Lip Tattoo Infection – Why It Can Happen & How to Handle It

By Emily M.| Last updated on January 27, 2023
lip tattoo infection
⏱️ 6 min read

Permanent makeup is relatively non-invasive, but since it is a form of tattooing, it does entail certain side effects and risks. Lip blushing in particular, because it is done on one of the most sensitive parts of the face.

The risks of a lip tattoo include allergic reactions, irritation, permanent tissue damage in the most extreme cases, and infection. Today, let’s zoom in on 1 risk in particular – lip tattoo infection. Read on to find out what types of infection can happen as a consequence of a lip tattoo, how to recognize them, and how they are prevented and treated.

Why Can Lip Tattoo Infection Happen?

The answer to this question goes back to the lip blushing technique – the skin is opened up, and this gives bacteria a direct path. Plus, the repeated piercing inevitably irritates the skin.

Bacterial contamination can happen during the procedure, or in the days after it, before the skin has had time to heal and close up. But there’s another form of lip tattoo infection which is generally more common and it’s not really related to external contamination – viral infection, AKA cold sore flare-ups.

why can lip tattoo infection happenImage source: Freepik

Bacterial VS Viral Lip Tattoo Infection

Let’s explain both bacterial and viral lip tattoo infection in more detail.

Bacterial Lip Tattoo Infection

As we’ve already explained, the piercing of the skin of the lips creates a pathway for bacteria to enter the skin and cause an infection. Bacterial contamination can happen at several stages of the lip tattoo process – during the treatment, or during the healing period.

As soon as the first little poke is done to your lips, contamination can happen. The question is only whether or not there’s any bacteria in the area that can be introduced into the micro wounds – on the lips before the tattooing starts, or on the tools and supplies used.

If the treatment is performed in accordance with all the health and safety standards, this won’t happen.

But once the treatment is over and you leave the salon, the ball is in your court. The micro wounds don’t close up immediately and you need to take all precautions so as to keep them safe from contamination, as well as follow all the prescribed aftercare instructions.

Since the mouth has plenty of bacteria and lips are often in contact with saliva, they are more susceptible to getting infected. Of course, salivation is not something you can control, but here are some of the precautions you can take:

  • Don’t allow your lips to touch any unsterile surface – your fingers, any lip product that’s been used previously, unclean towels, unsterile cotton pads.
  • Clean the area as prescribed by your artist.
  • Use the prescribed aftercare balm – among other benefits, they usually contain ingredients with mild antibacterial properties.
  • Make sure the cutlery you use is clean.
  • Refrain from kissing.
  • Refrain from swimming for a few weeks – pool water is full of bacteria, and harsh chemicals don’t help either.

You can find more detailed info on lip tattoo aftercare in this guide.

How Do I Recognize a Bacterial Lip Tattoo Infection?

In the days following the appointment, pay close attention to signs alerting that something might be wrong. Infection symptoms usually start off as side effects, but if they don’t subside in a few days, you might consider it as a sign of a problem.

So, what is considered normal and what is a cause for concern?

Swelling, tenderness and mild itching are all okay for a day or 2. But if these side effects are prolonged, it is the first sign of an infection developing. Pain is another red flag, but since pain levels are such a subjective category, it’s hard to pinpoint how bad it should be for you to get worried.

Mild to moderate tenderness for a day or so is fine – it’s a natural consequence of your lips being tattooed. But should you feel anything more extreme than that, consider whether there are any other symptoms and contact your artist and have them assess the situation.

Other sure signs of infection would be:

  • blistering or bubbling
  • major swelling that’s not subsiding
  • pus, oozing of whitish/yellow/greenish discharge that’s not just a bit of lymph fluid
  • and an unpleasant odor coming from the area.

lip tattoo infectionImage source: YouTube Screenshot Naomie Millien

What Do I Do If I Get a Bacterial Lip Tattoo Infection?

If you get any red flags, the first step should be contacting your artist, describing the symptoms, and sending them pics or seeing them in person. They will assess the situation and instruct you further.

If they don’t, or they’re taking ages to respond, see a doctor – your GP or a dermatologist.

This type of infection may need treatment in the form of antibiotics. While most infections are mild and don’t cause any serious issues, if they’re left untreated they can develop and worsen, resulting in a seriously compromised immune system, fever, messed up blood pressure, and even permanent scarring in the area affected.

So, if you notice anything weird going on, act on it as soon as possible.

Viral Lip Tattoo Infection

While bacterial infections can happen due to contamination, viral infections happen due to the trauma afflicted on the lips during tattooing. Here we’re talking about cold sore flare ups, caused by the herpes simplex virus.

This virus is present in a large portion of the population, and while some people get cold sores often, whenever their immune system is weakened, others may not even know they carry it.

When the lips are pierced over and over again with the tattoo needle, this provokes the virus and a cold sore can emerge in the days after the treatment. This is not a huge problem as cold sores are essentially harmless and temporary, and they don’t affect the lip blush results in most cases. But it sure can be annoying.

viral lip tattoo infectionImage source: YouTube Screenshot Paulina Osinkowska

How to Handle a Viral Lip Tattoo Infection

Luckily, there’s a way to prevent a flare up altogether or to mitigate it if it does happen. If you’ve ever had a cold sore, consult your GP and have them prescribe an antiviral med to take before your treatment, or get an over-the-counter one and have it on hand if a flare up emerges after the treatment.

The tricky thing is, precautions are usually only taken by clients who had cold sores in the past. But a lip tattoo may cause your first ever flare up, so any credible artist will talk you through this possibility anyway. It’s important you’re aware of this possibility and not get panicky if it happens. It’s temporary and it’s treated easily.


If you’re going with an over-the-counter medication, make sure to read the instructions carefully and stick to the proper dosage. In general, it’s always best to consult a medical professional.

How Can I Prevent a Lip Tattoo Infection?

Well first and foremost, only book cosmetic procedures with a licensed and certified permanent makeup artist. Licensed artists have gone through proper health training, which ensures they’ve been educated on how to properly sterilize their equipment and working space.

Secondly, you have to follow the aftercare instructions to a T. They are there for a reason and that reason is partly to avoid endangering your health.

If you are prone to cold sores, you should contact your GP to prescribe you antiviral medication you’ll take proactively. If you haven’t, the first sign of a cold sore is usually that uncomfortable tingling, so if you feel this, react immediately and get an antiviral – it may not be too late to nip it in the bud.

how to prevent a lip tattoo infection

Not to Sound Like a Broken Record, But…

Never get the treatment done by someone who’s not certified and licensed. Seriously, we cannot stress enough how important this is.

Any respectable training course teaches artists how to prevent contamination and perform the treatment in a safe way, plus most jurisdictions require artists to take bloodborne pathogen training before they issue their license.

Of course, you can never know in advance that the artist will do everything perfectly, but going to someone with all the credentials cuts the risk in half.

Cover image source: Freepik



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