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Why Does My Tattoo Smell and What Should I Do If it Smells Bad?

We’re going to discuss a common experience that can occur while healing a new tattoo with the wet healing method – a stink coming from your new ink. When healing your tattoo with a product like Saniderm, there’s a chance you’ll notice a funky smell coming from your bandaged tattoo. Typically it’s not abnormal and is usually nothing to worry about, and in this article, we go into detail on what the smell is, and whether or not you need to do anything about it.

First, Do Tattoos Usually Have a Smell?

The short answer is no, your tattoo shouldn’t have a smell. However, if it is a fresh tattoo then you may notice some distinct smells right after it is finished. This smell may be the antibiotic ointment the artist applies to the tattoo.  

What is That Smell? How Wet Wound Healing Works:

When you get a new tattoo your body reacts as if it has an open wound.

Typically, you will cover a new tattoo for 3-4 days. During this time, the tattoo will start to discharge fluids. These fluids are a combination of plasma, blood, and lymph fluid. As these fluids start to decay and die, they will emit an order sometimes related to smelling like vinegar, cheese, feet, or other smells.

When you apply Saniderm to a fresh tattoo, you are instructed to leave the bandage on for 24 hours. As mentioned above, your tattoo will weep bodily fluid during this 24-hour period (and sometimes longer) causing your tattoo’s second skin to smell.

This fluid is a combination of excess ink that your skin didn’t take, blood, plasma, and lymph fluid. It is actually highly beneficial to allow your tattoo to “soak” in this fluid for a period of time. Plasma and lymph fluid are filled with white blood cells, which keep the wound site moist and aid in healing. 

However, the cells in your plasma are only viable for about 24 hours. Once these cells begin “dying” or losing viability (one reason why we recommend removing the first Saniderm bandage and reapplying a new one after the first 24 hours) they can start to cause the wound site to smell unpleasant. Lymph fluid is the primary culprit which, coincidentally, is also what causes gauged ears or body piercings to smell unpleasant while they’re healing.

So What Should You Do If Your Bandaged Tattoo Starts to Smell Bad?

If you’re still within the 24-48 hour window of getting your tattoo, we recommend just removing your Saniderm bandage and applying a new one. Be sure you’re following proper application and removal steps!

If you’re already on day 3-4, presuming there are no signs of infection, complications, or excessive fluid buildup, it’s okay to leave that bandage on for up to the 5-day mark (even if it smells a little bit).

What If My Unbandaged Tattoo Smells Bad?

If your tattoo has been unbandaged and cleaned but still has a strong unpleasant scent more than 48 hours after your tattoo session, seek the help of a medical professional. This could indicate an infection.  Additionally, if any of the following symptoms are present, seek the help of a medical professional:

  • Fever more than 48 hours after being tattooed
  • Chills or shivers more than 48 hours after being tattooed
  • Inflammation, swelling, or hotness to touch in the tattooed area more than 48 hours after the tattoo
  • Red streaks or marks 
  • Pus oozing from the tattoo
  • Excessive scabbing
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Want more on Saniderm product usage or tattoo care? Browse & search our extensive knowledge base! We strive to provide tattoo industry professionals and enthusiasts with the most useful, up to date information out there. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Leave us a comment.

Updated on September 6, 2022
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