Tattoo Infections: Causes, Symptoms, & Legal Options

Photo of tattoo removal process

For thousands of years, people have adorned and marked their bodies for reasons ranging from the personal to the religious. Tattoos are meaningful pieces of art and self-expression. For some, getting a tattoo is exciting, but it still has risks. Some people don’t get what they expect – some tattoos are simply not what the client wanted. Others are created with contaminated inks or reused needles, resulting in pain and infection.

Most people don’t think that a skin infection could be severe, but your skin is your body’s largest organ, so an infection can impact your overall health. While your immune system fights the infection, it could travel and infect other internal organs. In severe cases, the infected patient is treated with antibiotics administered intravenously for several days or might even require skin grafts. Even after you have healed from your skin infection, you could be left with disfiguring scars where you wanted to have a work of art. 

Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. is a law firm in Atlanta, Georgia, and we are ready to provide you with the dedicated advocacy you deserve after suffering from a tattoo infection. Call us today to learn more about the legal options available specifically to you in your situation. We can represent you in front of the business, individual, or insurance company that is liable for your injury.

Statistics for Tattoo Regrets

Source: The Streak

Tattoo Artists And The Duty Of Care

Tattoos artists owe their clients a duty of care. That means that they, like doctors, drivers, and property owners, have a legal obligation to meet a standard of care when performing anything that could harm another. Just like drivers must be careful not to hit other cars and doctors need to avoid malpractice claims, tattoo artists must practice reasonable care when inking your skin. When they breach this duty, you can file a personal injury claim against them for infections, injuries, and dissatisfaction with the results.

One thing that can affect whether or not you get compensation, and a reason why you should hire an attorney to handle your case, is whether or not you signed a waiver. Many tattoo artists and shops protect themselves against potential personal injury lawsuits by requiring your signature and a waiver before getting a tattoo.

However, you can still hold a tattoo shop or artist liable for a tattoo if you can prove their negligence in their duty of care to you, that they violated that duty, the violation caused injury, and you suffered damages as a result of the violation. Tattoo artists have a duty to meet licensing standards, use new and sterile needles on each client, wear disposable gloves, wash hands between clients, check IDs on everyone who gets a tattoo, and meet all state health and safety standards. 

The Process Of Getting A Tattoo

The process of getting a tattoo involves injecting dyes and pigments deep into the skin. The ink is injected into the dermis, the second layer of skin, where your nerves and blood vessels are located, which is why it can hurt so much and your skin can bleed. But the ink doesn’t always stay there. Some ink particles travel into the lymphatic system and the bloodstream within minutes. Research on mice shows that some particles may even go to the liver. This led researchers to study the chemical side effects of tattoos and what types of tattoo ink were safer than others. Some tattoos require multiple sessions, exposing the individual to more potential toxins.

Tattoo Ink Materials 

Despite millions of people worldwide having tattoos, ink ingredients and their provenance are not common knowledge. There is very little regulatory oversight of tattoo inks, and they do not undergo any risk assessment. Tattoo artists know that there are really good and reliable producers of tattoo ink, but some inks are marketed to seem suitable for tattooing but are certainly not. Tattoo inks can contain calligraphy ink, animal-based additives, pH stabilizers, coating agents, and pigments used in printer toner and car paint. Dangerous metals that can be found in some colored inks are:

  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Lead
  • Nickel
  • Titanium
  • Metal salts

One research team discovered that many ingredients they found in tattoo ink they tested in a lab didn’t even appear on the manufacturers’ labels. Tattoo inks are made of different pigments mixed together to create the ink color. A carrier package delivers the pigments into the skin, such as grain alcohol, rubbing alcohol, and sometimes witch hazel. Often there are other additives to stabilize the viscosity and keep the pigment particles suspended evenly in the carrier package. One ink that they analyzed contained an azo-containing dye, which is usually inert but can break down into a carcinogenic nitrogen compound when exposed to bacteria and UV light.

Statistics for Tattoo Infection Causes

Source: ResearchGate Article

Common Tattoo Infections and Causes

Tattoo infections are generally preventable and are caused by contamination and non-sterile conditions. Infections that only affect the outer layer of skin include impetigo, which is caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria. The symptoms of impetigo include rash and blisters and must be treated with antibiotics. Deep bacterial infections include cellulitis, erysipelas, and sepsis. Your physician should also test for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and staph infection, two extremely dangerous infections that are costly to treat.


Cellulitis is a skin infection that spreads rapidly and is caused by bacteria. It causes the skin to become swollen and inflamed, and is very uncomfortable. Antibiotics are necessary to treat this condition before it becomes life-threatening. Cellulitis can cause complications such as suppurative arthritis (joint infection), osteomyelitis (bone infection), and endocarditis (an infection in the lining of the chambers of the heart and heart valves).


Sepsis is a serious medical condition. Your immune system works very hard to fight bacteria, viruses, and parasites to prevent infections. When you suffer from an infection, your immune system will try to fight it, but it usually needs help from antibiotics or other medications. Sepsis is when the immune system attacks itself rather than the germs that cause the infection, and researchers don’t know why this happens. It is one of the most expensive hospital conditions, costing approximately $62 billion annually. It is also one of the primary causes of readmission to a hospital, which cost an additional $3.5 billion per year.


Erysipelas is a skin affection affecting the outer layer of the skin, known as the dermis, and can extend to the superficial cutaneous lymphatics. Erysipelas causes the skin to have shiny, raised and tender plaques with distinct margins. It is often caused by the streptococci bacteria and is most commonly found on leg and face tattoos. Erysipelas is diagnosed distinctly from other skin diseases through a blood culture. The victim will require penicillin or another type of antibiotic for 7 to 10 days, and may require cold packs and analgesics to relieve pain and discomfort.

Fungal Infections

Tattoo-associated tinea, also known as a tattoo-associated systemic fungal infection, is more common with black inks, which can be contaminated with nanoparticles and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It is diagnosed through skin biopsy or fungal culture. Possible causes of tattoo-associated tinea include using non-sterile instruments, bad ink, or if they came in contact with a cat, rodent or other animal that was carrying germs.

Nontuberculous Mycobacteria Infections

Anyone can come into contact with nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) because they are in water, dust, and soil. These germs can enter the body through openings in the skin after trauma or a tattoo. They can lead to sporotrichoid nodules, ulcers or abscesses. In addition to physical pain, the infection can spread and affect other body parts, leading to a cough that doesn’t go away, extreme fatigue, and weight loss. NTM affects different parts of your body including your lymph nodes, bones, and bloodstream. Also known as atypical mycobacterial infections, they can eventually lead to additional infections throughout the body such as lymphadenitis, pulmonary/lung infection, and infections in the deep tissues.

Signs Of Tattoo Infection To Look Out For

It’s normal to experience some discomfort, bleeding and swelling after a tattoo. Still, continued discomfort or increased pain could be early signs of infection. You should look out for the following symptoms:

  • If the tattooed area feels hot to the touch
  • Fever
  • Red streaks on your skin
  • Pus-filled blisters
  • Chills, sweats and shaking
  • Tender lymph nodes

Treatments for tattoo infections can vary. You may be prescribed a round of oral antibiotics, antibiotic topical cream or intravenous antibiotics. 

Damages In A Tattoo Infection Case

Typically, there are two types of compensatory damages that people can recover in a personal injury claim: economic damages, or monetary costs related to the injury, and noneconomic damages, which are subjective, non-financial losses such as pain and suffering. You can recover economic damage related to expenses to treat your infection and lost wages.

You can also recover compensation for noneconomic damages related to your tattoo infection. Noneconomic damages compensate you for nonpecuniary, subjective losses. You can file for noneconomic damages if you were physically scarred or disfigured as a result of your tattoo infection. If looking in the mirror reminds you of this painful experience and you want to move forward, then you should contact Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. today about what noneconomic damages you can recover.

It is advised that you start your tattoo infection case as soon as possible. The statute of limitations on personal injury cases in Georgia is two years from the date when the tattoo infection started. However, the sooner you reach out to us, the better. It is crucial to file your case as early as possible.

Who is liable for my tattoo infection?

The liable party in your case could be the tattoo parlor, the artist who gave you the tattoo, or the tattoo shop’s owner. You should call Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. now to schedule a consultation with an experienced tattoo infection attorney who can help you determine if the tattoo shop, tattoo artist, or another party is liable for your injuries. 

Your attorney from Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. will conduct an investigation to determine the cause of your tattoo infection, who is responsible, and what type of compensation you are entitled to under Georgia law. When investigating your claim, your tattoo infection attorney will evaluate the conditions at the tattoo shop. We may work with the local health department to get information regarding the shop and if it had any violations in the past. It is also advised to keep a journal that chronicles your daily symptoms, pain levels, and difficulties as a result of getting your tattoo, which can be useful when arguing for noneconomic damages.

In order to receive damages in a tattoo injury case, you will need to provide evidence that proves the negligence on the behalf of the tattoo shop or artist. Your medical records will play a key role in your personal injury claim by documenting your symptoms and providing a diagnosis. Pictures of filthy conditions at the tattoo shop or parlor are also useful in establishing liability. Our office will investigate whether or not there have been any complaints or health and safety violations filed by any of their former clients. 

Important questions that can guide the tattoo injury case include:

  • Did the defendant prominently display an up-to-date license?
  • Did the defendant disinfect the area of the clients skin where the tattoo was applied?
  • Did the tattoo artist ask about the plaintiff’s medical history and allergies?
  • Did the defendant wash their hands and then put on single-use gloves?
  • Did the defendant provide instructions on how to care for the tattoo after the procedure and did the plaintiff follow them?

How much does a tattoo attorney cost?

You can seek compensation for your tattoo infection in a personal injury lawsuit. Most personal injury attorneys charge their clients a contingency fee if they win their case. This means that you do not have to pay your attorney unless they win for you. We would be happy to go over our fee payment structure at your initial consultation. It’s important to understand that your initial consultation is also free, which means that there is no risk in calling Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. today and meeting with a tattoo infection attorney.

What should I do if I was harmed by getting a tattoo?

First, see if you can talk to the tattoo artist or tattoo parlor. Most tattoo artist are professionals who seek 100% customer satisfaction. They might offer you a remedy, cover-up, or compensation. However, if the tattoo artist doesn’t respond to you with the answer that you want, then you can talk to the tattoo shop owner, who might be more willing to avoid a lawsuit. If neither one of these situations results in a satisfactory response, then you can talk to a tattoo infection attorney who will fight to get you justice.

Next, you should seek medical attention immediately. Skin infections can worsen in hours, and some can lead to life-threatening infections and complications. When you start to notice the first signs of infection, then you need to head to the emergency room so you could be administered an antibiotic treatment. Infections can also spread to other parts of the skin and, eventually, to other organs, so you don’t want to delay in getting treatment.

Lastly, call Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. These types of cases are unique and require an attorney who not only practices personal injury law, but has experience in this specific practice area. We have the experience and tenacity to fight for you. 

Call Now To Schedule Your Free Consultation

What can complicate a tattoo infection lawsuit is whether or not you waived your right to sue the tattoo artist or shop. When you arrive at the consultation, it’s very helpful if you bring the consent or release form or waiver that you signed. A defense that the tattoo shop or artist might use is that you knew the risks of getting a tattoo and agreed to them. They can also verify that you were of the right age and of sound mind when you sign the form. However, even these forms cannot provide 100% guaranteed protection against a lawsuit.

Another reason why it’s important to speak to a tattoo infection attorney is the comparative negligence laws. You were probably given a set of instructions on what to do and not do after your tattoo procedure. For example you should not submerge the tattooed body part or keep it wet for a long period of time, and should avoid direct sunlight. If you did not follow directions, then the tattoo artist or shop can argue that you are partially responsible for the resulting infection.

Call Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. now at 404-948-6153. We will be happy to guide you through the legal process so that you can move on from this tragic tattoo infection and take back your life. Contact us today!