How to Deal with a Tattoo Blowout

So, you got a new tattoo a few days ago but you’re noticing that something’s going wrong: Ink has spread beyond the lines of your tattoo and now it looks very blurry.

If you don’t know much about tattoos, you might be wondering what’s happening. Chances are, you’re experiencing a tattoo blowout.

Luckily, a tattoo blowout isn’t a serious problem that can harm your health. Unfortunately, it can greatly impact the appearance of your tattoo.

There isn’t any data on how many people experience tattoo blowouts, but experts and anecdotal reports suggest it’s relatively uncommon but perhaps also underreported by people who get tattooed.

A tattoo blowout can strike when a tattoo artist injects ink too deeply into your skin beyond the top layer and into the fat below. In this fat layer, ink moves beyond the lines of your tattoo. This creates a distorted image.

What it looks like

You’ll know you’re experiencing a tattoo blowout within several days of getting a new tattoo. Some people experience mild blowouts, while in other cases, blowouts are more extreme.

In all cases, tattoo blowouts cause the lines in your tattoo to blur, and the ink used to create the lines usually move well outside their edges. It may look like the ink in your tattoo is bleeding outward, giving your tattoo a smudged appearance.

What causes it?

Tattoo blowouts occur when a tattoo artist presses too hard when applying ink to the skin. The ink is sent below the top layers of skin where tattoos belong.

Below the skin’s surface, the ink spreads out in a layer of fat. This creates the blurring associated with a tattoo blowout. Tissue samples, called biopsies, taken from people with tattoo blowouts show that there’s ink much deeper below the skin than there should be.

How to fix it

There are three main ways to fix a tattoo blowout:

Correct with more tattooing

The least expensive way to minimize the appearance of a tattoo blowout is to camouflage the blowout with more tattooing. You might pay $80 to $300 for a blowout cover-up, depending on the size of your tattoo and the extent of the blowout.

If you notice a blowout just a few days after getting your tattoo, you’ll have to wait up to 2 months for the tattoo to heal before getting a cover-up to hide it. It’s important to be diligent with your tattoo aftercare routine to make sure your tattoo heals properly.

The positive side of a good cover-up is that you can generally keep the look of your tattoo while reducing the appearance of a blowout.

If the blowout is severe, you might need to get a tattoo much darker or larger than the original. The tattoo you’ll end up with could be very different from the one you hoped you’d receive.

Blowout cover-ups require expertise and good tattooing skills. Choose an experienced tattoo artist to make sure you don’t have another blowout. A good artist also has the creative skills needed to maximize the appearance of your tattoo.

Correct with a laser

Laser therapy can also help to reduce the appearance of a tattoo blowout. Q- switched lasers send out waves of energy absorbed by ink particles in the skin. The energy diffuses the ink further in the skin so it’s less noticeable.

Laser therapy should leave you with the tattoo you intended, with little to no signs of a tattoo blowout. Take good care of your fixed tattoo, especially preventing sun exposure, which can cause it to fade.

While Q-switched laser therapy doesn’t work for everyone, many people find it effective at fading blowouts. You may need five or more sessions in order to reduce the appearance of the blowout so it’s not noticeable. The number of sessions you need depends on the extent of the blowout and your body’s reaction to laser therapy.

Laser therapy can be more expensive than getting a cover-up. The cost depends on your tattoo’s size, color, and age.

The average cost of getting a tattoo removed in the United States is $463 per treatment, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Most insurance companies don’t cover tattoo removal because it’s seen as a cosmetic procedure.

Surgical tattoo removal

Surgical tattoo removal is the most invasive way to get rid of a tattoo blowout. It also requires getting rid of your tattoo. During surgical, or excision, tattoo removal, a surgeon will cut off your tattooed skin and sew your remaining skin back together.

This procedure is the only way to totally remove a blown-out tattoo. As with laser treatment, insurance companies usually don’t cover the costs of surgical tattoo removal.

Other considerations with surgical tattoo removal include scarring and recovery time. The smaller the removed tattoo, the less scarring you’ll notice.

How to prevent it

Tattoo blowouts aren’t considered a complication of tattooing. Instead, they’re a mistake that can happen due to lack of experience, carelessness, or simply a bad day. There are still some things to consider to reduce your risks of a tattoo blowout.

Consider placement

Some experts say placing a tattoo on thinner skin, such as the top of the foot or inside the arm, might increase your chances for a tattoo blowout. These areas also tend to be the most painful to get tattooed.

Women may also be more likely than men to experience blowouts because their skin tends to be thinner. So women may want to choose to get tattoos where their skin is thickest, such as on the legs.

Choose the right artist

While all tattoo artists may make this mistake while tattooing, choosing a tattoo artist with more skill and experience reduces your risks of a blowout. Talk to friends and family to see if they have recommendations.

Before you get a tattoo, make sure your artist is licensed and that their shop appears clean and well cared for.

When to talk with a pro

If you notice your new tattoo seems to be blurring within a few days, chances are you’re experiencing a tattoo blowout. The first thing you should do is notify the artist who tattooed you.

While your tattoo artist may offer to cover up the tattoo, consider all your options. You may want someone else to give you a cover-up if you think the artist wasn’t skilled enough. Or perhaps you’d rather try laser therapy if you like your tattoo but want to reduce the appearance of the blowout.

Once you decide on next steps, you should wait until your tattoo is healed before pursuing a cover-up, laser treatment, or surgical removal.

Contact a reputable tattoo artist with experience doing cover-ups if you’d like to go the tattoo route. Contact a dermatologist if you’d like to try laser therapy or surgical tattoo removal.

The bottom line

Tattoo blowouts are an unfortunate side effect for some people with new tattoos. While tattoo blowouts can’t necessarily be prevented, there are steps you can take to minimize your risks.

If you have a tattoo blowout, there are several things you can do to reduce its appearance, such as choosing the right placement for your tattoo and going to a reputable tattoo artist. Allow your tattoo to heal properly before asking a professional to deal with the blowout.

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