When getting a tattoo, the possibility of infection is always something to keep in mind as your new ink heals — but especially so if you get a tattoo in an area that's prone to infection. While it's possible for all tattoos to have complications, there are a few locations on the body that tend to get infected more easily, and may need a bit more attention as a result.
"It is important to avoid getting an infection in your tattoo because it can lead to scarring in the area which can be permanent," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jeremy Fenton, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC, tells Bustle. "In addition, serious infections in the skin can even spread to the bloodstream and cause serious infections that can damage other organs or even be life threatening."
While that is most extreme of situations, by taking great care of your skin during the healing process, you can keep the area healthy, and avoid infection. But you still might want to rethink the location — especially if your tattoo artist thinks it'll get infected, or if you don't trust yourself to keep it totally clean.
As Dr. Fenton says, "If [you] aren’t willing to take diligent care of the tattoo while it is healing, [you] should probably stick to less risky areas." Here are a few tattoo locations that are most likely to get infected, according to experts.
Since it's impossible to avoid touching germ-y surfaces throughout the day, it greatly increases the risk of infection for hand and finger tattoos.
So you should either avoid this area when getting tattooed, or else prepare to take really great care of it. As Dr. Fenton says, "If possible, keep your tattoo covered when it is still healing to protect it from the environment." And of course, follow the aftercare instructions your tattoo artist will provide.
Your feet will also come in contact with a lot of dirt and germs, especially if you tend to wear open shoes, Dr. Fenton says. But this area comes with another risk.
"The feet can also harbor [their] own bacteria, so that can further increase the risk in that area," Dr. Fenton says.
If you're concerned, ask your tattoo artist for advice on avoiding germs and keeping this area clean while it heals.
3. Areas That You Shave Regularly
"Areas of shaving can be a risky area, because shaving further traumatizes the skin and can introduce bacteria," Dr. Fenton says. "This could include the legs, face, or underarms."
Of course, you can simply avoid shaving the area until your tattoo is fully healed, Dr. Fenton says. This will give the skin time to recover, before getting nicked and rubbed by a razor. But you have to really stick to it.
4. Lower Legs
Tattoos on your calves and ankles can also be at risk, thanks to their location.
As Dr. Fenton says, "The lower legs can be higher risk of infection just because the vascular supply is not as effective there. The farther you get from the heart, especially below the heart, the harder it is for the body to heal. For lower leg tattoos, it is very important to be extra diligent about wound care when the tattoo is healing."
Keeping the area clean can significantly lower your risk.
5. High Friction Areas
It can also be tough for a tattoos heal when they're on a "high friction" area of the body, "just because the wound is open for much longer," Dr. Fenton says. "These would be areas where there may be chronic friction from clothing, such as along the waistband, or areas of a lot of movement, such as on joints like elbows or knees."
You can still get a tattoo there, but it may require a short-term lifestyle change until it heals. "To promote healing and reduce infection, minimize activities or clothing that stretch the skin or cause a lot of rubbing," Dr. Fenton says.
6. Inside The Lip
Helping a tattoo heal — while avoiding infection — is all about keeping it as clean as possible. And that can be really tricky when it's inside your mouth.
"Tattoos inside the lower lip area really lend themselves to causing complications," Lisa Barretta, author of Conscious Ink: Mythical, Magical, And Transformative Art You Dare to Wear, tells Bustle. "The mouth is a haven for all types of bacteria so the risk of infection is high."
Your tattoo artist will be able to offer advice for keeping this area free of infection. But it may be one you'll want to avoid, if you're truly concerned.
As mentioned above, tattoos near your underarm can become infected if you shave over them before the area is fully healed. But the amount of bacteria in this area can also increase the risk.
"Certain areas of the body are more prone to infection just because they have more naturally occurring bacteria on the skin in combination with moist and enclosed spaces," Dr. Fenton says. "These conditions are ripe for bacteria to flourish [...] Even getting a tattoo near the underarm can increase the risk, so it is helpful to keep the nearby areas clean."
Due to the moist environment — and the bacteria that can exist there, as a result — tattoos near your bellybutton may be more likely to get infected as well, Dr. Fenton says. But as with other locations, keeping it clean and dry whilst it heals will significantly lower the risk.
9. Under The Breasts
Other infection-prone locations on the body include areas where skin folds onto itself, such as under the breasts, near the butt, and in the groin area. If you aren't careful to keep these areas fresh and clean, germs can get out of control and lead to an infection.
"In order to prevent infections in these areas, it is extremely important to follow instructions for cleaning the tattoo regularly, but also cleansing the surrounding skin with antibacterial soap to minimize the amount of bacteria in the region," Dr. Fenton says.
Keeping the area clean, dry, and unrestricted can help lower your risk of infection, as the tattoo heals. But it's also important to ask your tattoo artist a few questions, prior to your appointment, about their health and cleanliness practices — which can play a large role in how your tattoo turns out.
"A pre-tattoo consult with your tattooist should leave you feeling confident that all of your concerns have been answered," Barretta says. "But once you get the tattoo it is your responsibility to follow through with suggested care of you newly inked area." In doing so, you can ensure that your tattoo heals properly, and looks great for years to come.