If a pimple develops on your tattoo, it’s unlikely to cause any damage. But if you aren’t careful, how you attempt to treat the pimple can disrupt the ink and ruin your art. It could even increase your risk for infection.

Here’s how to properly care for pimples on new or old tattoos, symptoms to watch for, and more.

New tattoos are more vulnerable to breakouts. You’re essentially dealing with an open wound at this stage, and any influx of bacteria can lead to breakouts and other irritation.

You probably already know that popping pimples is a no-no. Although it may be extra tempting if a zit is tarnishing your new tattoo, doing so can cause more harm than usual.

Popping, scratching, or picking at the pimple exposes your tattoo to bacteria, increasing your risk for infection.

Even if you avoid an infection, the picking process can still mess up your tattoo by displacing the new ink. This can lead to patchy, faded spots in your design and may even result in scarring.

Although older tattoos are no longer considered open wounds, tattooed skin is still extremely delicate.

It’s best to not pick or pop any pimples that have developed. Even if the pimple has formed far above the ink deposits, picking can still lead to visible scarring. Infection is also still possible.

Quick tips

  • Don’t pick, pop, or scratch the affected area.
  • Make sure you use products free of fragrance and other additives.
  • Gently rub the product into your skin in small, circular motions. Scrubbing may damage the skin.

It doesn’t matter how old or how fresh your tattoo is: You should avoid picking, popping, and scratching at all costs.

You should continue to follow any aftercare instructions provided by your tattoo artist. This likely includes daily cleansing and moisturizing.

Cleansing helps remove the dirt and oil that can clog pores and lead to pimples. It can also strip natural moisture from your skin, so it’s important to follow up with a fragrance-free moisturizer. This will help keep your skin balanced and hydrated.

If you don’t moisturize, your skin may overcompensate by creating more oil. This can clog your pores and perpetuate your cycle of breakouts.

You shouldn’t use acne-fighting products on your tattoo without clearing their use with your tattoo artist. Although salicylic acid and other ingredients could heal your pimple, they may damage your tattoo in the process. Depending on the product used, you may be left with spotty colors or unexpected fading.

If the bump doesn’t clear within a few weeks, you may not be dealing with acne. Pimple-like bumps may be caused by:

Too much moisture

Tattoo artists often recommend using thick moisturizers to protect new tattoos. While this may be a sound approach as your tattoo is healing, you may not need such a thick product once your skin has healed. It all depends on your individual skin type.

If you have combination-to-oily skin, your skin may be more prone to pimples if you apply more moisture than your skin really needs.

Too much moisture can also cause bubble-like lesions on top of newer tattoos. These will likely clear after you switch to a thinner lotion or after your tattoo heals completely.

General irritation

Irritated skin can sometimes produce itchy, pimple-like bumps. These may be pink or red and occur in clusters.

Your skin can get irritated from climate changes, not enough moisture, or exposure to chemicals. Applying an oatmeal-based lotion or aloe vera gel should help soothe the area.

Allergies

Allergy symptoms can go beyond sneezing and sniffling. In fact, many people with allergies experience symptoms on their skin.

Large, red bumps that are extremely itchy may be hives. These are flat and appear in clusters. Allergies can also cause dermatitis (eczema), which consists of an itchy, red rash.

A sudden onset of allergy symptoms may be treated with an over-the-counter remedy, such as Benadryl. If allergies persist outside of the typical season for your region, you may need to see your doctor for more long-term solutions.

Infection

An infection is the most serious case of pimple-like bumps on your tattoo. Infections occur when germs and bacteria get into your skin, and then your bloodstream. Your skin may respond with boil-like lesions that can look like pimples at first.

Unlike the average pimple, these bumps are extremely swollen and can have yellow pus in them. The surrounding skin may also be red and inflamed.

If you suspect an infection, see your doctor right away. You can’t treat an infected tattoo on your own at home.

If pimples fail to go away with home treatments, it may be time to see your dermatologist. Widespread, severe acne cysts could warrant an antibiotic or other course of treatment.

See your doctor right away if you experience signs of infection, such as:

  • pus coming out of the tattooed area
  • areas of hard, raised tissue
  • swelling of the tattooed area
  • feeling waves of heat and cold

Don’t see your tattoo artist if you have an infection. They won’t be able to prescribe the antibiotics you need.

If your ink has been distorted from picking at the area, you’ll need to wait on any touch-ups until your skin has completely healed.