Tattoo Swelling: What to Do About Swollen Ink

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

After getting a tattoo, the area around the new ink goes through many changes as it begins to heal itself from the damage caused by the needles during the tattooing process. Tattoo swelling is one of the side-effects that may occur as the wound and the area around it begin to heal.

Tattoo Swelling: What’s Normal?

Along with redness and tenderness, swelling around a new tattoo is completely natural and shouldn’t affect the final appearance of your tattoo in any way. Although there is nothing wrong with letting tattoo swelling go down on its own, there are a few methods that can help to reduce swelling faster.

Although swelling doesn’t occur with every new tattoo, it definitely isn’t uncommon. Smaller tattoos generally swell less than larger ones, though.

In nearly all cases, a swollen tattoo is something you shouldn’t have to worry about. The majority of the time, the swelling will just be a natural process that your body sets up in order to aid healing around the wound.

tattoo swelling
Tattoo bruising and swelling

Swelling around a new tattoo usually occurs due to the trauma that is caused to the skin as the tattooing needles continuously penetrate the same area of skin many thousands of times a minute during the tattooing process. The swelling is an automatic healing response by your body as it sends more fluid and white blood cells to the area.

This fluid causes the area to swell and tighten, which restricts movement to ensure the area cannot twist and turn too much, which could potentially cause further damage. Essentially, the swelling is there to help you.

The white blood cells are sent to the wound to begin healing it from the outside-in (to protect against harmful bacteria), and these cells can often elicit an inflammatory response.

Tattoo swelling can come in many different forms, from just a very small lump underneath the tattoo, to large red areas of bulging lumps all around the area.

Bruising and Swelling

What Causes Tattoo Swelling?

Here are the most common reasons why your tattoo might swell up more than normal:

Tattoo Location

Certain parts of the body are more prone to swelling – especially any area below the waist.

Areas such as the ankles and the feet will generally become more bruised and swollen than other areas due to pooling fluids. Thanks to the power of gravity, blood and healing inflammatory cells have a harder time returning upward toward the heart.

Body parts containing much thinner layers of skin also seem to swell more than normal. These areas are much more delicate when compared to areas on the body with thick layers of skin, meaning that there is more of a chance of the needles penetrating more sensitive lower layers of tissue, which will prompt a bigger healing response from the body (and thus more bruising).

Swelling is also more noticeable on thinner areas of skin, anyway. If you had the same amount of swelling on your thigh and on your wrist, you will feel as though the swelling on your wrist was much greater, purely because there isn’t as much chunky tissue surrounding the wrist in the first place, meaning that every little change in feeling is going to be more pronounced.

You can help this swelling by walking as the calf muscles will help to pump the excess fluid back to your heart.  The worst thing you can do is stand.

Tattoo Artist Technique

Some artists are very gentle when using the needle, and in turn cause less damage, which will, therefore, require less of a swelling response from the body.

On the other hand, some artists are generally more heavy-handed and rough with their tattooing practices. It is these artists that can sometimes cause slightly more damage to your skin than normal, and potentially cause more swelling and bruising.


Taking any sort of blood-thinning medication before getting a tattoo can cause heavier bleeding throughout your tattooing session, and for a while afterward, too.

The veins underneath the top layers of skin will, therefore, bleed more than normal due to the thinner blood, and any larger than normal amounts of blood leakage will show as excess swelling and bruising below the skin.

Taking aspirin can also increase your chances of getting a swollen and sore tattoo. This is because aspirin (and similar medications) stop your blood from clotting as efficiently as normal, meaning more blood can leak and build up in pockets beneath the skin (which will appear on the outside as bruising and swelling).

Always consult both your tattoo artist and your doctor when thinking about getting a new tattoo while taking any kind of medication.


Although rare, tattoo swelling can uncommonly be a symptom of an infection.

If an infection is the cause of the swelling, the swelling itself will normally be partnered with either a rash, extreme redness, and/or skin that is hot to the touch and very sore with no signs of improvement over several days. In rare instances, the skin may also start to blister.

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

It’s always advisable to see a medical professional or your tattoo artist as soon as you suspect your tattoo may have become infected. The quicker the infection is treated, the less likely the long-term appearance of your tattoo will be affected.

How To Treat Tattoo Swelling

Although there would be absolutely no problem in letting the swelling reduce by itself, there is some action you can take in order to try and make the swelling go down even quicker than normal:


Icing the tattoo will constrict blood vessels and reduce inflammation, which will prevent as much blood from secreting around the site of the swelling.

You must remember, though, that the tattooed area of skin will be extremely sensitive, and therefore you should only compress the area very gently and make sure you don’t press the ice directly onto the skin. You should instead place a damp towel between the ice and the swollen area.


If the swelling is below your waist (on one of your legs or feet, for example), try to raise the area so it’s elevated above your heart when you lay down or sit.

You should be able to accomplish this by positioning a couple of pillows or towels beneath the area to prop it up. This can also be done as you sleep at night.

Elevation of the swollen area should help blood and fluids flow back into the surrounding areas of tissue instead of sitting around the site of the tattoo.


Being very active right after getting inked can mean your body could have a harder time at healing itself as effectively if it’s not able to relax and focus solely on regenerating the area around your wound.

Undergoing intense exercise straightaway can also increase swelling too. This is because your heart is having to pump harder than normal, meaning more blood is being flushed through the tiny holes in your veins that were created by the tattooing needles. While walking will help pump fluid from the lower part of your body back to the heart, excessive exercise and heat can increase inflammation.

Try to relax and take it easy for a few days after getting your new tattoo in order to give your body the best chance at healing as quickly and efficiently as possible.

More tattoo aftercare tips that can help with swelling can also be found here.

Old Tattoo Swelling

Again, although uncommon, old tattoos can also swell up for various reasons. This is normally associated with reactions such as allergies to the tattoo ink (allergic reactions to ink can occur many years after getting a tattoo).

The tattooed area will also generally always be slightly more sensitive than the normal area of skin surrounding it, meaning that harsh cleaning products and lotions could elicit a swelling response if your skin doesn’t take kindly to them (this is normally due to artificial colorings and scents within the products).

Sun exposure can also affect the sensitive tattooed skin, causing possible heat rash (which is often accompanied by swelling).

If you’re concerned about any swelling on your old tattoo, it’s always best to get it checked out by either an experienced tattoo artist or a medical professional.

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