Tattooing, the art of permanently marking one’s body by injecting ink into the lower layers of skin, requires a great deal of practice on the artist’s part. Many aspiring tattoo artists often practice at home, tattooing themselves or friends to build a portfolio. While organizations such as the American Society for Dermatological Surgery caution against homemade tattoos, the practice remains legal so long as the home artist is not soliciting business. Homemade tattoos require extra care and caution as they heal compared to those given in licensed tattoo parlors.

Prepare the Site

As with any tattoo, proper preparation of the skin prior to applying ink greatly reduces the risk of adverse skin reactions such as infections or granulomas. Shave the area to remove any hair, even fine hairs that are barely visible. Clean the area with an antiseptic such as rubbing alcohol. Sterilize any non-disposable equipment and use fresh needles, tubes and pigment to avoid injecting pathogens into your skin.

Keep the Skin Clean

Tattoos require piercing your skin hundreds if not thousands of times to create the desired design. You may find that drops of blood form on the surface of your skin during the tattooing process. Wipe the area dry and apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment after finishing the tattoo. Bandage your tattoo with a sterile medical pad and medical tape. Keep your tattoo bandaged for the first 24 hours. Wash the area with plain soap and water twice a day, then pat dry. Avoid touching the tattoo aside from cleaning and moisturizing during the healing process. Allow any scabs that form to flake off on their own, which can take up to two weeks. Apply mild moisturizer to the skin three to five times a day for at least 10 days after removing the bandage. Wear loose-fitting clothing over the tattoo and limit exposure to the sun.

Watch for Adverse Reactions

Even tattoos that were applied using properly sanitized and sterile equipment can cause adverse reactions. Allergic skin reactions to the inks can result in an itchy rash. Rashes from allergic reactions can occur even several years after you receive the tattoo. Watch carefully for signs of infection, which include redness, swelling pain and pus-like discharge. Healthy tattoos often appear and feel like a mild sunburn for the first day or two. The risk of infection is much greater for homemade tattoos than for tattoos from licensed parlors.

Don’t Ignore Infection

Skin infections from tattoos can cause permanent scarring and skin damage. If they are ignored, some infections can spread, leading to grave health problems. Contact your dermatologist immediately if you suspect a problem with your homemade tattoo, such as considerable discomfort, soreness or redness. Go to the emergency room immediately if you experience any pus-like discharge or begin to run a fever. Both signs point to an advanced infection that requires antibiotic treatment and possible dermatological surgery.