Cysts Underneath a Tattoo

  • Written By Dan Hunter on January 7, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Cysts under a tattoo are caused by blockages that make fluids or macerated skin cells build up. They’re usually not dangerous, but if they get infected, you should see a doctor. Avoid cysts by paying attention to how you treat your new tattoo in the first days.

Are you seeing small, firm pimples forming underneath your tattoo? Maybe you’ve found a larger lump that feels infected or sore to touch. If so, you might be dealing with cysts.

What Is a Cyst?

A cyst is a sac or capsule inside your body that can be filled with a liquid, gas or semisolid substance. They’re very common and can happen anywhere in the body.

There are many different types of cysts, and they aren’t usually malignant or dangerous in any way. They’re caused by a blockage leading to fluids or macerated skin cells to build up somewhere in the body.

Milia, or small cysts right below the skin, are also common with tattoos. They can be up to 0.04 inches in diameter, white and look like pimples. They’re usually developed as a reaction to the obstruction of hair follicles or sebaceous glands.

Why Do Tattoos Cause Cysts?

If you’re dealing with milia or larger cysts, it means something has obstructed the natural mechanisms of the skin. It could be the trauma caused by the tattoo itself, or something you’ve done during the healing process.

Pores Blocked by Moisturizer

The pores might have become clogged if you’ve used a moisturizer that was too oily or heavy. Some people recommend ointments containing petroleum jelly or lanolin for the healing period. These kinds of products form a barrier on your skin that keeps bacteria out, but they don’t let your skin breathe.

Trapped Sweat

Cysts can also build up simply because of going to the gym and sweating directly after getting a new tattoo. The sweat gets trapped under your skin, especially if you’re using tight clothing or synthetic fibers. 


If you’re dealing with an infection, the tattoo artist could have their part of the blame. The tattoo needle might have introduced bacteria inside the skin, especially if the equipment wasn’t properly sterilized. This can also occur if the tattoo artist overworked the area, leaving the pores wide open for microbes to enter. 

Treatment of Cysts Under a Tattoo

If the cysts are small and don’t bother you, you can let them be. The smaller milia can clear up spontaneously, but be careful not to try to pop them on your own. Trying to squeeze out the milia with your hands will transfer bacteria to those pores that are still open. You’ll risk infection, and the cyst could get bigger.

There are different options of treatment available, from urea cream and salicylic acid to laser. Dermabrasion or chemical peeling are also used for milia, but they can end up draining the colors of your design. If the milia don’t clear up and they really bother you, consult a dermatologist.

If the cyst is larger and infected, you need to see a doctor to treat it with antibiotics and remove it safely. Even if the inflammation calms down, you’ll need to remove it, or it will keep getting infected.

When to See a Doctor?

You should let a professional do a checkup if the cyst starts growing or gets painful. 

If the skin feels hot to touch or you get a fever, you’re probably dealing with an infection. In this case, don’t go to your tattoo artist for advice or try to self-medicate. Infection is always best treated with antibiotics, and a doctor will be able to evaluate the situation safely.

How to Prevent Cysts

Never pick your skin or pop pimples; tattoos or not. In the case of your tattoo, you’ll have to be extra careful, especially during the first weeks of healing.

  • Sweating: In the first days, avoid excess sweating or clothing that doesn’t let your new tattoo breathe. 
  • Hygiene: Make sure it’s clean by washing it with antibacterial soap a couple of times a day. 
  • Moisturizers: Avoid ointments or creams that block the skin’s normal healing mechanism. Try to find options that are tattoo-specific.

Even after the initial healing period, tattooed skin remains very sensitive. Be careful with sun exposure or anything else that might damage your skin and make it more susceptible to germs. Use moisturizer and gently exfoliate to keep dead skin cells from clogging the pores.

The Takeaway

Cysts are common and usually not dangerous, and they can clear up on their own, but consider your dermatologist on ways to get rid of them. Never try to pop them on your own, and always seek professional help if the cysts get larger or infected.

Remember: cysts form because of a blockage in the hair follicles or pores. Pay attention to the moisturizers you’ve used on your tattoo, as well as to your habits. They might be the culprit of clogging up your skin.

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