipment is used.
It is important to consider all aspects of getting a tattoo. A tattoo should be considered permanent. Tattoo removal is difficult and may cause scarring. It may not be possible to completely remove a tattoo and restore your normal skin color and texture. If you have not yet made a decision about tattooing, see the Prevention section for information about tattooing.
Temporary tattoos, such as henna tattoos (mehndi), may also cause problems. Although most of the ingredients in temporary tattoos are safe for application to the skin, there have been reports of allergic skin reactions (contact dermatitis) to the ingredients in some of the tattoos. Henna tattoos are not approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Henna is a plant-based dye and is approved for use only as a hair dye.
Consumers and health professionals are encouraged to report adverse reactions to tattoos and permanent makeup, as well as reactions to temporary tattoos.
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Most minor swelling and redness (inflammation) from a tattoo can be treated at home. If your tattoo artist gave you instructions, follow them carefully.
If you did not receive instructions for skin care of the tattoo site, try the following:
- Stop any bleeding. Minimal bleeding can be stopped by applying direct pressure to the wound. It is normal for the tattoo site to ooze small amounts of blood for up to 24 hours and clear, yellow, or blood-tinged fluid for several days.
- Apply a cold pack to help reduce the swelling, bruising, or itching. Never apply ice directly to the skin. This can cause tissue damage. Put a layer of fabric between the cold pack and the skin.
- Take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton, to help treat hives and relieve itching. Be sure to read and follow any warning on the label. Do not use strong soaps, detergents, and other chemicals, which can make itching worse.
- Protect your tattoo with a
bandage if it might become dirty or irritated.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment, such as Polysporin or Bacitracin, to a nonstick bandage, such as Telfa.
- Apply the nonstick bandage with the ointment on it to the tattoo site. The ointment will prevent the irritated skin from sticking to the bandage. Putting the ointment on the bandage first will be less painful. If a skin rash or itching under the bandage starts, wash the ointment off and don't use that type of ointment again. The rash may indicate an allergic reaction.
- Apply a clean bandage once a day and change the bandage if it gets wet. If the bandage does stick, soak the tattoo area in warm water for a few minutes or take the bandage off under running water in the shower.
- Leave the bandage off with the skin open to air whenever you can.
|Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your pain:|
|Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
You can prevent problems from developing at your tattoo site. Review the following guidelines and information before making your decision to tattoo a part of your body.
- Consider the social or emotional risk of having a tattoo. Many people make negative value judgments about people with tattoos.
- Talk with people in different age groups about their tattoos. Some people change their minds after getting a tattoo. Since a tattoo is hard to remove, it is important that your decision to get a tattoo is one you can live with.
- Think about the reasons you want to get a tattoo.
- Do not get a tattoo while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Since a tattoo is hard to remove, it is important that your decision is made with a clear mind.
- Get a tetanus shot before your tattooing if you have not had one in the past 10 years.
- Choose an experienced person who uses sterile gloves and sterilized equipment to do the tattoo. Ask the person doing the tattoo how he or she cleans the equipment and what safety standards he or she follows. Sterile gloves and sterilized equipment should be used. A fresh pair of gloves should be used for each procedure. Make sure that the operator washes his or her hands before putting on the gloves. Ask the operator to change his or her gloves if he or she answers the telephone or does anything else during your procedure.
- Check the studio and see whether it looks clean. Ask the operator about sterilizing techniques and safety standards.
- If you think you may want to have your tattoo removed at a later date—dark blue, black, and red are the easiest colors to remove with lasers. Bright colors—blue, green, and yellow—are difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
- If you have had
allergic reaction to tattoo dye in the past, do not
get any more tattoos. Be sure your health professionals know about these
- Wear medical alert jewelry such as a MedicAlert tag if you have had an allergic reaction after a tattoo.
- If you have had an allergic reaction to the henna used in a temporary tattoo, you have a higher chance of developing a skin reaction to hair dye. Mix up a small amount of the dye solution and paint it on a small patch of skin, such as the inside of your wrist, to see if you are going to have a reaction to it. Do not use the hair dye if your skin turns red or itches.
- Check with your city or county health department to find out whether there have been any complaints about the studio you are thinking of using.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your health professional diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
- Who did the tattoo? Where is the tattoo artist located?
- When did you have the tattoo?
- Where on your body is the tattoo? Have you had previous tattoos?
- What are your main symptoms? When did your symptoms start?
- Were sterile instruments used?
- What home treatment measures have you used to clean or treat your tattoo? Be sure to include any nonprescription ointments or creams you have applied to the tattoo.
- What prescription and nonprescription medicines do you take?
- When was your last tetanus shot?
- Do you have any health risks?
|Author||Jan Nissl, RN, BS|
|Editor||Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA|
|Associate Editor||Tracy Landauer|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Alexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Last Updated||September 4, 2008|