Tattoo Infections and Bloodborne Pathogens: Essential Information

bloodborne pathogens infected tattoo

Tattoo infections and bloodborne pathogens go hand in hand. They happen when you as an artist, or your client forget to use your heads and follow the proper precautions. Most people think that avoiding a tattoo infection is as simple as avoiding ‘lower class’ tattoo parlors, or by declining to be inked by non-professional ‘artists’.

Whilst it is essential that artists undertake OSHA bloodborne pathogens certification for tattoo artist training and local state licensing, the truth is, it’s just not that simple.

Tattoo Skin Infections

While the number of skin infections reported annually due to tattoo and body art procedures is actually quite small, there are still a number of ways a client can get an infected tattoo unexpectedly and some of them will probably surprise you.

Today, we share with you all the ways to help your clients avoid a nasty infection, alongside all the symptoms to watch out for. 

From serious to minor signs, we will cover them all. We will also look at what treatment is like and cover the right time to seek help from a medical professional.

Ink Cups and Tattoo Gun

What causes infected tattoos and how to prevent it from happening to your clients

By far, the number one cause of infected tattoos today stems from one thing. Improper aftercare.

I highly suggest and urge you to read our guide to Bloodborne pathogens and tattoo aftercare which you can follow step by step.

General causes of tattoo Infections

Old school habits and giving bad advice

Let’s face it, not every single tattoo artist out there is going to be up to date with the latest information and procedures in tattoo aftercare. A lot of artists and studios (dare we call them Tattoo Parlours?) are still stuck in their old school ways and have been giving out the same bad advice for years on end. Ultimately. most are simply tattoo artists, not medical professionals, and that’s fine, but there is no excuse for not completing mandatory and basic Bloodborne Pathogens tattoo training for the benefit of your clients health.

Health experts, doctors, and dermatologists are always discovering new treatments and refuting old advice that many considered would never change, for instance the use of Bepanthen ointment.

Not giving tattoo aftercare advice

While giving bad advice is a great way for your clients to end up with a tattoo infection, the chances increase even more when an artist who either forgets to explain the process at all, or simply tells the client not worry worry about it.

Specific causes of tattoo infections

Tattoo Artist

You want to make your clients experience as smooth and pleasant as possible right?. While it’s possible for you to make mistakes from time to time, unless you’re working  in a really bad tattoo parlor, most of the time infections are caused by the client, not the artist. In the cases where the infection is the likely result of the tattoo artist failing in their duty of care it is for one the these reasons.

  1. Failing to keep your workspace clean. If you shop has dirty floors, countertops with disgusting clutter, and a soiled chair you shouldn’t be servicing clients.
  2. Not performing any spore testing, or failing to do it at least once a month. Failing to use an Autoclave or Statim to sterilize your tools. You should be able to provide the most recent test to clients.
  3. Using an unsealed needle.. You should never use a needle that isn’t sealed or packaged. This os one of the key ways that tattoo studios can reduce the risk of bloodborne pathogen related infections.
  4. Failing to pour tattoo ink pigments from single-use plastic vessels.. In rare cases, ink can be sealed, yet still contaminated from manufacturing errors unrelated to you as the artist. Tattoo ink contaminated with bacteria was recently recalled by the FDA in the USA.
  5. Not thoroughly washing your hands and following glove use work practice controls. Or simply eating, drinking, handling your phone, or touching pens and pencils, etc. while inking.
  6. Using a dirty towel. Or dirty paper towels to remove plasma ooze or blood while tattooing


These are the top reasons for ‘self inflicted’ tattoo infection. Naturally you should be aware of these as an artist and ensure your client avoids them by properly addressing aftercare.

  1. Not using bandages or plastic wrap to create an occlusive seal which protects the flesh wound
  2. Removing the bandage too early
  3. Not washing after removing the bandage, or failing to loosen up and remove dried lymph and coagulated blood from the surface
  4. Taking long showers and baths will make the healing process more difficult. However, things like swimming in pools, hot tubs, ponds and lakes are surefire ways to actually getting an infection.
  5. Drying with a dirty hand towel or bath towel
  6. Failing to keep a new tattoo clean
  7. Using expired or contaminated lotion or aftercare ointment
  8. For foot tattoos, infection can occur when wearing no socks or protective wrap with old, dirty shoes
  9. Wearing dirty or soiled clothing
  10. Exercising with a new tattoo at a gym and failing to realize that an arm tattoo for instance, may rub up against a machine that thousands of other people have sweated all over and rubbed against
  11. A dirty home. More specifically, dirty pillows and bed sheets
  12. Showing off your new tattoo to friends and  letting them touch it
  13. Being in places or around people that are either sick or dirty
  14. Picking at scabs or scratching excessively.

Warning Signs and symptoms of An Infected Tattoo

If your client shows any of these symptoms it’s time to take things seriously and think about seeking medical advice.

  • Overly Itchy
  • Oozing
  • Foul odor
  • Tenderness and Pain
  • Red streaks
  • Swelling, Blistering, and Boils
  • Warmth
  • Systemic Infection: It means the entire body is affected by things like weakness, fever, tiredness, or muscle aches, and so on. 
  • Other reactions: Allergies happen. Some of which have delayed reactions or immediate reactions. Things like cement dermatitis, eczematous eruptions, and keloids are a reality for some people.

What does an infected tattoo look like?

Here are some examples of infected tattoos – not pretty is it? These nasty looking infections probably could have been avoided if the tattoo artist had taken the correct bloodborne pathogens certification for tattoo artist training, and passed their knowledge on to the client.

bloodborne pathogens infected tattoo

Tattoo infection treatments

When it comes to infected tattoos, treatment isn’t usually something that either you or your client can do yourself. You must send your client to a hospital or medical practitioner 

Skin infections can range from things like cellulitis, impetigo, HBV related warts, herpes simplex, atypical mycobacterial infection and countless others. Of course, there are more significant bloodborne diseases too, including leprosy, hepatitis B and C, HIV, and syphilis.


The truth is, tattoo infections are nothing to be taken lightly. Not only will an infection be a painful experience for your client, it will risk your personal reputation and that of your studio.

By now you should know what to look for and what to do when you spot the symptoms in a client. 

A strict adherence to following proper aftercare step by step can eliminate the chances of infection greatly and significantly, so make sure you provide all of your clients with aftercare instructions, because that is your responsibility as an artist.

You must also make sure you complete annual OSHA bloodborne pathogens certification for tattoo artist training, and any additional training required by your state licensing authority.

Complete your bloodborne pathogens tattoo training online right now and get an osha bloodborne pathogen certificate instantly, your clients will thank you for it.

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