Why Does My Tattoo Feel Hot?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Congratulations—you’ve just gotten the tattoo you’ve always wanted! Now comes a critical time in your tattoo’s life—aftercare—which is a vital part of ensuring your new ink stays healthy. You essentially have an open wound on your body, and without proper care, it’s all too easy for bacteria to make its way into this fresh wound.

During this time, you may notice your tattoo feeling hot to the touch. If so, you’re probably wondering whether this is normal, or if it’s a sign of things going awry,

What’s Normal in a Healing Tattoo?

First, let’s talk about what you can expect from a healing tattoo. After all, it can be hard to distinguish what’s normal and what’s not during the healing process, especially if you’ve never been inked before. Here are some common after-effects:

  • Oozing. Expect to see your tattoo leaking plasma, which is a normal occurrence as a wound starts to heal. This fluid should be clear in color, though sometimes ink will seep out of the tattoo, as well.
  • Itching. You’ll probably experience some itchiness during the first week or two, which is common in healing wounds. 
  • Peeling. Usually, beginning after the second week, your tattoo may start to peel. Our skin sloughs off as a response to injury, so this is nothing to be concerned about. Just avoid picking at the peeling skin.

Is a Hot Tattoo Normal?

Now let’s go over the issue of hot tattoos. Is this a normal part of the healing process?

During the first few days, you may notice that the area feels warm. This warmth is due to inflammation, which results from the trauma of having the tattoo done, and it’s a sign of healing. This after-effect is common in people who get more extensive pieces, especially those that require a lot of ink to fill them.  

However, this warm sensation should not increase over the days. It should gradually diminish, and this warmth should be mostly gone around five-to-seven days after getting the tattoo. Additionally, your tattoo should not radiate heat. If the tattoo (and occasionally the area surrounding it) is hot to the touch, this is a pretty accurate sign of an infection.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish between normal heat and the heat that an infection causes. A good general rule of thumb is that if your tattoo feels hot and angry, both inside and out, you may have a problem. In this case, you should contact the tattoo parlor for guidance, and you may have to seek medical treatment.

Infected tattoos can display a wide range of symptoms

Signs of Tattoo Infection

Often, infections are accompanied by more than one symptom. If your tattoo is hot and you’re also experiencing one of the following signs, you should reach out to a medical professional:

  • Swelling: New tattoos generally swell a bit, but swelling should diminish after a few days, not increase.
  • Blistering: Your tattoo should not experience blistering at any time. Pay attention to red or raised sores filled with fluid, which are a sign of infection. 
  • Increased scab size: Light scabbing is to be expected. However, if your tattoo is infected, you may have higher levels than average of discharge, which causes thick and round scabbing. You may even notice a yellow or green crust.
  • Discharge: Clear, runny fluid coming from your tattoo is normal; thick yellow, white, or green fluids are not.
  • Odor: A strong scent can be a sign of infection, often caused by the abnormal thick discharge mentioned above.
  • Pain: It’s common to experience discomfort and soreness at the tattoo site in the first few days, but worsening pain is often a sign of infection.

General Signs of Infection

Other general signs of infection may accompany the symptoms that occur at the tattoo site. If you notice any of the following signs along with a hot tattoo, contact a doctor right away:

  • A fever of 102F
  • Body weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme thirst

How Tattoo Infection Is Treated

How your tattoo infection is treated depends on what kind of infection you have.

In the case of allergic reactions (which produce small, hive-looking bumps), antihistamines are a standard course of treatment.

On the other hand, mild skin infection is generally treated topically using antibiotic creams or ointments. More serious infections can require the use of oral antibiotics or IV antibiotics.

Final Thoughts

The vast majority of people who get tattoos will have a smooth aftercare experience, and true infection is rare. It’s normal for your tattoo to be warm to the touch for the first few days, but if it’s hot to the touch—and if you have other signs of infection—make sure to contact your doctor as soon as possible.