Why Do I Have A Rash Around My Tattoo?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

Getting a new tattoo is normally an extremely exciting time, but it isn’t always without concerns. Any problems that arise when the tattoo is supposed to be healing can be worrisome, and one of the issues that can occur during the aftercare process is getting a rash on your new tattoo.

If you’d like to know what factors can commonly cause a rash to appear, and what you should do to treat a rash that’s annoyingly tarnishing your fresh new ink, then keep on reading.


Rash Or Normal Redness: What’s The Difference?

Every single new tattoo will display signs of redness and angry-looking areas of skin. Your body will have just been pummeled with needles for possibly hours on end after all. However, this redness should look quite flat and uniform across the tattoo and will quickly subside over the next few days and shouldn’t return. The area can also show signs of minor swelling, too, and this is also completely normal.

On the other hand, a rash can show up at any point, either straight after your tattoo sitting, further down the healing process, or even years into the future. These rashes also exhibit some telltale symptoms – most-commonly: pus-filled pimples, white spots, itchy lumps, excessive swelling and/or blotchy redness.

Is It Normal To Get A Rash On A New Tattoo?

Generally, most tattoos don’t break out into any sort of skin rash as they heal. Some tattoos do turn very red for up to 7 days after getting them (longer if the tattoo is particularly large), and this can sometimes be mistaken for something worse. However, there are some healing issues that can present themselves as an itchy rash.

You must remember that a skin rash can sometimes appear for no apparent reason, and can go away as quickly as it popped up. Below are some of the most commonly known causes of rash-like symptoms appearing around new tattoo ink:

Infection

Tattoo infections arise when harmful germs and bacteria gain access to the wound when it’s not kept sufficiently clean.

These issues are relatively rare, but if you suspect that your tattoo may have become infected, you must get it looked at as soon as possible by either your tattoo artist or a doctor for a more accurate diagnosis.

A rash within a tattoo that also looks infected due to the deep scabbing and broken skin

The sooner a skin infection is treated, the less damage it will do both to the appearance of your tattoo and also your general health.

It is sometimes hard to distinguish between a tattoo that is very red (which is a normal side-effect of the tattooing needle puncturing your skin thousands of times in a tattooing session), and a skin reaction or issue caused by an infection. This is why you should seek professional advice if you’re concerned.

This is why you should seek professional advice if you suffer from any of the below symptoms that also accompany common redness:

  • Tattoo redness that gradually begins to get darker and more prominent, instead of getting lighter and eventually disappearing
  • Redness that remains on your tattoo (or around it) for over a week
  • Redness that develops into a larger, more distinguishable looking rash
  • Redness that begins to grow outwards, further away from your tattoo instead shrinking
  • Redness that is accompanied by pain that doesn’t improve after a week
  • Redness that doesn’t disappear for over a week and is accompanied by a fever / high temperature
  • Redness that begins to form white pus-filled spots, or pimples that ooze frequently
  • Remember though that everybody is different, and healing times will vary from person-to-person.

While one person’s skin may heal extremely quickly – yours may simply just take longer. This means you shouldn’t begin to worry too quickly if you experience something slightly different from the ‘norm’.

However, if you do suspect that your tattoo may have contracted an infection, contact a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you’re able to get an infection treated, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Allergic Reaction

While an allergic reaction is very rarely as serious as an infection, it’s always best to get your tattoo looked at by either your tattoo artist or a doctor if you suspect that your skin might be having an allergic reaction to something it’s come into contact with.

An allergic reaction can sometimes only happen once or twice, but unfortunately, it can also hang around for a long time.

Although uncommon, some people can have allergic to the ink used during the tattooing process. Generally, colored inks are the most common cause of allergic reactions (especially red tattoo ink), but it can also happen with black inks, too.

These reactions can cause redness and pimples around your tattoo, although the appearance of skin allergies can vary greatly.

Skin Irritation

The skin around your tattoo ink can be extremely sensitive when the tattoo is new, and there are many things your tattooed skin can come into contact with which may cause irritation.

Minor irritation, however, is not normally anything to worry about, and as long as you stop your tattoo from coming into contact with whatever is causing the irritation, then the symptoms should go away on their own over the next several days.

Common skin irritation causes include certain soaps and lotions, tight clothing like bras and gym wear, and the rubbing together of skin (like at a joint, for example). This skin was recently traumatized from the tattoo procedure and compromises the skin barrier, making this skin more susceptible to irritation and allergic reactions until fully healed, which may take up to 1 year.

This is because artificial colorings and scents added to these products can be particularly harsh on the sensitive skin around a new tattoo. For this reason, it’s always recommended to choose lotions and soaps that are color and scent-free.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly 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.

Another common cause for irritation and adverse reactions is the tape that your tattoo artist uses to attach the wrap/bandaging to your tattoo once it’s complete. Redness caused by the tape should gradually disappear over the next day or two once it’s been removed.

Sun Exposure

Since the area around your new tattoo will be extra sensitive, any direct exposure to the sun can be extremely damaging. The UV rays can be very harsh on your tattoo and skin, and prolonged exposure can burn the sensitive area and produce irritation around the tattoo as the skin tries to heal the damage of not only the tattooing needles but also the sunburn.

It is always best to try to keep your tattoo out of direct sunlight for at least two weeks while you continue your healing routine. After this time, use a strong sunscreen on your tattoo or, better yet, wear protective clothing whenever you intend on going out in strong daylight.

Other Medical Conditions

Due to the trauma caused during the tattooing process, your skin around the area very often sees permanent changes to its structure. These changes can cause the area of skin to experience conditions that you may not have experienced before.

Some people have reported cases of eczema, psoriasis, and chronic dry skin appearing over the areas of their new tattoo years after completion, although they’d never previously suffered from these skin disorders before.

What Do They Normally Look Like?

Common redness can be mistaken for something worse, as can temporary minor irritation.

However, skin problems developing around tattoos do generally just look like the many other common skin disorders that can occur for various reasons. This means your tattoo may look blotchy with varying shades of redness, and it could also look/feel very dry in places. White spots can also appear in places whenever irritation occurs within the area.

How About On Older Tattoos?

While symptoms can occur around older tattoos too, they are generally not as serious as when they appear on brand new ones.

Infections are much less likely since the skin has already formed a protective layer around the area, and the skin will also be much less sensitive once it’s fully healed.

However, tattoos can develop allergic reactions to the tattoo ink many years after the tattoo was actually created, meaning that although it’s uncommon, your old tattoo can break out if an allergy suddenly develops around the area.

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

An old tattoo can also be irritated by various products and materials and can produce redness and bumps for this reason, too.  There is also a medical condition called Sarcoidosis that can present in the skin overlying tattoos.

If this happens to your old tattoo regularly, it’s best to keep an eye on what you’re currently treating your skin/tattoo with to make sure there aren’t any specific products or ingredients that could be causing these outbreaks to occur around the tattooed skin.

When To See A Doctor

If you’re concerned about a new rash, or if you have a rash that doesn’t reduce within a couple of days then it’s best to get the area looked at by a doctor. This is especially true if your tattoo is also very painful or swollen, or if it’s oozing or bleeding. These are all potential signs of infection and may mean you require a course of antibiotics to improve the situation.

Summary

Significant irritation isn’t a common side-effect of the tattooing procedure, so if you do get problems around your new tattoo which doesn’t disappear after a couple of days, it’s advisable to get it looked at by either your tattoo artist or a doctor so they can treat it promptly, especially if they believe there are any infections or allergic reactions present.

A tattoo rash isn’t always a cause for concern though, and hopefully with this advice, your new tattoo can continue to heal well, and come out the other side looking amazing.