Tattoo Redness: Why Is My New Tattoo Red & Inflamed?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: May 17, 2023

Getting a new tattoo can be an exciting experience, but it can also be quite worrying if you’re not sure what is normal and what is not during the healing process.

Redness around a tattoo is something that many people get concerned about as they’re not sure whether their redness is normal or whether it’s the sign of a potentially serious problem. Usually, it’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

Is Tattoo Redness & Inflammation Normal?

Tattoo redness and inflammation is completely normal after getting a new tattoo, in most circumstances.

Tattoo redness
This is what normal tattoo redness looks like for a few days after the tattoo was drawn

When getting a tattoo, the process itself is very damaging to the area. The little needles punching in and out of your skin thousands of times a second all mount up to create quite a large wound, which can also sometimes equate to bruising around the area for up to several days later.

Your body’s natural response to this wound is to pump larger volumes of blood to the area in order to supply more nutrients, oxygen and important blood-clotting cells, so the wound has the best chance of healing as quickly as possible.

This natural bodily response happens almost immediately, and with this response comes plenty of redness and inflammation. Again, this is all completely normal.

Only small amounts of redness

Your tattoo can remain red and inflamed for quite a while depending on the size of it.

If it’s only a very small tattoo, the area may only stay red for a day or two, while if the tattoo is, say, a large back piece or half a sleeve that was done throughout the course of an entire day, the area can remain red and sore for up to a week.

When Isn’t Tattoo Redness Normal?

In the vast majority of instances, the redness within and around your tattoo will be nothing to worry about. However, it can sometimes be the symptom of a more serious problem. Issues that can cause unordinary redness include:


This is the most dangerous of all possible causes as to why your tattoo may be redder than it should be.

A very red and swollen area around what looks like an infected tattoo

Tattoo infections occur when the area has not been kept completely clean and sterile, and bacteria have entered the wound.

While rare, tattoo infections can be very dangerous – not only to your tattoo, but also to your general health if left untreated.

As previously mentioned, a tattoo that is just slightly red for up to a week (or sometimes a little longer), is normally nothing to worry about. However, if any of the below scenarios occur, then it might be worth getting your tattoo checked out.

  • The redness around your tattoo begins to get darker and more visible instead of getting lighter and gradually disappearing
  • The redness remains on/around your tattoo for over two weeks
  • ​The redness develops into a stubborn rash that doesn’t disappear
  • The area of redness begins to grow outwards, further from your tattoo instead of beginning to shrink and fade away
  • The redness is accompanied by pain that doesn’t begin to reduce after a week
  • The redness doesn’t go away and is accompanied by a high temperature or fever
  • The area around the tattoo remains very red and very warm to the touch for over a week
An infected tattoo

Remember though – everyone is different, and everybody’s healing times will vary.

While somebody else’s tattoo may heal extremely quickly, yours may just be taking a little longer, so don’t begin to worry too quickly if your experience isn’t exactly as described above. Various treatments can be used to bring down localized inflammation, such as taking an NSAID.

However, if you do seriously suspect your new tattoo may have become infected, contact your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get an infection treated, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Allergic Reaction

While this problem is not nearly as serious as an infection, it’s best to get your tattoo checked out by either your tattoo artist or a doctor if you believe your skin may be allergic to something that you have recently come into contact with.

Although rare, some people can be allergic to the inks and metals used within the tattooing process. This is more common for colored inks; especially red. It can sometimes happen with black inks, too.

Skin Irritation

The skin around a new tattoo can be extremely sensitive, and there are many things that can irritate it and cause it to go red.

When the artist wraps up your tattoo after the session, they will normally use medical tape to keep it in position. This medical tape can irritate the skin around your tattoo and cause redness and rash-like symptoms. Some people develop an allergy to the adhesive in the tape, causing an itchy allergic reaction in the shape of the tape outside of the tattoo.

The large area of redness around this tattoo means that it can have been irritated by something, such as latex gloves or a specific type of soap or lotion

Certain soaps and lotions can also irritate the skin and cause them to go redder than usual.

A common cause for this is artificial colorings and scent additives that are used in many soaps and lotions. Therefore, it’s always recommended to choose a soap or lotion that is color and scent-free (or only contains natural scents and colorings, such as coconut oil and cocoa butter).

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.

Sun Exposure

Due to the extreme sensitivity around the area of your tattoo, any direct sun exposure can be very damaging to your brand-new ink.

The UV rays are extremely harsh on your open wound and can cause inflammation and redness if the area is exposed for too long.

Do your best to keep your tattoo out of the sun for at least two weeks during the healing process, and after this time, always use a zinc oxide-based sunscreen on your tattoo whenever exposing it to direct sunlight. SPF30 or above is recommended.  Better yet, wear clothing while in the sun to protect your artwork from fading and UV radiation damage.

My favorite and most recommended sunscreen for using on tattoos is EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion.

This broad-spectrum sunscreen has all of the attributes required for not only protecting your tattoo amazingly well, but also for helping to keep it bright and vibrant. It’s suitably strong at SPF 50 and is water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Most importantly, EltaMD is extremely tattoo-friendly and doesn’t contain any fragrances, oils, or parabens.

Rough Tattooing

A tattoo artist who has been a little too heavy-handed in his work could have irritated the area more than normally expected, causing excessive redness. Other signs of an overworked tattoo include blowout, heavy bruising and increased swelling.

Redness Around An Old Tattoo

Even if your tattoo is past the initial healing stages, it can still experience redness (sometimes even years later). Normally, though, this redness isn’t caused by anything serious.

One of the reasons why old tattoos can go red is because of heat rash. Tattooed skin is generally always more sensitive to sunlight when compared to un-inked skin, even after many years.

This is due to the previous trauma the tattoo will have gone through, although redness caused by heat rash should go away after a short while, and will very rarely cause problems with the long-term appearance of a tattoo.

This red rash could be a sign that the tattoo has had an allergic reaction to something

Another reason why redness can occur in an older tattoo is that allergies to tattoo ink can take years to show up after the ink was initially inserted into the skin.

This means that redness and spots/rashes can show up over the tattooed area at any point if you happen to suffer from any sort of allergy to the ink.

This, however, is not always a serious problem, and doctors can normally provide ointment or medication to relieve the redness and treat the reaction.


In almost all cases, tattoo redness is completely normal. Most tattoos become slightly red and inflamed immediately post-procedure without much concern. However, there are some extreme circumstances that are not entirely normal, and if you suspect any problems with your new tattoo, it’s always best to get checked out by your artist or a doctor for your own peace of mind.

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