7 Gross Things That Are Supposed To Happen When You Get A Tattoo & 7 That Aren’t

When you get new ink, you may be wondering what happens after you get a tattoo and what are some of the gross things to expect. As your skin recovers from being poked and prodded, there will be scabs and itchiness, redness and swelling, and possibly even some blood. But that's all to be expected, and it should pass in a week or two once your skin is healed.

Anything that passes over into the realm of the truly gross, however — such as scaly skin, lots of pus, red lesions, etc. — may be a sign the tattoo isn't healing properly, or that you have an infection. So don't be afraid to let the professionals know, if anything goes awry.

"Professional, experienced tattoo artists know tattoos and what is normal healing, so never hesitate to call or stop by and ask about any concerns you have," Leo Palomino, a tattoo artist at Atomic Tattoos in Orlando, tells Bustle. "They will be able to let you know if it is normal, [which] corrective actions to take, or when you should see your doctor or dermatologist."

Of course, it's unlikely you'll have a bad reaction — especially if you're doing things by the book. "Choosing a good tattoo artist, a reputable tattoo studio, and taking care of your tattoo are extremely important steps to ensure that your tattoo heals well, doesn’t get infected, and looks the way you want it to when it is healed," Palomino says.

By following the recommended aftercare instructions, you'll probably be able to avoid the mishaps below. Read on for a few gross things that are supposed to happen after getting a tattoo, as well as a few gross things that aren't, according to experts.


Should Happen: Light Bleeding During The Tattooing Process

Since a tattoo needle creates an open wound in the skin, don't be surprised if your skin bleeds a little during the tattooing process. "This is absolutely normal," Palominio says. Even though it might seem a little "gross."


Should Happen: Light Bleeding Once You Get Home

You might also notice blood droplets forming on your tattoo once you get home, which is also totally OK. "Just wash the area gently using your palm with a mild antibacterial soap and pat it dry," Palomino says. "Then apply ointment or your tattoo aftercare product of choice after it has dried completely. On average [bleeding] lasts about 24 hours."


Should Happen: Leaking Clear Fluid

Fresh wounds often leak a clear fluid called plasma, so don't be alarmed if you notice some liquid seeping out around your new ink. "It is caused by blood and plasma going to the site of the tattoo and beginning the healing process of scab formation," Palomino says. And it's nothing to worry about.


Should Happen: Ink Appearing To Leak Out

With that in mind, try not to be alarmed if seems like the ink is leaking out right along with that clear fluid. "It may look like you are losing a lot of ink from the tattoo as well, but you are not," Palomino says. "Some ink will get mixed with the fluid but it’s diluted and looks like more is coming out than there really is."

All you need to do is wait for it to stop on its own, and protect your furniture and clothing in the meantime. As Palomino says, "When you are sleeping you may want to use a sheet you don’t mind possibly getting stained or place a towel down first to try and eliminate making a small mess."


Should Happen: Light Scabbing

As your tattoo begins to heal, expect it to form a scab over the course of a few days. This is an entirely common process — but it can be an itchy one. So do your best not to pick or scratch at your skin.

Instead, "pat it gently and/or apply a light lotion to the area to avoid ruining your tattoo," Palomino says. You don't want to accidentally scratch out or pick off the ink, and mess up your new design.


Should Happen: Redness & Swelling

It's not uncommon for newly inked areas to swell up a bit, or appear red, due to the process of tattooing. As Palomino says, swelling shouldn't last for more than a week. But if it does, or you're in a lot of pain, definitely see a doctor.


Should Happen: Pimples On Or Around The Tattoo

If you notice pimples forming around your tattoo, never fear. This can happen if you apply too much ointment or lotion during the healing process, leading to clogged pores.

"Your healing tattoo needs to breathe," Palomino says. "If you apply too much ointment you will smother it, leading to bacteria building under the skin, which becomes inflamed and results in small pimples on or around the tattoo."


Shouldn't Happen: Pimples (Con't)

There is a chance, however, that the pimples are a sign of an infection. So if the blemishes can't be blamed on excess ointment, "another common cause is bacteria coming into contact with your tattoo, which is why it is extremely important to make sure you wash your hands prior to washing or touching your tattoo and make sure that what you use to pat it dry is clean as well," Palomino says. "Skip using your dirty towel hanging in the bathroom ... and grab a clean one."

And, again, give your tattoo time to breathe. "Make sure you do not leave it wrapped up too long either," he says. "You need to remove the covering/bandage as you are taught to do during your aftercare instructions provided to you."


Shouldn't Happen: Allergic Reactions

Some folks end up having an allergic reaction to the pigment in the tattoo ink, which may present in the form of an itchy rash. It's rare, though, and usually only happens with colorful inks, like red and yellow.

"In some rare cases, your allergy might cause small bumps to form across the tattoo," Palomino says. "If you have an allergy to colored food dyes, your risk of allergy to a tattoo pigment is higher and you should consider not using those colors in your tattoo."


Shouldn't Happen: Flaking Skin

Another sign of a possible allergic reaction is itchy, scaly skin. "Minor itching during healing is normal," Palomino says. "But, if you have an allergic reaction to the ink in your tattoo, it will probably show up as a red, itchy rash. Your skin could also flake and take on a scaly appearance." So keep an eye out for that, and let a doctor know.


Shouldn't Happen: Thick Scabbing

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

While a light crusty scab is to be expected as your tattoo heals, it's not as common to have a thick, heavy scab. This is a "sign that you are not properly caring for your tattoo by washing it at least twice a day and applying only a thin layer of ointment or tattoo aftercare product after it dries," Palomino says. "If thick scabs develop, they can remove the color beneath them."

So remember: don't pick. "Never prematurely remove a scab, [as] this will lead to damaging the tattoo as well," he says. Just leave it alone, and if you're truly concerned, let your tattoo artist know what's going on.


Shouldn't Happen: Bubbling Of The Skin

It's possible that the skin on and around your tattoo will bubble up, if it's not getting enough air. "If bubbles form on the surface of the fresh tattoo, it is caused by moisture getting trapped in your tattoo, usually from too much ointment," Palomino says. "You’re not allowing it to dry out completely and/or it’s been waterlogged."

To avoid bubbling, follow your aftercare instructions, and remove your bandage as directed. "It’s important that they’re allowed to dry out completely and not get waterlogged at any time," he says.


Shouldn't Happen: Pus

Your new tattoo will be at a greater risk for infection while it's healing, so make sure you keep it clean. "Make sure you do not touch your new tattoo, your friends do not touch your new tattoo, or even your pets," Palomino says. And again, follow your aftercare instructions.

Because, if a tattoo gets dirty, it can get infected. While a clear fluid is nothing to worry about, pus is something else entirely. If you notice that, as well as swelling, fevers, and chills, let your doctor know, Palomino says. You may need a course of antibiotics to kick an infection.


Shouldn't Happen: Lesions

Some tattoos can form red lesions, again due to a bacterial infections. And this is something you definitely need to let your doctor know about, so they can set you up with the correct form of treatment.

Of course, these more dire reactions aren't as likely to happen — especially if you take good care of your tattoo, and keep it clean. If notice anything odd, though, or feel like your tattoo isn't healing properly, let your tattoo artist know. They know what's to be expected during the healing process, and what shouldn't happen.