How To Deal With Uncomfortable & Itchy Tattoos


Arm Tattoos @chelsearuggiero

You’ve had your tattoo for a while, you made sure to follow the aftercare instructions to the T, and you regularly apply sunblock to your design to make sure the sun doesn’t wreak havoc on it.

But, even if you’ve followed the rules of tattoo care, you can still experience the unpleasantness of raised and itchy ink. What do you do?

Find Out the Cause

A rash or an uncomfortable, irritating feeling on a tattoo doesn’t necessarily mean it’s infected. 

It could be a reaction from your environment or a change in weather. Pay attention to the symptoms and try and locate the cause. 

Body Tattoos @miryamlumpini

While it could be a simple cause of seasonal allergies, it’s always a good idea to consult a dermatologist to get expert advice – plus, they can prescribe something that will lessen the irritation whenever this reaction rears its uncomfortable head. 

However, a raised and itchy tattoo could also be a symptom of something more dangerous. 

What To Do If It’s An Allergic Reaction

Just because you’ve had your tattoo for a while, it doesn’t mean you can’t still get an allergic reaction – a delayed sensitivity to ink can happen years after you get a tattoo.

Plastic surgeon David L. Cangello of Cangello Plastic Surgery in New York City told Allure that this can happen in response to red ink,

“The exact etiology is unknown, but it’s thought that the red ink acts as an antigen, or something that stimulates an immune response from the body. Cells called lymphocytes infiltrate the skin in the area of the antigen — or red pigment in this case — and cause an inflammatory reaction.”

Butterfly Tattoo @anka.tattoo

A good rule of thumb for getting a tattoo, especially a tattoo with color in it, is to determine how likely it is that your body will have an adverse reaction to it. Healthline advises,

“Before getting a tattoo, find out if you’re allergic to any ingredients in tattoo ink. Make sure you ask your tattoo artist what ingredients their inks contain. If you’re allergic to any of the ingredients, ask for a different ink or avoid getting a tattoo altogether.” 

When you have an allergic reaction to your ink, visit your doctor – they will be able to advise the best course of treatment based on the severity of your reaction.

What To Do If It’s An Infection

NYC dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield told Byrdie that when it comes to a potential infection, it’s best not to self-diagnose,

“Some factors a dermatologist will look at are where in the ratio are the raised areas located? Are they only in one color of the tattoo or multiple colors? Did it occur shortly after the tattoo was placed or years later? Are the bumps soft or hard? Your doctor can evaluate the lesion and determine if a biopsy is needed for diagnostic purposes.”

According to Healthline, minor bumps can usually be taken care of with a topical ointment, but a more serious infection would need the help of antibiotics. 

What happens if you ignore a potential infection and just hope for the best? Well, it’s best that you don’t do that. Dr. Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, a double board-certified dermatologist, told Men’s Health,

“If you don’t care for the infected tattoo, it sometimes may heal on its own, or it may progress with fever, chills, [and] malaise to becoming critically ill, resulting in sepsis that may lead to death.”

What To Do If It’s A Skin Condition 

If your tattoo becomes extremely itchy, it could be due to a skin condition like eczema. 

Eczema is a condition that causes your skin to become dry, cracked, and itchy. The cause of eczema is unknown, but it usually gets triggered when a person is allergic to something they’ve come into contact with.

According to Medical News Today, while tattoos do not necessarily trigger eczema, the condition could flare up in the area of the tattoo months or even years after going under the needle.

“People who have eczema may wish to speak with a doctor before getting a tattoo. They should also consider asking the tattoo artist about using inks for sensitive skin. The tattoo shop should provide aftercare instructions and an ointment for use during healing.”

Of course, if you already have a tattoo and eczema is making you want to scratch the ink out of your skin, there are options. Healthline advises

“hydrocortisone cream to alleviate itching, an oatmeal bath for itchiness and inflammation, oatmeal-containing body lotion, cocoa butter, [and] prescription eczema ointments or creams, if recommended by your doctor”.

Don’t Take Things Into Your Own Hands

Having a rash on your tattoo can be extremely uncomfortable, and you might have a consistent urge to scratch at the irritation – don’t. Intense scratching can open up your skin, make the rash worse, and could even lead to an infection or worsen the infection if you already have one. 

Also, never try at-home tattoo removal in an attempt to get some relief. Even if you are allergic to the tattoo ink, removing it at home will only leave you in the same state or with some serious health consequences. The FDA hasn’t approved any at-home tattoo removal product. 

Removery points out,

“Home tattoo removal methods simply don’t safely meet these requirements. Anything powerful enough to reach deeply into the skin to extract ink particles is extremely hazardous in untrained hands.” 

An internet search of DIY tattoo removal will bring up options involving salt, knives, and acid. No matter how irritating your tattoo feels, you don’t want to replace it with completely scarred skin or a gaping hole.

Leave tattoo removal to the professionals. 

For more about what to do if you hate your tattoo, click here.

Just because you’ve followed all the aftercare instructions after getting a tattoo, it doesn’t mean your ink will never bother you. Pay attention to how your tattoo feels – a small rash when the weather warms up is one thing, but an angry rash with goo coming out it something different.

If something doesn’t look right, pay your dermatologist a visit.

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