Look, it’s no secret that I’m not a doctor. However, I can offer you a bit of medical common sense that I’ve acquired from years in the tattoo world! A lot of people ask me what happens when you get a cut or injury on a tattoo. The answer varies, hinging mostly on the state of your tattoo to begin with. Your body treats it as any other wound, but there are a few caveats…your tattoo might heal strangely or lose color. I want to talk about how to prevent this for both major and minor injuries and how you can prevent disaster when you get a cut or injury on your tattoo. Let’s begin!
What Happens If You Get A Cut Or Scratch On A New Or Old Tattoo?
What happens if you injure yourself (cut, scrape, scratch) where you’ve had a tattoo? What happens when you get a cut or injury on a tattoo? That depends entirely on the severity of your injury, the age of your tattoo, the depth of your injury, your ability to heal…okay, it depends on a lot of things equally. I’m going to go over the specifics, but in general, your body will respond to the injury as it would any other. The white cells kick into action to prevent infection. Your platelets gather at the location to start clotting the area.
Broken bones and severe injuries are a little more complex, but you get the idea. The ink won’t poison you or prevent your wound from healing. However, there is a chance that the injury will permanently damage your tattoo! If it penetrates through every layer of your skin, it will definitely affect your tattoo. Keep your wits about you and read on to figure out what to do.
Dangers of New Tattoo Injuries
First of all, a cut on a brand new tattoo spells trouble. If things don’t look serious, visit your artist ASAP to ask him about the status of your tattoo. They will tell you whether it affects the design and may even offer a touch up (note that this is a gift from them and not obligatory). They’ll also tell you how to care for it. For an intimate look at how to care for your tattoo, read our full tattoo aftercare guide. As a brief summary, make sure you grab some soap meant for tattoos and read the ‘what to do’ section. Your artist might sell them, and if not, you can grab them off Amazon to get some quickly.
The danger of a new tattoo injury lies in the fact that your body is already dealing with an injury: your tattoo. Your tattoo created a huge wound that your body has to deal with. Your immune system spends a lot of resources keeping infection out of that area, and adding another injury on top of that might be the tipping point. Keep a careful eye on it and watch out for infection.
Dangers of Old Tattoo Injuries
The biggest danger of injuring an old tattoo is obviously misalignment. Since your skin stretches and shrinks based on your daily life, it could be very difficult to realign the tattoo. On top of that, the injury might gouge out some of your ink. It leaves an empty hole in your tattoo the color of your normal scar tissue. Not good, to say the least. Even if you take perfect care of your tattoo with tattoo lotion, you can’t prevent random disasters like this.
Infection is still an issue with any injury, but it’s not as likely as an injured new tattoo. Nonetheless, keep an eye on it and make sure the area looks healthy. Although it affects your ink, it will not cause the area to change color beyond the blank area it leaves behind. It also won’t leak ink—it’s removed by the initial injury and by your immune system. If you see any strange colors, go see a doctor, because that’s not normal!
What do I do when I get a small injury on my tattoo?
If the injury is more than a scrape but less than a gash, try to hold the skin together until it clots in the correct position. Wash your hands thoroughly before you do this. If your cut has already clotted, don’t try to move it—you’ll just make the problem worse. Use a damp towel to remove any immediate debris, such as plasma or scabbing, and then wash it as you would normally with your tattoo. Dab it dry with a clean towel (do not scrub), then keep it aired out. Refer to our tattoo shower guide until the wound is sealed.
Ideally, the cut wasn’t deep enough to affect your tattoo. If it was deep enough, then hopefully it’s properly aligned and will just need a touch-up to make it look perfect. Watch for all the typical signs of infection and visit the doctor if you spot any.
What do I do when I get a serious injury on my tattoo?
Serious tattoo injuries are no joke. Whether you have a deep gash or a broken bone, you’ll want to see a doctor. As a general rule, if your scratch is large enough to ‘open,’ then it’s large enough that you’ll want stitches. If it’s a scrape deep enough that it shows bone or muscle, then good lord, stop reading this and go to a hospital. Hold it closed until you reach the doctor (if possible) to hopefully align the injury and speed up the clotting process.
If your wound is severely bleeding, forget about alignment and use a clean towel to apply pressure on the wound. This promotes clotting and helps you think on your feet (trust me, excessive blood loss does not do nice things to your thinking process). If you start feeling light-headed, have someone else drive you to the hospital or call an ambulance. You’ll certainly need to inform someone that you received an injury…just to be on the safe side.
What happens when you reach the doctor? Simply put, they help you close the wound and will use everything at their disposal to prevent further damage to your body. Sometimes doctors carefully sew up your tattoo and properly align it as they go along. Other times that’s not an option, but I promise that they do their best while thinking of your health. Although certain soaps work best for tattoos, major injuries require the big guns. Your doctor will prescribe or recommend a soap brand for you to use and you need to stick to that. They may prescribe oral antibiotics if you request it, which poses no risk to your tattoo ink (just make sure to complete your prescription).
After your injury heals you can visit an artist and see what can be done. They might recommend a surgeon to realign it, give it a cover up design, or (in the best case scenario) touch it up so it looks brand new. Again, you need to wait until it’s properly healed to attempt this. ‘Fixing’ it while it’s still damaged leads to problems, especially when you’re using powerful antibiotic soap.
What other ways can I help my tattoo heal?
As with any wound, the best way to help your tattoo heal is to take care of your body! Once you get the specifics of tattoo aftercare down, it’s all up to your daily health. Eat foods high in Vitamin C, E, and K. Iron and protein also help moves these nutrients around and provide your body with repair materials. A bit of sunlight (in areas without your tattoo) also boosts the production of Vitamin D. All of these vitamins are critical for your immune system, your skin health, and your ability to heal. Be certain that you are eating them in a healthy quantity as you heal from any wound! If you see any tattoo peeling at this stage, that could be a bad sign–ask a doctor about it!
Should I go see a doctor after hurting myself by my tattoo?
This depends on the severity of your injury. If you wouldn’t normally see a doctor, then you can relax. Hurting the area of a tattoo and hurting a blank area have the same overall effect on your health. The only issue that arises when hurting a tattooed area is how to save the quality of your tattoo—plus any concerns your wound would normally raise.
To sum it all up: use your better judgment. Scratches and scrapes heal fine on their own, anything else will need a doctor. If something looks red and swollen, discolored, oozes puss, or something like that…you’re probably dealing with an infection and should go to the doctor straight away.
How does a hurt tattoo look after healing?
If your injury was light enough that it didn’t break your skin, your tattoo will look exactly the same. As long as your cut doesn’t go through every layer of skin, your ink remains unscathed. It rests at the very bottom layer of your dermis, so light scratches won’t affect it.
That changes when the cut, scrape, or injury goes deeper. Typically, your tattoo does walk away with a few scars. Any area harmed deeply enough will have some of the ink missing. The ink either breaks down and gets absorbed by the body or is removed during the injury itself. Failing to provide adequate care during the healing process (such as tattoo-safe sunscreen) can also bleach the area.
The effect of a deep—but thin—cut changes. It doesn’t damage the skin too much, so as long as the skin heals together properly, the injury will be barely noticeable. A simple touch-up will fix it. If you need surgery, explain to your doctor why your tattoo is significant to you and ask them to do their best to keep it intact. Your health comes first, but particularly skilled surgeons can juggle more than one task at once. It’s worth a try, at least! I’ve seen large tattoo cuts heal in a way that were nigh imperceptible thanks to the skill of the surgeon that performed the deed.
So, What Happens When You Get a Cut or Injury on a Tattoo?
Ultimately, your tattoo will heal just like any other area of your body. If the injury is bad, you’ll need a doctor to help you. If it’s minor, you can usually go without. The depth of the wound determines whether or not your tattoo will be affected. Poor wound care—especially with regards to sunlight—will cause your colors to fade. With deep scratches, light scar tissue might ‘erase’ part of your tattoo. In both of the prior situations, a touch-up will fix any blemishes.
On the other hand, when you get stitches, your doctor will need to do their best to line up the tattoo, and may not always be able to do so. That just about summarizes it! Hopefully this helped you learn what to do about an injured tattoo. If you have any questions about your tattoo, your tattoo artist will always be eager to assist you. For medical questions, your doctor knows best, and you should seek one out!
The injury of a tattoo is not a huge deal like some people make it out to be. With proper care, your tattoo will come out looking just the same, so remember that injuries aren’t the end of the world! Take care of your body, and it will take care of you. As always, thanks for reading!