If you were to ask the average ink lover what they most fear when getting a new piece, there's a good chance that blowout would make the list.
Blowout—when a tattoo appears blurry—has a range of causes, and while it sadly cannot be fixed, there are ways to prevent it from happening (and ways to remove it if it does). We asked two tattoo artists and a dermatologist to give us the info on all things tattoo blowout. Keep reading for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
What Is Tattoo Blowout?
If you’ve recently gotten a tattoo, but it appears blurry and smudged during and after the healing process, you may be experiencing tattoo blowout.
“A blowout is when a tattoo expands below the skin layer when it hits fat [and] veins or when scarring occurs,” says Crys. “It is easily identified by the blurring effect on the surface of the tattoo.”
Though tattoo blowout doesn’t mean your ink is infected, it can cause scarring and unwanted ink spread in the surrounding area.
“While tattoos can cause infections or allergic reaction, tattoo blowout is not related to infection,” says Campbell. “When the instruments or pigment used to make the tattoo contain infectious organisms, infection can result. Allergic reactions can occur to tattoo pigment, particularly red tattoo pigment.”
How Does Tattoo Blowout Happen?
While tattoo blowout can occur due to poorly executed aftercare, it’s more likely to happen due to a tattoo being inked incorrectly from the beginning. A tattoo is created when ink is injected below the dermis layer of skin and into the epidermis, and blowout is a sign that the ink has gone past the epidermis into the hypodermis, “where veins, fat, and spider veins reside,” says Crys. Essentially, the artist messes something up in the process, causing more trauma to your skin than necessary and the ink to extend past the expected lines of the design.
“[Blowout] could mean a tattoo artist applied a tattoo too deeply into the skin, [wasn’t] being attentive enough, or [didn’t ink it] at the recommended angle,” says Nesheva. “If applied too deeply into the skin, a tattoo is able to get to the layer of fat, which basically is the reason for such tattoo blowout.”
How Tattoo Blowout Can Be Fixed
Unfortunately, once blowout occurs, there’s nothing you can do to reverse it. In order to “fix” the blurry ink, you can try to correct it with additional tattooing. This may mean getting a full cover-up tattoo that covers the old, messed-up design, but it could also mean finding a tattoo artist who can work with the fuzzy and over-blown lines to simply clean up the ink. Either way, it’s imperative that you choose a new, experienced artist to work with who can easily navigate your traumatized skin to make it look much better.
If you decide to go this route, note that you’ll have to wait until the original tattoo is fully healed before getting another one. This may mean living with a blown-out tattoo for two weeks, if not longer. You’ll also have to opt for a tattoo that’s larger and darker than the original, so work with your new artist to create a design you’ll love, despite the new restrictions.
Another way to handle tattoo blowout is with lasers. “You can treat blowout with lasers used to remove tattoos, which include [the] Q-Switched:ND:YAG laser or picosecond lasers like [the] PicoWay system,” says dermatologist Caren Campbell.
These types of lasers are used in tattoo removal, but can also be used to specifically target parts of a tattoo that have been blown out. Over the course of a few sessions, you can effectively erase the blurry parts of a tattoo to create the crisp design you originally wanted.
If you’d rather not worry about being precise, you can always fix tattoo blowout by getting the design fully removed with lasers.
How to Prevent Tattoo Blowout
The bottom line is that tattoo blowout happens when you get inked by an inexperienced or unprofessional artist. The easiest way to prevent it, says Campbell, is by “seeing an experienced tattoo artist who understands where to place the tattoo pigment.”
Doing research to find an experienced tattoo artist is good for more than just making sure you like their aesthetic—it also helps prevent future issues with your ink, like tattoo blowout.
“[It’s] extremely crucial to zoom in to their work and photograph their work to see every detail of a tattoo and the sharpness of their tattoo lines,” says Nesheva. “Additionally, always ask an artist to show [you] their healed work [from] their previous clients.”
Once you’re sure you’ve found a professional tattoo artist, the next best way to prevent blowout is to follow aftercare directions closely and pay attention to your ink during the healing process. Make sure you’re cleaning your tattoo twice a day and keeping it moist until it’s fully healed, at least two weeks. It’s also important to avoid scratching the area, according to Nesheva.
“Avoid stretching and pulling the tattooed skin,” says Nesheva. “Stretching and pulling can promote spreading of the ink beyond tattoo lines, which can create the blowout effect. Moreover, it will also prolong the healing process and increase [the] risk of infection, especially if you touch the tattoo before ... washing [your hands].”
It may also be helpful to pay attention to the placement of your tattoo. Spots where the skin is thinner, like the inside of the elbow or the top of the foot, are more susceptible to blowout, as it takes a gentler touch from your artist. If you’re worried about the possibility of a blurry tattoo, consider placing the design somewhere with thicker skin.
The Final Takeaway
Tattoo blowout isn’t a fun thing to happen to a fresh piece of ink—it can mess up your design and ruin an otherwise perfect tattoo. The best way to stop blowout from happening is to act preventively and find an artist who has a vast portfolio of work with crisp lines. On the flip side, if tattoo blowout still happens, despite finding a good artist, use the time during the healing period to figure out your next course of action: getting a cover-up tattoo or lasering the blowout away.
“Blowouts are prevented on the artist's end,” says Crys. “Do your research and ask for [a portfolio of the] artist's fully healed tattoos. And no matter what, take care of your tattoo!”