Tattoo FAQ: Why Do My Healed Tattoos Sometimes Itch and Swell?

Posted on 01 April 2012 by Karen L. Hudson

It’s normal for even fully healed tattoos to suddenly start itching or become slightly swollen, but just because it’s normal doesn’t make it any less annoying. Here’s why your tattoo may be causing you to scratch and what you can do to relieve it.

There’s a few different reasons why your tattoo may suddenly be itching like it did back when you first got it, even though it’s now fully healed and has been perfectly well-behaved up until now.

Why Old Tattoos Sometimes Itch and Swell

  • A change in weather:  This is probably the most common cause of sudden tattoo itchiness. Going from warm to cold, cold to warm, or even a change in humidity. Your body may not react quickly enough to these changes, and it will “act out” with an adverse, but usually temporary, reaction until the body adjusts.
  • A hormonal change:  If you’re going through some kind of hormonal shift in your body – which you may or may not be aware of – it can create a range of temporary “shorts” in your body’s circuitry, making it do all kinds of unexpected and annoying things until things calm down and get back to normal.
  • New medication:  If you’re starting a new medication, side effects can also include itchy tattoos – bet you’ve never seen that listed on one of those drug commercials, have you? But any time you introduce a new kind of drug to your body that it isn’t used to, it can have minor side effects that go away after a while. If, however, the itching side effect does not go away, especially if there are other itchy patches in other non-tattooed areas of your body, you could be having an allergic reaction and need to stop taking the medication and see your doctor.
  • Bug bite:  A bite from a parasitic bug might not be as noticeable in a tattooed area, but it can happen. Mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, bed bugs, chiggers, and many other creepy crawlies can literally get under your skin. Even mild ant or spider bites can result in an itchy patch for a short while.

So, whatever the cause may be, the good news is that most of them are temporary. So, in the meantime, what can you do to relieve the itch?

Relieving the Itch

  • Take an antihistamine – even one you can get over the counter is usually enough to help relieve the itch and also any swelling. Just be aware that antihistamines can make you sleepy.
  • Take an oatmeal bath – oats have long been touted as a natural remedy for itching of any kind. Even people with severe cases of eczema or hives can gain relieve from a bath of cool water and oatmeal. There are also products made with oats that you can buy at the store to put in your bath water.
  • Moisturize – Applying lotion, especially one made to relieve itching, can do wonders. Particularly lotions with oats, as mentioned above – medical anti-itch ingredients may be too harsh, especially if you’re broken the skin due to scratching.
  • Scratch – It’s a last resort, but if your tattoo is truly healed, it won’t hurt to give it a good scratch as long as you don’t scratch so hard that you break the skin. Going back to the days of your new tattoo, it is still preferable to slap the area if a light scratch isn’t doing the trick.

These are all just suggestions that have helped myself and many of my readers over the years for temporary tattoo itch. If your itching persists, if the area becomes seriously swollen or inflamed, if there is any indication of broken skin that may be infected, or if you have itchy patches in other areas of your body as well, see your doctor because it may be a more serious problem than your body trying to make an adjustment.

As always, I’m here to answer more of your questions – feel free to email me at tat2guru13@gmail.com or call me at 1-260-2-ASK-KLH

About the Guru:
Karen L. Hudson has been writing for the body art community since 1999. She is the author of Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos--and the Women Who Wear Them and Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification. After leaving her position as About.com's body art expert in 2011, she founded Tat2Guru to continue her efforts as a safety and acceptance advocate for the body art community. Read Her Full Bio

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Naomi Says:

    Thank you, this post has really helped me:)

  2. Denise Keywood Says:

    My first tattoo is bad work. Its a band of words on my ankle. He went way to deep. Now because of the itching, which causes swelling without touching it. Only the letters swell and itch. Become raised almost like brail. The words have bled together at this point, one is unreadable. This tat does this all the time? I have 3 more with NO problems at all with them. Any ideas would be great. By all the time, I’m meaning once a month/ 6 weeks. Help.
    Sincerely Denise

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