Tattoos are an increasingly common sight. Some surveys suggest that a fifth of all Americansnow have one or more tattoos. Tattoos are also becoming less controversial in the workplace in many industries. You may see several co-workers, your boss, or executive management sporting visible tattoos, even in a traditional office environment.
Because of how popular they are, you may not think that tattoos are all that risky to get. But getting a tattoo does carry some risk: After all, inserting an ink-covered needle into your skin has the potential to introduce foreign matter or bacteria into your body.
Getting a tattoo from a person or a shop that doesn’t properly clean their tools or instruct you on how to keep your fresh tattoo clean can lead to skin conditions, infections, or other health problems.
Here’s what you need to know about recognizing a possible infection, treating the affected area, and more.
How to prevent tattoo infection
Before getting a tattoo, find out if you’re allergic to any ingredients in tattoo ink. Make sure you ask your tattoo artist what ingredients their inks contain. If you’re allergic to any of the ingredients, ask for a different ink or avoid getting a tattoo altogether. However, keep in mind that it may be difficult to know what exactly is in tattoo inks, as they are not regulated in any way. Make sure that all items that touch your skin have been properly sterilized. Don’t feel shy about asking the parlor about how they sterilize their instruments and meet safety standards. It’s your health!
Other things to consider before getting a tattoo include:
- Is the tattoo parlor licensed?_ Licensed parlors have to be inspected by a health agency and meet certain safety requirements in order to stay open.
- Is the tattoo parlor reputable?_ It’s worth visiting a few tattoo parlors before you decide to get a tattoo to see how trustworthy the parlor is. Reading reviews online or hearing about the shop through word of mouth are good ways to gauge how safe the shop is.
- Does your potential tattoo artist follow safety procedures?_ Your tattoo artist should use a new, sterilized needle every time they start a tattoo. They should also wear gloves at all times.
If your tattoo artist gives you instructions on how to take care of your tattoo, follow them closely. If they didn’t provide you with clear guidelines afterward, give them a call. They should be able to provide you with aftercare information.
In general, you should do the following to make sure the area heals properly:
- Three to five hours after you’ve gotten the tattoo, remove the bandage.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water.
- Wash the tattooed area gently with antibacterial soap.
- Use a clean, dry washcloth or paper towel to pat the area dry.
- Let the area air-dry for a few minutes. Don’t rub it dry. This can damage the skin.
- Put an ointment (not a lotion), such as Vaseline, on the area.
- Repeat these steps about four times a day for at least four days.
Once the tattooed area starts to form into scabs, use a moisturizer or lotion to keep your skin from getting too dry or damaged. Don’t itch or pick at the skin. This can cause the area to heal improperly, which may make you more susceptible to infections.
Distinguish between a sebaceous cyst and epidermoid cyst. An epidermoid cyst is more common than a sebaceous cyst. Each will have slightly different symptoms and will be treated just a little differently. Therefore, it is important that the cyst you have on your skin is diagnosed appropriately for effective treatment.
Both types of cysts are flesh-colored or white-yellow and have a smooth surface.
Epidermoid cysts are more common. These are slow growing and often painless. They don’t usually require treatment, unless they are causing pain or become infected.
Pilar cysts are composed primarily of keratin (the protein that makes up hair and nails) and form from the outer hair root sheath, typically on the head. A pilar cyst is often thought to be another term for a sebaceous cysts, but they are in fact different.
Sebaceous cysts are commonly found in the hair follicles on the head. They form inside the glands that secrete sebum, an oily substance that coats the hair. When these normal secretions are trapped, they develop into a pouch containing a cheese-like substance. They are commonly found in areas near the neck, upper back, and on the scalp. Sebaceous cysts are often confused with pilar or epidermoid cysts.
Distinguish between cysts in the breast and tumors. Cysts can be in one or both breasts. Without a mammogram or needle biopsy it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two different types of lumps in the breast. Symptoms of a breast cyst will include:
Smooth, easily movable lump with distinct edges
Pain or tenderness over the lump
Size and tenderness will increase just before your period starts
Size and tenderness will decrease when your period ends
Understand cystic acne. Acne is a general term that describes a variety of different types of pimples, blackheads, pustules, whiteheads and cysts. Cystic acne are nodules that are red, raised, often 2–4 mm in size and nodular and are the most severe form of acne. The infection in a cystic acne is deeper than that in other pustules or whiteheads. Cystic acne is painful.
Identify a ganglion cyst. These are the most common types of lumps found on the hand and wrist. They are not cancerous and often harmless. Filled with fluid, they can quickly appear, disappear or change in size. They do not require treatment unless they interfere with function or are unacceptable in appearance.
Determine if pain is from a pilonidal cyst. In this condition there is a cyst, abscess or dimple that forms in the crease between the buttocks that runs from the lower end of the spine to the anus. It can be caused from wearing tight clothing, excess body hair, sitting for long periods of time or obesity. Symptoms can include pus from the area, tenderness over the cyst, or the skin may be warm, tender or swollen near the tailbone. Or there may not be any symptoms beside a pit or dimple at the base of the spine.
Distinguish a Bartholin gland cyst. These glands are located on either side of the vaginal opening to lubricate the vagina. When the gland becomes obstructed, a relatively painless swelling forms called a Bartholin’s cyst. If the cyst is not infected you may not notice it. An infection can occur in a matter of days causing tenderness, fever, discomfort walking, pain with intercourse, and a tender, painful lump near the vaginal opening.
See a doctor for swelling in the testicles. All testicular swelling must be diagnosed by a physician to determine the differences between a cyst, cancerous growth, hydrocele or infection in the testicles. A testicular cysts, also called a spermatocele or epididymal cyst, is typically a painless, fluid-filled, noncancerous sac in the scrotum above the testicles. T
Consider getting a second opinion if you are not satisfied with your physician’s diagnosis and treatment. Although most epidermoid and pilar cysts do not require treatment from a physician, if you do seek medical advice and are not satisfied with the results seek a second opinion. Most sebaceous and epidermoid cysts are straightforward, but there are other conditions that may mimic these cysts.
In a case study written in the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the authors presented two cases in which melanoma and a deep oral cavity were originally mistaken for a sebaceous cyst.
There are a variety of other infectious processes that may be mistaken for a sebaceous cyst, including boils, furuncles and carbuncles.
Treating a Cyst at Home
Treat uninfected epidermoid and sebaceous cysts at home. Signs of infection include the area becoming swollen, red, tender, or red and warm. If your home treatment for these cysts is not effective or if you experience symptoms, which indicate an infection, you should seek medical care from your physician.
If the cyst causes pain or discomfort with walking or intercourse, medical care is needed to treat the cyst.
Use a wet, warm compress over an epidermoid cyst to encourage it to drain and heal. The washcloth should be hot but not so hot that it burns the skin. Place it over the cyst two to three times a day.
Cystic acne responds better to ice than it does to heat.
Bartholin gland cysts can be treated at home using warm water sitz baths. This involves sitting in several inches of warm water to encourage the cyst to drain.
Refrain from picking, squeezing, or trying to pop either an epidermoid cyst or sebaceous cyst. This can increase the risk of infection and scarring. Also, never pick, squeeze or attempt to pop a cystic acne. This drives the infection deeper and increases the risk of scar tissue.
Allow an epidermoid cyst to drain naturally. Once it begins to drain, cover it with a sterile dressing, which you can change twice a day. If a large amount of pus begins to drain from the cyst, the skin surrounding the cyst turns red, the area becomes warm and tender, or blood begins to drain from the cyst, it is time to seek medical care.
Keep the area clean. To prevent an infection, keep the cyst and the area surrounding it clean. Wash it daily using an antibacterial soap or cream.
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