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Tattoo Blowout: What Is It, What Causes It, and How to Deal with It

Tattoo blowout example.

When getting a new tattoo, most people are looking for clean lines, smooth shading, and clear colors. Yet we’ve all seen tattoos that look blurry with various tattoo ink bleeding colors into each other, so the tattoo looks smudged, messy, muddy, and unprofessional. For unlucky tattoo recipients, tattoo blowout can spoil what would otherwise be a beautiful piece. 

While a new tattoo can push out ink, along with blood and plasma, it typically does no harm and doesn’t lead to a tattoo blowout. This leaking typically lasts no more than 48 hours. However, bruising from a new tattoo can make it look a little blurred or smudged as it goes through the healing process. As the bruising fades, your tattoo should soon begin to look better and cleaner. If it’s a tattoo blowout, on the other hand, it will begin to look worse.

What Is a Tattoo Blowout? 

Tattoo blowout ink spreading out example.

Tattoo blowouts result from ink spreading out in the fat layer beneath the skin surface or due to scarring. It’s typically caused when a tattoo artist presses too aggressively into the skin, deposits ink at the wrong angle, or overworks the skin, which occurs more often with a less-experienced tattoo artist but can happen with any artist. 

In fact, tissue samples from people with a tattoo blowout show that the tattoo ink goes deeper than it should, causing the ink to blur, blend, and bleed together, leaving a messy, unprofessional-looking tattoo. It can also be more painful during the tattooing process.

Once the ink is in the fat layer rather than just in the skin, the ink can slide past the tattoo lines, which can leave the piece looking distorted. It’s not a sign of infection, which is an unrelated complication. 

While there are fortunately no added health risks with a tattoo blowout, aesthetically, it doesn’t look good, leaving people less than satisfied with their new tattoo.

How to Prevent Tattoo Blowout

There’s a good reason for the saying, “prevention is better than cure.” And avoiding tattoo blowout in the first place is less costly and less invasive than fixing the problem later. Tattoo blowouts aren’t complications. Rather, they’re mistakes.

While inexperience is often a factor, tattoo blowout can happen when a tattoo is rushed, or a tattoo artist is careless or distracted, or just having an off day. Another common cause for tattoo blowout is fidgeting or moving around while you’re being tattooed. You may be able to help your tattoo artist avoid mistakes by staying calm and still while your artist is tattooing. Plus, it can help to avoid choosing to be tattooed where the skin is thin and more likely to blow out, even with an experienced artist, as tattoo blowouts can also occur more readily if the skin is stretched or tightened too much to create a smooth surface to tattoo.

In addition, where you have your tattoo placed can make it more or less likely for a tattoo blowout to occur. For example, tattoos on thinner skin (like the foot, ankle, or inside of the arm) are more likely to blow out. They can also be more painful and have a longer healing process. Women are more likely than men to get blowouts because their skin tends to be thinner. Choosing places that have thicker skin, such as the legs, can help prevent blowouts.

All tattoo artists can make mistakes. But those with more experience and skill can help decrease the risk of a tattoo blowout. Do a lot of research before choosing a tattoo artist, and talk with friends, family, or your community and look at healed tattoos from the artist to get a feel for their skill and artistic ability. 

Of course, only get tattooed from a licensed artist who keeps a clean, well-maintained shop. And ensure you’re meticulous with your tattoo aftercare during the healing process.

Is There a Tattoo Blowout Fix?

A tattoo blowout can leave you feeling devastated. After all, you spent good money on a tattoo that looks little like you intended. Fortunately, there are a few tattoo blowout fixes to consider:

Tattoo Blowout Removal Options:

  • More Tattooing: One of the most cost-effective tattoo blowout fixes (for between $100 and $500) is to get more tattooing once your original piece is fully healed—up to three months after the original tattoo. This can help cover up the mistakes, as long as the blowout isn’t too severe. Often, you can keep the original design while improving the look of the tattoo.

    If you do have more extensive tattoo blowout, however, then your new tattoo coverup may need to be much larger or more intense than the original art, which could drastically change the overall look of the tattoo.

    You’ve already made the mistake of going to someone who’s likely less experienced or less skilled. Don’t make that mistake again. Find a tattoo artist who has experience in tattoo coverups and dealing with traumatized skin to avoid more tattoo blowouts and who can creatively design a tattoo you’ll love for years to come.
  • Laser Correction: If you aren’t looking at changing the design of your tattoo (or sitting through another session), laser therapy is now available to help reduce the appearance of your blowout. The lasers use energy waves to reduce the appearance of ink in the skin, so the tattoo looks as intended with little to no remaining blowout.

    Cost, unfortunately, can be an issue, especially for larger tattoos. Expect to pay over $400 per treatment out of pocket as tattoo laser correction isn’t covered by insurance since it’s considered cosmetic. 

It doesn’t work for everyone, but it is often effective for helping reduce the appearance of blowout with around five or so sessions, depending on how severe the tattoo blowout is and how well your skin responds to laser therapy.

  • Surgical Removal: If you’re really unhappy with your tattoo, one way to permanently remove it is through surgery. This is also the most invasive way to remove a tattoo as the surgeon cuts off the skin with the tattoo and then sews the skin back together. This procedure is only for smaller tattoos and will likely leave some scarring and recovery time. Again, it isn’t covered by insurance and may be costly.

Tattoo Blowout Takeaway

It’s never fun when your tattoo doesn’t turn out as expected, especially if it begins as a beautiful artistic piece that soon begins to look blurred or muddy. The first step to avoid a tattoo blowout is to prevent it from happening in the first place by picking the right tattoo artist for your design, taking your time as you get tattooed, and then ensuring you are properly taking care of your skin as it heals.  

If blowout does happen, then you may need to consider more tattooing or perhaps lasering to reduce the appearance of the blowout.

Before getting a tattoo, make sure you do your homework and investigate your chosen artist’s fully healed work, rather than just fresh ink. And then, take proper care of your new and existing tattoos by keeping them clean and protected from the sun and other elements. 

Updated on January 17, 2023
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