Yummy title, eh?
Well maybe this isn’t going to be the most sexy of articles, but bear with me. Reading this might just mean the difference between a kick-ass tattoo and something you’d rather never look at again.
A few months ago, I went to get a very small tattoo, which had an important meaning to me – the word ‘Soho’ to mark a special place in my heart for this area of London’s West End.
Now, tattoos can get infected for a variety of different reasons. For some unlucky people, it’s choosing to go to a tattoo studio that doesn’t follow the correct hygiene procedures or tattooing methods. Always research your studio first. We all know that.
When you tell people you’re suffering from a possible tattoo infection, their first reaction is to think you’ve been to a dodgy studio and picked up something nasty due to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. But that just isn’t always the case.
My tattoo was done at one of the most popular, trustworthy and licensed studios in London, and all the correct measures were taken to avoid infection – single-use needles, clean equipment, protective gloves and an experienced artist with a brilliant reputation. I trust the studio 100% and would trust the artists with any of my limbs, any day!
So how did it happen? It just happened. It only takes a tiny bit of something sinister to make its way into your tattoo during the healing process and you’re in for a fun time. That’s why aftercare is so important.
Was it riding my bike the next day? My dirty trainers? Something off a towel at home? My jeans rubbing? I can’t analyse how it happened, we’d be here forever, but I can let you know what to do if this happens to you.
This was the first time I had experienced an infected tattoo. I asked my loyal mate the worldwide web, who told me it could potentially kill me. If, like me, this is your first time reading this, you may well freak out.
So let’s just hold it there for just a second. Now, blood poisoning can be fatal, yes, as can HIV and other blood borne diseases that can be passed through infected needles. Whilst researching, I just kept coming across variations of the sentence ‘your tattoo can kill you’. But what are the facts?
If you’re like me, if you’ve been to a trustworthy, licensed studio you know well, if your artist use single-use needles and professionally sterilized equipment, if you think it’s unlikely that your blood has been in contact with a blood-borne disease, if you think you’re infection looks rather small and mild… you’re probably not going to die!
The size of the tattoo and how well you know the studio has a lot to say about how much you should freak out in this situation. There’s a difference between a full sleeve infection done by someone you don’t trust, and a coin sized tattoo infection that’s come from a studio that you know is cool.
For me, my small tattoo was done by someone I trusted, which meant that I felt confident in my body to fight this minor infection alone. I knew the cause must have been something I had picked up in the aftercare process, and therefore I could probably rule out any serious diseases.
Here are some pointers for you to follow if you think you’re finding yourself in a similar sticky situation with a relatively small tattoo.
Spotting Something Wrong
[Pictured: Day 1 & Day 3]
Luckily I managed to spot the signs of an infection early on. I noticed something was up at day 3 – by this point, you shouldn’t be experiencing too much pain or inflammation. Your tattoo should have calmed down and will feel like it’s on the mend. This wasn’t the case for me. Some of the things I spotted were:
- A red bruised effect around the black outline
- Parts of the tattoo (in my case, the black parts) were forming a raised thick scab
- The scab was oozing a clear yellow liquid
- It felt quite tender around the tattoo
- It didn’t smell great
- It was slightly swollen and felt a bit hot
First Things First
Firstly, if you think you have an infection, go and talk to your tattoo artist. Whilst it’s not their fault, a good artist will feel responsible for helping you get on the mend. My artist wanted to make sure I tackled the infection correctly and that I had all the support and information I needed. He wanted to be with me every step of the way and asked me to give him daily updates.
Treating Your Infection
With a small infection like mine, I listened to my artist’s instructions and followed these steps 3-4 times a day:
- Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap
- Wash the tattoo with mild anti-bacterial soap (once or twice a day, you don’t need to do this every time you apply the cream)
- Once washed, pat dry (very softly and carefully) with a clean towel or clean kitchen roll
- Apply anti-bacterial cream (a very small amount – the aim of the game now is to dry your tattoo out) and rub in completely
- Keep your tattoo aired, not covered
- Try and keep off your feet if the tattoo is lower than your knee or take similar precautions for whatever area of the body it is on
- Follow all the usual tattoo healing advice like keeping out of the water
- DO NOT TOUCH OR PICK IT
- Keep your immune system up by eating lots of healthy food, plenty of vitamin C, protein, fruit and vegetables and drinking lots of water – nights out and drinking alcohol WILL prolong your recovery time
You are now looking at a much longer healing time for your tattoo (at least 2 weeks – mine was 4). Your body will fight the infection and then the infected areas will form a thick scab which will eventually drop off. A week or so after it’s healed, you can go back to your tattooist and ask for a touch up if you need to.
When It’s More Serious
My tattoo was small enough that I was able to compare my infection to that of a small graze that you might get on your knee if you fall over. My artist and I felt confident that I was experiencing small infection symptoms that were manageable on my own.
Any extreme or large swelling, pain, heat, red marks or rashes, and your artist should recommend a trip to your GP or hospital ASAP. It might be that a course of antibiotics is the best thing to rid a severe infection, or they may need to investigate that it’s not something more sinister.
One of the main sentences you will see on the internet is that tattoo infections (like any infections in the body) can cause blood poisoning (sepsis). The symptoms of blood poisoning include a fever, high temperature, chills, shivering, a fast heartbeat, fast breathing and eventually sickness, dizziness and diarrhoea. If you experience any of these, seek medial attention immediately.
I have been getting tattooed for years now. I had never experienced a tattoo infection before and genuinely had no idea whether it was serious and rare, or common and manageable.
We live in a world where articles still exist online that highlight the fatal danger of tattoos and the risks of dirty tattooing conditions leading to deathly diseases. But after chatting to various artists this month I have come to learn a lot about tattoo infections and how common and treatable they are.
I think the best piece of possible advice is not to fester in the dark realms of the internet and your own thoughts – go and seek help. Help from your tattoo artist, from other studios, from people with tattoos who see this sort of thing all the time. If you are worried that you’ve been to an artist who isn’t trustworthy, see if any other artists in the area can offer advice.
Get lots of opinion, don’t panic, look after yourself, eat well, keep it clean.