7 Tattoo Complications That Are Surprisingly Common, According To Experts

by Eva Taylor Grant

Getting a tattoo should be an all-around positive experience, but it isn't without its risks. You are getting tiny abrasions in your skin, after all. So, before getting a tattoo, it's important to understand the risks of possible tattoo complications.

According to a study in the journal Contact Dermatitis, about 10 percent of people surveyed experienced short-term complications with their tattoos. That's pretty common. "Development of complications can occur based on the individual and how their body reacts to the ink or to the trauma of tattooing," Susan Bard, MD, of Manhattan Dermatology Specialists, tells Bustle. "It also depends on the cleanliness and sterility of the tattoo artist." It's also vital to follow the instructions your tattoo artist gives you for aftercare.

"It seems friends, family, strangers, and the internet all have their own suggestions for your aftercare, don’t listen to them!" Tyson Weed, custom tattoo artist at Divinity Tattoo in Phoenix, AZ, tells Bustle. Instead, keep track of what your artists says, and go to a doctor if anything looks seriously wrong.

"If any [complications] occur in your tattoo, see a board certified dermatologist immediately," Dr. Bard says. "Do not return to your tattoo artist seeking medical advice. If left untreated, many of the complications can lead to permanent scarring and that can ruin your new body art, so nip the problems in the bud as soon as they arise." Being proactive can help.

Here are seven tattoo complications that are surprisingly common, according to experts.



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One of the most common complications tattoo artists and dermatologists alike see on fresh tattoos is infection. According to dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, of Dermatology Institute and Skin Care Center, the most common infection is called "staph aureus." "It can cause a weeping, blistered or pustular rash, or a single painful abscess," Dr. Shainhouse says. "It is treated with local and sometimes oral antibiotics. It should be seen [by a doctor] right away." Pre-treating the skin where the tattoo will be, and proper aftercare afterward, help a lot.

Be careful, in particular, around pets. "Fastest way to get a staph infection is to let your pet rub up against a fresh tattoo," Jason Ackerman, Resident Artist at SOHO Ink, tells Bustle. Listening carefully to your tattoo artist can help you avoid these kinds of slip-ups.


Allergies To The Topical Lotion

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Turns out, not all tattoo aftercare lotions are created equal. You have to be really careful about what you put on your tattoo in order to avoid an allergic reaction.

"Contact Allergic Dermatitis can occur due to the topical antibiotic ointment applied after the tattoo process," Dr. Shainhouse says. "[...] It is best to keep the area clean with soap and water and apply plain [petroleum jelly] until it is healed up." Using other ointments can be dangerous. "[Antibacterial] ointments are horrible for healing a tattoo and will smother it while also causing redness [or] irritation," Ackerman says. So if you have been using topical solutions and are experiencing a reaction, check in with a dermatologist.


Allergic Reactions To The Ink

The ink itself can be the culprit in a lot of tattoo complications. If you are aware of having any metal allergies, it's important to talk to your artist about those beforehand. And it's always important to know exactly what the ink is made of that is going under your skin.

"Contact Allergic Dermatitis can also occur due to the actual tattoo ink," Dr. Shainhouse says. "Red and yellow ink are the most common ones to cause this reaction. Cobalt in blue tattoos can be a cause, too [...] The skin manifestation is usually itchy, raised pink bumps or scaly, pink, eczematous patches within that color section of the tattoo." Any itchy rash after getting a tattoo is a reason to see a doctor.


Skin Inflammation

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Another important aspect to keep an eye on before getting a tattoo in order to avoid potential complications is preexisting medical conditions. Those with autoimmune or inflammatory conditions, in particular, should be aware of potential hiccups in the healing process.

"[In people with these conditions,] tattooing can actually trigger a lump of inflammation in the skin, called a granuloma," Dr. Shainhouse says. "It is firm, can be single or multiple, sometimes itchy, and often follows the a specific line or shading from a specific color dye. It could be the dye (foreign body reaction) or the trauma from the tattoo that triggers the reaction. It is usually managed with injected or topical steroids." Knowing your body, meaning your health conditions as well as your allergies, can help you manage the risks of this.


Firm Raised Scar

Another thing you should think about before getting a tattoo is how your skin has healed in the past. If you've had complications with scars healing before, then this may be an issue again when you get a tattoo.

Look out for a firm raised scar, experts say. "Patients with the predisposition towards keloiding may develop keloids at the site of a tattoo due to the trauma," Dr. Bard says. Talking to a dermatologist can help you deal with this complication properly and safely.


Inflamed Scaly Skin

If you have an existing skin condition, getting a tattoo can potentially exacerbate it. To avoid this complication, you may want to discuss risks with your dermatologist or even your tattoo artist.

"Inflamed scaly skin in the area of the tattoo [is a potential complication,]" Dr. Bard says. "In those prone to psoriasis the trauma of a tattoo can trigger a flare in the area." If you're worried you may have a skin condition, it's a good idea to consult with a doctor before deciding to get a tattoo.


Excessive Bleeding

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One more thing to consider before getting a tattoo is whether you've had any issues with bleeding in the past. Tattoos should not cause major amounts of bleeding, but for people with certain disorders, this is a relatively common complication.

"Excessive bleeding or oozing may signify a bleeding disorder," Dr. Bard says. So if you realize your tattoo is bleeding more than your artist said to expect, it's important to see a doctor.

More and more people are getting tattoos, and most get by without an issue. But if you struggle with aftercare, or have certain medical conditions or allergies, healing from a tattoo might involve some complications. Keeping an eye on the healing process, and talking to a doctor whenever something unusual happens, is a good way to stay healthy as you adjust to life with your new ink.