Common Side Effects From Getting A Tattoo

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 15, 2019
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

Tattooing is an art form that’s centuries old. As the art form becomes a more mainstream and accepted method of expression, the quality and safety regulations in the industry have improved as well.

With advanced techniques for sterilizing equipment and standardized procedures for creating a tattoo, you can mitigate your risk of tattoo side effects. By knowing what to expect in your body and how to judge the quality of a shop, you can lower the chances of a negative outcome. 

Tattoo side effects include:

Why Are There Side Effects to Tattooing?

Getting a tattoo is an extreme form of expression. Modern tattoo machines mechanically pierce your skin with a needle. This needle punctures through the top layers of your skin until about 1/16th of an inch deep. As the needle exits your skin, it creates a vacuum that sucks the ink down through the perforation.

As with any skin wound, a tattoo breaks the barrier between your body and outside contaminants, like bacteria or blood-borne diseases. Infections and more serious diseases can result from this activity if you don’t take precautions before, during and after the session. 

On a more immediate scale, everyone’s body reacts differently to trauma. While the popularity of tattooing has lowered the perception of it being a very serious undertaking, the reality of it is that you’ll be sitting through an injury while getting inked. Side effects that are common to abrasions, like shock, nausea and a mild fever, may accompany your tattoo experience. 

What to Expect When You Get a Tattoo 

The side effects of a tattoo can range from cosmetic to long-term health effects. While getting the tattoo, you may experience physiological reactions. In the healing process, you may find yourself with excessive scarring, an allergic reaction, or a different type of skin flare-up. Post-tattooing, you may face more severe consequences like infection or disease transmission. 

Pain During the Tattoo

Of course, the most common side effect we expect to experience is pain during the tattooing. A tattoo is a series of puncture wounds, so expect pain accordingly.

Some areas of the body are thought to feel worse during tattooing, but factors like gender, age, and experience make the level of pain a hard thing to generalize on. As a rule of thumb, the consensus is that areas of your body with thicker skin, fewer nerve endings, and more fat are less painful to tattoo.

Nausea, Chills and Bleeding

Some have a strong physical reaction to tattooing, either during the process or in the hours following it. You’ll most likely experience bleeding at the puncture sites while the tattoo is in process and after it’s been completed. This is normal!

A bit of blood under the wrap is completely normal

You may also find yourself feeling queasy, shaking, breathing deeply, or experiencing chills. These are all pretty normal reactions to an injury. Such symptoms are a sign of shock and should be taken seriously but aren’t an undue cause for alarm. Needles make some people nauseous, and the experience of a tattoo isn’t a pleasant one for everyone. 

Treat these symptoms like you would other symptoms of shock. Hydrate, cover yourself in warm blankets to deal with chills and monitor your heart rate and breathing. 

Inflammation, Itching and Irritation

As you’re healing from the tattoo, you’ll also experience discomfort. If you had a big piece designed or one that required a lot of repeated passovers, you can expect some inflammation at the site. 

You’ll also likely experience irritation after tattooing and as it heals. Many people describe this as similar to a mild to moderate feeling of sunburn. 

Expect the tattoo to itch as it heals. Your skin will scab and dry out as it’s mending itself. This itching is a reaction to the skin repairing after the trauma. 

Scarring and Skin Reactions 

Some people, unfortunately, have uncommon reactions to tattooing. Those who are prone to excessive scarring may find that they develop keloids, which are raised scars that require surgery to remove. If you’ve had an issue with healing from a previous wound or developed a keloid after a piercing, be aware that you could face this issue. Not everyone who’s had issues before will have the same experience with tattoos, though.

Skin conditions like an allergic reaction or a flare-up of something like psoriasis are also potential side effects. If you have known allergies to certain chemicals, pigments or any of the equipment used in the process, like latex, please discuss this with your tattooist before your appointment. 

Infection and Blood-Borne Diseases

Getting a tattoo means that you’re opening your skin up to infection and/or more severe complications like blood-borne diseases. In extreme cases, you can catch Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and/or HIV. 

To mitigate any potential issues, check with your tattoo studio that it:

  • Is clean
  • Has an autoclave to sterilize equipment
  • Doesn’t use ink directly from the bottle to your skin
  • Uses needles only once and then disposes of them
  • Requires their artists to wear fresh gloves with each customer
  • Complies with any local, state, or federal industry regulations

Tattoo Side Effects Are Easily Mitigated

While the repercussions of a tattoo can range from superficial to serious, it’s relatively easy to mitigate these problems to ensure you and your ink remain healthy. Prepare yourself for some nausea and physiological reactions during the tattoo experience. That’ll help you manage the symptoms.

Remember that you can always say no to a tattoo shop or artist. Ask questions and be curious about hygiene. These strategies will help prevent the more serious tattoo side effects.

At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of tattoos turn out fine with only very minimal side effects suffered. Be cautious, care for your tattoo correctly and only use professional, licensed tattoo artists and you should have nothing to worry about.

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

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.​

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