BME/Risks: Extreme Tattoo Ink Bleeding

It’s not unusual for some people to get a slight “halo” of color around their tattoos, as the ink moves out via capilliary action and permeates and stains subcutateous tissue. Sometimes this is because of a mistake make by the artist (for example, tattooing too deep), but because anatomy is so variable from person to person, even the best artists have it happen at times. Typically this halo extends not much more than 1/4″ and is subtle enough that most people won’t even notice it, but a friend just sent me this example which is one of the most extreme examples of tattoo ink bleeding out into surrounding tissue that I’ve seen to date.

In the pictures below, the left one (which also shows a rash that developed after the tattoo, which may or may not be related — I suspect not — and was treated successfully with Sibicort, a Chlorhexidine/Hydrocortisone cream) is two weeks after the tattoo was done, and the right one was taken four months afterward, showing what looks almost like a bruise all the way around the arm. Over a year and a half later and the discoloration still looks the same. The woman with the tattoo has very light, thin skin which is generally sensitive and prone to allergic responses. The ink that was used is the same ink the tattooist normally uses and hasn’t caused problems for other clients as far as anyone knows.

These pictures shows the extremes to which ink is capable of spreading. It should be noted that because of the likely depth and diffuse nature of the discolouration, it is unlikely that this can be treated short of simply tattooing over all affected skin. If any professionals have comments or feedback on this — theories on what caused it or how to minimize it, or whether this is just an unavoidable risk in a certain percentage of clients — I’d love to hear it.

megableed

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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by BMEzine.com LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by BMEzine.com LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

37 thoughts on “BME/Risks: Extreme Tattoo Ink Bleeding

  1. pasting across some comments from my facebook feed on this:

    Paige E. Toth Wow!
    44 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Joseph Ware Brand of ink, or batch thereof, is an issue.
    42 minutes ago · Edited · Like
    Francis Wilson · Friends with Holier Than Thou
    I’ve always heard that this kind of spread can be caused by an artist unknowingly tattooing with a set of needles that may have a slight hook on the end of one of them…I was told that how the ink enters and spreads out through the capillaries.
    42 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Shannon Larratt Francis, interesting idea… It’s possible… I suspect that most explanations are going to be people’s best guesses. Personally I lean toward it being more related to the individual’s anatomy, but it’s hard to say for sure.
    40 minutes ago · Like
    Amy L Scott wow ive never had this fading out like this. now ive had bruises a week later though.
    37 minutes ago · Like
    Francis Wilson · Friends with Holier Than Thou
    Yeah, you are right, I am just going by what experienced tattooists have told me in the past, and what they have experienced, I’m sure an individuals skin has a lot to do with it too! It’s quite rare to see though, so it would be good to find out what causes it…
    37 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Kira Hosler I had this happen recently… it sucks.
    35 minutes ago · Like
    Jonahs KingRobot Farrell Hmmmmm
    34 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Cath Sanger I’ve never heared of this, ever, but I’m surprised – considering the ink has bled away from the tattoo and into the arm, the tattoo itself is really crisp. mine have bled over time and it looks like someone got the paper a little wet.
    32 minutes ago · Like
    Skylar Dayne Naughton · 5 mutual friends
    I had this happen with some darker green ink on my inner bicep. It’s not quite as obvious though.
    29 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Joseph Ware Not dismissing the many variables that cause this, but have discussed this with several colleagues that experienced it too often with a particular, well known, professional brand (or lot within that brand). So much so that all of us switched to a different black.
    29 minutes ago · Like · 1
    Ash Ridley I’ve had this happen on my wrists, not to that extent though, but it had spread pretty far from both the tattoos, they are about 3years old now, and not long after they healed I started getting a eczema type rash on the areas where the ink had spread. Really sucks
    28 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Sparrow Lovey I’ve got a couple of tattoos that have halos smaller than this, but they’re there (and people have thought they were bruises.) I would say it has to do with the skin. I have very thin, very sensitive skin.
    28 minutes ago · Like
    Jennie Philpott · Friends with Luna Cobra and 6 others
    i had this happen on one of my tattoos. All of my tattoos have been done by the same person but it only happened on one of them.
    27 minutes ago · Like
    Briana Memrick Hall I would not be surprised if the woman with the tattoo has a collagen tissue disorder (or something that causes similar symptoms), given the description. I suspect I have one, and I have noticed similar bleeding on some of my tattoos, despite the skill of my artists. Collagen tissue disorders can result in thin, fragile skin that is sensitive and prone to hives or allergic reactions, among other things.
    26 minutes ago · Like
    Alejandro Jovandro · 7 mutual friends
    i think this leakage is a reason enough for a full sleeve
    23 minutes ago · Like · 2
    Garry Bevan Ive been tattooing for 13 years and in my experience I’ve found the causes to be either a slightly hooked/dull needle, hitting the skin too hard, going too deep, or a combination of any of these things. It has however happened with a brand of concentra…See More
    22 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 1
    Gaara Max des Sables I’ve seen this on fully healed tattoo I did, the tattoo is clean the line is crisp and don’t show scar tissue, but in a part of the tattoo you can see a halo really fusy, it’s apparenly because of the ink ( in this case) a real dark black of a well kno…See More
    21 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Albert Jeffers · Friends with Jon Cobb and 11 others
    Often this discoloration comes from novice artists using pure uncut pre dispersed inks. Phthalocyanine Blue and Green as well as Dioxazine Violet. The particle size of these pigments is much smaller than most, making them closer to a dye. My suspicion is that some newer blacks on the market may also be mixed with a black dye, rather than concentrated disinfected drawing-type pigments.
    15 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Albert Jeffers · Friends with Jon Cobb and 11 others
    Also with a heavy handed artist, some pigment will find it’s way into the fattier less dense subcutaneous layers, aiding the “creep”.
    13 minutes ago via mobile · Like
    Mona Steinmetz I hae this too
    8 minutes ago · Like
    Jody Dean I have severe blow out on a tattoo on my knee/thigh… Almost 1/2″ around the entire outline…
    I have tattoos on my knuckles and thumb… Half of one of my whole thumbs is blue/black… It sucks!
    Different artists… Both rushed and heavy handed… Quite severe…
    I have sleeves, full chest, back, blah, blah, blah that are fine!
    I don’t get it but I hate it… Leg (and thumb? Ha!) sleeve it is!

  2. This happened on a small grey rose I have on my foot. I have about and inch of blue that extends almost onto my toes. It looks permanently bruised.

  3. happened to me too, blackwork on my calf looks the same and i dont think its going anywhere since its been there for years. the so called artist was really heavy handed and was definitely hitting too deep. my most painful tattoo ever, and this is the first time ive had this kind of bleeding. outlines are sharp, but there is huge bruise-like-halo around the tattoo. but looking on the bright side, now i have a perfect excuse to go for a sleeve!

  4. Could the rash be an allergic reaction to the gloves used – ie latex? or the tape used to tape a cover on the fresh tattoo? I break out almost the same from medical tape and latex btw.

    Also, could the color bleed be from a swelling and increase in fluids under the skin during the tattoo process and shortly afterwards that absorbed and then spread the new ink across the fatty layer? I know that would mean the needle went deep, but it would only take a few pokes for ink to leak, and then spread in the fluid. If the ink was also an irritant to the body it could have caused a fluid increase as the body tried to flush it away.

    Just some thoughts at 3am, if they don’t make complete sense I’m sorry.

  5. My wife has a tattoo on her leg, a black and grey portrait, and this has happened. There’s about 4 inches of very light grey all the way around it. Its been like this for 3 years now.

  6. I had to fire an artist a couple years back for this exact same reason. He did it twice, the first time i was very upset, the second time i was furious. Both times, on naturally red haired people. One male, one female. I later tattooed both, and covered up the large spread with a different tattoo (with no further ink bleeding i would like to add). What i noticed right away was they had exceptionally amazing skin to tattoo, sucked the ink right up. So there was no effort on my part to get the ink in. My thoughts are that with people like that, someone with less experience may have the tendency to overwork the skin and that leads to the spread. The moral of the story: pay attention and don’t just hammer away on someone.

  7. This happened to my latest tattoo; not as severe as in the picture, but the effect is the same. Interestingly, the tattoo has three colors and only one of those spread; it has also spread more near the elbow and less near the armpit (basically a gradually increasing bleed from top to bottom). I think the cause is a combination of my skin and the tattoo artist (whose work regularly appears on this blog, ha!) being rather heavy handed. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do about it. On the one hand, yes, it shouldn’t be there and it really does look like a bruise. On the other, the lines themselves are crisp and clean and the bleeding doesn’t really distract from the entire thing. Some people whom I’ve showed it to says they think it actually rather suits. I’ve been thinking about standard laser tattoo removal treatments — is it certain those don’t work on this kind of bleed, or would it be at at least worth a shot?

  8. Wow, I have this on my arm thanks to an inexperienced artist going way too deep. He adjusted the needles improperly & just DUG IN. It hurt so bad too. Mine is nowhere near this bad, but I had what looked like a large bruise several inches to one side of my tattoo for a long time. It seems to have gotten a bit better over the past year though, nobody really notices it anymore & its much lighter. It doesn’t bother me TOO much because I plan to sleeve both arms eventually, but it does make me kinda mad >:|

  9. I wonder if there is a way to fix this without tattooing over the area. I really like my tattoo other than the areas that look bruised.. Maybe laser removal?

  10. I’ve done laser removal on a couple of people with bad bleed out which has been really successful. Should only need 1-2 treatments too.

  11. Cool, thanks Mike. I was also considering removing the skin around the tattoo, sort of like an outline but maybe that would look weird..

  12. Some tattoo artists just suck and go to deep! BUT If you have had bleeding happen to a tattoo that was done by a good experienced artist, then I agree with a theory above stating perhaps your skin is lacking Collagen… I’ve been tattooing for 16 years and some people have skin that is so thin and soft almost like the skin on a new born and it doesn’t really matter how deep or what angle you go it just blows out regardless. I really don’t think that laser removal will help but if you have the money to try I guess try… If you have had it happen I would recommend telling any future artist to try and use a thicker ink, there’s plenty out there on the market… The thinner the ink the more likely it is to bleed.

  13. I am a person with a connective tissue disorder (causes improperly formed collagen.) I have super-thin, super-pale, sensitive skin. BUT, my large tattoo does not have this halo, and it has been on me for 17 years. Another woman I know with the same disorder has a full back piece and no halo-ing.

  14. this happened to my father on his first and only tattoo. his is a cornflower blue band with same-colour outlines, on his upper arm. there is a large, intense blowout all around the front of the tattoo. it spreads about one inch out from the tattoo itself, and looks like a ripe bruise. i have one or two tiny blowouts on tattoos of my own and this is nothing like those. i’ve never seen anything like it. it must be there 10 years at this stage.

  15. This happened every time I was tattooed in Japan. The first time, when my knuckles were done, my artist apologetically explained to me it was likely it would happen due to how pale my skin was and that the inks he had were intended for Japanese skin tones which had a harder time soaking up the bright colors he was famous for. Sure enough there was a halo down the back of my hand. He I believe explained to me it would fade over time, which was correct. There’s still a tiny bit of a halo around the work I had done during that time period but for the most part its un-noticeable.

    I’ve never had this happen on any of the work I’ve yet gotten in the states though.

    Shannon, it’s good to see you back!!

  16. i had something similar happen to me, on the underside of my arm betwixt pit and elbow, didnt hurt while i was getting it done but it did bleed way more than anything else ive had, bruised really badly and when what id assumed was bruising hadnt faded after 3 months i went back, where the guy told me it was just ink that had blown out into the fat layer (buddy you mucked up my tattoo, blaming my fat layer does you no favours) and that it would metabolise over time. No change after a year (and id say my “fat layer” has nothing to do with it, cheeky get) ive just assumed its going to be a cover up job at some point, the only thing i can think is i do quite a physical job and maybe the amout of movement before it was healed encouraged the ink to spread? its encouraging to hear its potentially laser treatable though as i still love the tattoo and id like it to look its best!

  17. 5 months ago I had my finger tattooed and an inch below the tattoo has been bruised since. At first I thought it was a bruise that wouldn’t go away. After finding this I now believe the ink bled down into my hand. I do have a collagen disorder and am fair haired and fair skinned. I also have 7 other tattoos that this did not happen with. The artist was an experienced artist. But for being the smallest tattoo, it had hurt the most and bled the most out of my 8 tattoos.

  18. my blead out is a lot like the pic posted. A quick fix of broadening the lines will not work. Initially thought is was bruising so i waited a month and this morning my little ones made a comment about it looking like my tat was rubbing off..lol
    going back tot he artist tonight to see what can be done about it…thinking it’s gonna take more artwork to “cover” the bleedout.

  19. I had hand tapped traditional tattoos whilst travelling in Borneo. The spreading or blow out is quite severe on my biceps as it seems my skin is thinner there, also have some spreading on collar bone (I had extensive tatts across shoulders and arms using traditional methods). After almost 2 years the ink is still spreading, and I’ve noticed it seems to worsen when I work out regular. It’s something to bear in mind if you’r considering having hand tapped tatts 1) the tattooist has less control over how deep he/she is penetrating with the needle 2) light coloured skin with less sun exposure is less tough than, say, a local with dark skin. To be honest I’m proud of my tattoo, I don’t care that it’s spread it’s part and parcel of getting tatts in a traditional manner. I would like to add that I also had tatts done by a thai guy in the uk using bamboo and they haven’t spread. I believe that the stretching and hammering involved in the bornean method increases likelihood of spreading in softer pale skin!!.

  20. Had this happen to a recent tattoo I had done. Not quite as intrusive. I’m not happy at all. My tattoo artist has been in the business for 20 years and is no amateur. Will be interesting to see what we will do about taking care of the damage. This isn’t the first one he’s done for me. The others are great. Not sure what happened. Now I will be very nervous about having more work done. :(

  21. I just got my 5th. tattoo a week ago. This also happened to mine. (None of my others have done this) Went back to the shop where I had it done, was told that “when older people” get tattoo, this sometimes happens because of thin skin. (I am 59). This is my favorite one of all, I just hope it doesn’t bleed into my arm anymore.

  22. I have blow out in the inside of my upper arm from a year ago and from my most recent tattoo a week ago. Everyone has been asking me if its a bruise. I want to cry right now. To cover it up it will now have to go to past my elbow which completely fks it up for my cover ups cardigans at work. :( fock!

  23. there are two types of “blowout” or what we call blowout – the one is obvious when you see line leaks and thick blow out lines, that is caused by an artist with low skill and heavy hand. This picture is different and no one has yet to figure out why sometimes on area’s that are thinner, more fattier (inside the arm, sides of the hips, etc) get this ink puddling that looks like bruising which sometimes goes away and other times not. It is obvious from the picture that the artist is not at fault and the tattoo is well done, what amazes is me how in certain area’s of where the skin is generally stretched you see this happen. Its like the fat cells that are touched by the hand when stretching get damaged (my guess) and the ink goes there and puddles? We just had one where you could see a perfect outline of the thumb where the skin had been held? I think the only way this will get solved is if everyone submits photos, ink used and area’s of the body plus skin type as one common factor is area and skin type (white and think skin)

  24. I have had this happen to one of my tattoos on my inner wrist. I was told that if I wanted to get it covered up I wouldn’t be able to because my cells are full of ink. Does anyone know it this is true? Has anyone here actually got theirs covered up and the ink took and no more halo around the tat???

  25. Holy cow. I’ve been suspecting something is wrong with my newest tat. Interesting to note for those who are keeping score: I have a recessive red-hair gene from my father. (My hair is naturally auburn, though it’s bright aqua blue right now.) The kid who did my tattoo made sure to do extra-sharp lines on my tat which is a pair of blackwork katakana names. The problem is as some have described above: he really dug into my arm when he did it. That’s the left wrist/forearm along the radius bone.

    On the inside (fleshy part) of the RIGHT wrist, I have a 6-year-old tattoo of a large kanji character that was done by a much more skilled artist. No bleed-out. Both blackwork tattoos the more experienced artist did for me and the re-color are fine. But the one the young guy did? Horrible.

    Please note: They also told me which brands of lotion to use. I followed advice and used Palmer’s Cocoa Butter. I had a nasty allergic reaction to it and got bumps all along the area where I was applying the butter. Note that I was told in no uncertain terms to use an unscented lotion. However, when I finally figured out that it was the butter I was using that was giving me the reaction, I switched to my normal daily lotion which has very fragrant organic plant extracts. Within 12 hours, the rash stopped itching miserably. Within a few days, most of the bumps had subsided and were just tiny discolorations. After that the rash went away.

    It’s been 2.5 weeks, and when I do not actively have lotion rubbed into the tattoo, it has a very “cracked” appearance. As if you were looking at PARCHED EARTH. You know what I’m talking about. That nasty desert earth look. I have no idea if that’s because there’s a shit ton of ink built up where he dug it into my flesh.

    I do know that when I go back to see them tomorrow, as I plan to do, they’ll probably blame it on me getting the wrong lotion and having an allergic reaction. (It doesn’t say “fragrance free.”) But that will be bullshit because I’m pretty confident, especially after reading these comments, that it was the poor skill and experience of the artist.

    The more you know.

    Any help with the “parched earth” problem I’m having would be highly appreciated. Thanks, and keep the information flowing.

  26. I have had my sleeve done in stages… First 2 were fine. Now at 1/2 sleeve & I have ink migration on the inner arm & I had planned to get the last of the sleeve done in a few weeks time!
    Artist didn’t grip my arm tight…. Or I didn’t think so at the time. She’s an experienced artist.
    I am interested in the use of thicker inks to get this finished with confidence?

    http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b145/leopard_pagan/Tattoos/3b_zpsf005c937.jpg
    http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b145/leopard_pagan/Tattoos/3a_zps03083332.jpg

  27. Just today I saw a retail clerk with an extreme halo on her arm. She was very dark olive skinned and does not have sensitive skin. It appeared as if her tattoo was smeared and as if she outlined it with dirty charcoal, as the halo effect was mottled. Although the work was NOT done by a professional, I don’t believe it was too deep because there was no scarring. I just had to look this phenom up. I’ve never seen this. But I think it is so important to remember that with any tattoo, there are many inherent risks;this is one of them.

  28. A month ago I had my husbands name tattooed on my wedding finger. I went to a professional recommended by a friend who had had her work done by him with no problems at all. The tattoo bled very little although and having very tiny fingers the artist said it was quite diddly to do however I was thrilled with the result. I followed instructions about not immersing it in water and used salvon until it had healed but noticed the bruising didn’t appear to be going away. After about three weeks I began to realise there was something not quite right and that this bruising was in fact ink spread. I hope it fades over time as it does look like I have a big bruise permanently on my finger but I don’t blame the artist. It appears this is just an unfortunate incident that he could not foresee happening. And, as I do have thin fingers and the skin is thin, perhaps that is the reason this happened.

  29. I have a very extreme case of this blow out situation. However it is followed by extreme loss of coordination in my forearm and pain. My tattoo is several years old yet I had it touched up a year and a half ago. The blow out didn’t start until 8 months ago followed by pain that has gotten worse. I no longer can play my guitar and some days have trouble brushing my hair. Before I knew of a “blow out” I was seen by a Dr. Who performed an ultrasound which came back fine. My life is greatly altered by this and I wish I could take the tattoo back :(

  30. I have recently had the same experience and when I went back to the tattoo artist they claimed they had never seen this before. My his is my second tattoo and it’s on my inner forearm.
    I went to another tattoo artist and he said it was bleeding under my skin because I have such fine skin. He said it’s not possible to remove with laser! Has anyone else tried to remove it with laser and what was the outcome?

  31. I had this happen on two tattoos pretty badly. The one leaked green about two inches outside the tattoo. The other one was done two weeks ago and is leaking blue 2-3 inches outside the tattoo. I linked a picture of the more recent one. Both were done by the same artist. Both also got infected, which has never happened to any other tattoo I’ve gotten done. Both tattoos are on my arm. I also have pretty pale skin, but again I have many other tattoos with no problem like this.

    http://i890.photobucket.com/albums/ac110/smpolowczuk/074DAE43-D275-42A9-90C2-874F7D6AB331_zpseeqisyad.jpg

  32. Same here! I am sort of a hypochondriac so of course I am thinking the worse. I got my tattoo about 3 weeks ago and it did bruise really bad so I thought that’s what the the discoloration was. Well it doesn’t hurt anymore so I am worried. The discoloration is only on one side of my tattoo (the side with thinner skin). I have 20+ tattoos and this has never happened to me before :/

  33. Has anyone here ever heard of a tattooist thinning out their ink with rubbing alcohol? I found out that the guy who did one of mine which had s bleed-out did this. Also, he used a teal-blue ink (which I’ve noticed a couple times in the above comments). He was not really heavy handed, however the areas that bled out DID hurt worse than the rest. I must also say though that he was not the greatest- I’m quite disappointed because many of my lines are sloppy/shaky and even jagged in a couple areas (near the bleedout). I have 20+ tattoos and this has NEVER happened, even with homemade guns and low quality ink, and he has supposedly been tattooing for 27 years. He WAS rushing towards the end, which is coincidentally also the side that the ink bled on. He blamed it on subdural (?) bleeding and said it was probably because of me drinking a lot of alcohol the night before but if that were the case the other one he did at the same time would have don’t the same thing- it was basically a mirror image on the other shoulder/neckline. From a distance it looks pretty cool, but when you are a couple feet away or closer you can see the flaws which is extremely depressing. I guess ya get what ya pay for, but at the same time If he felt he was doing too much for the price he shouldn’t have done it. It doesn’t excuse rushing through something and doing a crappy job! Now I’m stuck with it!

  34. I have had the same thing happen to a cross on my inner wrist where it now has a blue halo around it. I had it done 4 years ago and the blue halo still looks the same. The cross was done in black ink.

  35. A lack of collagen in the skin is absolutely one of the reasons for these bruise like effects. I know little about tattooing, but unfortunately I know a lot about collagen disorders since I have a pretty severe one. Very soft, stretchy ‘dough’ like skins are very good indicators to be very careful.
    I have just gotten my second tattoo with the artist who also did my first one. He knows about my disease and he took things very slow both times. The first one went great! Although one line has a tiny little bleed, I guess you’d call it, the lines are otherwise perfectly straight.
    The second one however has been placed on thinner skin and is beginning to show a pretty bright ‘bruise’. I knew the risks. But I think the tip to watch out for certain kinds of skin on people would be a great tip for tattoo artists.
    Another great indicator is that these people are often very flexible.

  36. I had an unprofessional, tattoo initials on my finger, January 2012, that bled into the knuckle of my hand. After 2 treatments of lasering, its very much faded, but used a colour removal laser – not a laser for purely black ink…and arnica cream to help heal…one more treatment and it should all be gone…tho it has faded over time, thankfully..and yes the guy drove the wrong size needle in too deep..Always better to stick to a professional artist!

  37. I had a tattoo done two days ago and the ink was bleeding out as soon as the tattoo was finished. I think it is a combination of my age, 72, and the tattoo artist’s lack of experience. I have five other tattoos applied over a span of 30 years and this is the first time this has happened. The previous tattoo was done about 15 years ago. I intend to see what the tattoo shop/artist can do to correct it. I’m satisfied with the line work and his artistic talent but not the bleed out.

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