A tattoo rash can appear at any time, not just after getting new ink.

If you aren’t experiencing any other unusual symptoms, your rash probably isn’t a sign of anything serious.

Allergic reaction, infection, and other underlying conditions are usually accompanied by other easily identifiable symptoms.

Here’s what to watch for, how to treat your symptoms, when to see a doctor, and more.

New tattoos always cause some irritation.

Injecting ink-covered needles into your skin spurs your immune system into action, resulting in redness, swelling, and warmth. These symptoms should fade once your skin cells adjust to ink.

A rash, on the other hand, can develop at any time. They’re usually characterized by itchy bumps, redness, and swelling.

A rash may sometimes even resemble acne, with pus-filled pimples that can leak when you poke or scratch them.

Skin tends to get irritated when clothing, bandages, or other objects rub against it. This can also happen if bandages or clothing around your tattoo are too tight.

Irritation can cause a rash to form around your tattoo, especially if you scratch it or don’t properly take care of the tattoo.

Simple irritation usually doesn’t cause any symptoms outside of general discomfort, especially when things rub against your skin.

Treatment options

You may find it helpful to:

  • Use a cold compress. Wrap an ice pack or frozen bag of vegetables in a thin, damp towel. Press it against your skin for 20 minutes at a time to relieve discomfort.
  • Moisturize your skin. Use a gentle, unscented lotion, cream, or other moisturizer to prevent further irritation.
  • Wear cool, loose clothing. Let the area around your tattoo breathe to prevent discomfort and promote healing.

Pimples happen when oils, dirt, bacteria, dead skin cells, or other debris block hair follicle openings. This can cause breakouts of small, fluid-filled bumps.

Getting a tattoo can expose skin to foreign matter that gets stuck in hair follicles, resulting in a breakout.

You may develop:

  • whiteheads or blackheads
  • red, tender bumps
  • bumps that leak fluid or pus
  • swollen bumps that are painful when you push on them

Treatment options

Many pimples go away without treatment.

Before you treat a breakout, closely follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions. If you use certain acne products on your tattoo, you may interfere with the healing process and mess up your new art.

You may find it helpful to:

  • Shower regularly. This can keep your skin from getting too oily or sweaty.
  • Wash gently around your tattoo. Be sure to use unscented soaps and warm water.
  • Avoid wearing anything tight. Wear loose clothing around your tattoo until the breakout clears.

If your symptoms persist, see a doctor or other healthcare provider. They may be able to prescribe antibiotics or other medication to help clear your breakout.

Some people may be more susceptible to allergic reactions. Tattoo-related allergies are often triggered by certain ink ingredients.

In addition to bumps or rash, you may experience:

  • itching
  • redness
  • skin flaking
  • swelling or fluid buildup around tattoo ink
  • scaly skin around tattoo
  • skin tags or nodules

More severe reactions can affect your entire body. See a doctor or healthcare provider if you begin to experience:

  • intense itching or burning around the tattoo
  • pus or drainage oozing from the tattoo
  • hard, bumpy tissue
  • chills or hot flashes
  • fever

Seek emergency medical attention if you develop swelling around your eyes or have difficulty breathing.

Treatment options

You may find it helpful to:

  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and other OTC options may help reduce overall symptoms.
  • Apply a topical ointment. OTC ointments, such as hydrocortisone or triamcinolone cream (Cinolar), may help soothe local inflammation and other irritation.

If OTC methods aren’t working, your healthcare provider may be able to prescribe a stronger antihistamine or other medication to help ease your symptoms.

Some ink ingredients react strongly to sunlight, causing photodermatitis.

Inks with cadmium sulfide are the most likely to react to sunlight. Cadmium sulfide contains reactive oxygen species that make your skin susceptible to heat reactions as it breaks down in the skin.

Black and blue inks are also vulnerable. They contain black nanoparticles that easily conduct light and heat possibly causing a sunburn in the area.

In addition to bumps or rash, you may develop:

  • itching
  • redness
  • skin flaking
  • oozing

Treatment options

You may find it helpful to:

  • Use a cold compress to relieve discomfort.
  • Apply aloe vera to soothe your sunburn and moisturize your skin.
  • Take an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to reduce itching and other allergy symptoms.

If these methods aren’t working, your healthcare provider may be able to prescribe a stronger antihistamine or other medication to help ease your symptoms.

Getting a tattoo can exacerbate underlying skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, even if you’ve never displayed symptoms before.

Tattoos cause an immune reaction as your body heals and attacks substances in the ink that it perceives as foreign matter. Many skin conditions result from immune reactions that can cause itchy rashes, hives, or bumps while your body fights against foreign invaders.

Getting a tattoo in unsanitary conditions can also introduce bacteria or viruses into your skin. If your immune system is already weak, your body’s attempts to fight off bacteria or viruses may make you even more susceptible to complications.

In addition to red bumps or rash, you may develop:

  • white bumps
  • scaly, tough, or peeling skin
  • dry, cracked skin
  • sores or lesions
  • discolored areas of skin
  • bumps, warts, or other growths

Treatment options

If have a diagnosed skin condition, you may be able to treat your symptoms at home.

You may find it helpful to:

  • use a cold compress to relieve pain and swelling
  • take an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to reduce itching and other allergy symptoms
  • apply a topical OTC ointment, such as hydrocortisone or triamcinolone cream (Cinolar), to help soothe local inflammation and other irritation

If you’re experiencing symptoms like these and you don’t have a diagnosed skin condition, see a doctor or other healthcare provider right away.

They can make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan suited to your needs. Many skin conditions can be treated with antibiotics, corticosteroids, and light or laser therapy.

Infectious bacteria or viruses can get into the tattooed area while wounds and scabs are healing.

Viral infections can also be spread through dirty needles that have come into contact with infected blood.

In addition to bumps and rash, you may experience:

  • intense itching or burning around tattoo
  • pus or drainage oozing from the tattoo
  • swelling around your tattoo
  • red lesions
  • hard, bumpy tissue

These symptoms may extend beyond the tattooed area. Surface symptoms may also be accompanied by symptoms that affect your entire body, such as fever or chills.

Treatment options

See a doctor right away if you suspect an infection. They’ll likely prescribe antibiotics or other medications to relieve your symptoms and clear the infection.

You may also find it helpful to:

  • rest and give your body a break while your immune system does its work
  • use a cold compress to help relieve pain, swelling, and fever
  • clean your tattoo regularly to help keep bacteria from spreading

Concerned about post-tattoo rash because of pain, swelling, oozing, or other symptoms?

See your tattoo artist first and share your symptoms with them. Learn as much as you can about the inks they used and the processes they followed to give you the tattoo.

Then, see your doctor right away. Make sure you relay any information that you got from your tattoo artist and tell them about your symptoms.

These details will help your healthcare provider determine what exactly caused the rash and how best to treat it.