for tattooed people, and those who want to be

Begin at the beginning: Tattoo health issues 1


When we think about “health issues” associated with tattoos, the first things that come to mind are serious stuff like hepatitis and major infections. While those issues must be high on anyone’s list of cautions, tattooed people are more likely to have other, less major problems that can be avoided or lessened by simply taking time to think things through.

In the beginning…. you.

Don’t set foot in the tattoo parlor before you take stock of your own health. Do you have a chronic illness like diabetes, or an autoimmune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis? Do you have nickel allergies, or a tendency to form keloids? Do you catch colds often or get sick easily? None of that can absolutely prevent you from getting a tattoo (I say, as a multicolored Type 2 diabetic with nickel allergies) but don’t put yourself at risk by pretending you’re perfectly fine and sailing right on in to the shop.

If you have a chronic problem, chances are you’re well aware of how you react, but let me go into some detail here: Diabetics take a lot longer to heal. People with RA risk pushing themselves into a flare-up by doing things that challenge their immune systems (and a tattoo is an open wound that your immune system must heal). Some tattoo inks cause reactions in people with nickel allergies. And a person who forms keloids is almost certainly going to end up with keloids under the ink. People who get sick easily may have compromised immune systems even if they have no more serious disease.

So don’t be lah-di-dah about the risks. You know how your body reacts. (It might help to check with your doctor, but some doctors are against tattoos on general principles and will tell you no even if it might be OK for you to proceed with caution. A second opinion might not hurt.) Do some research, and make sure that you are in optimum health. You don’t want to walk out of the shop with a new tattoo and a major health problem as well.

And for heaven’s sake don’t lie to your tattoo artist or “forget” to inform him or her about your health. If the artist feels that tattooing you would be too risky and declines, pay attention to the reasons. Don’t argue about it. The artist has been through this a lot more than you have.

A word about allergies

I mentioned nickel allergies, which may cause problems with blue and green inks. Red ink seems to be a very common allergen as well, but unfortunately there is no way to predict whether you’ll react to it. If you’re concerned, and your design has a lot of red in it, it might help to go in at least 24 hours in advance and ask the artist to put a small dot of red ink in some inconspicuous place to see how you’ll react.

One of the most common allergies you might have to contend with when getting a tattoo is an allergy to latex. Artists commonly wear latex gloves. If you have a latex allergy, you can ask your artist to wear something else. You may want to let the artist know about this when you make your appointment, so he or she can be prepared with nitrile or other gloves.

And if you’re allergic to fish oil, check to see what your artist uses on a finished tattoo. Some common ointments contain cod liver oil and may give you a serious reaction if applied to your skin.

Getting a tattoo can be a profoundly satisfying experience, and a lot of us multicolored people have found that just one tattoo is nowhere near enough. But it’s just plain stupid to put your life at risk. If your health is under control and you’ve been honest with your artist… well, the multicolored world awaits you.

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Author: infmom

I got my first tattoo when I was 46. I hope the people who read this blog don't have to wait that long. I love talking about body art.


  1. Lawyer: Being tattooed puts stress on your system (yes, it hurts). You will need to make sure your blood sugar is under control before you start, and make sure you have whatever food is appropriate to keep it that way. Talk this over with your artist before you make your appointment, for sure.

  2. strictone, one thing we learn in the process of getting inked is that every person reacts differently. You are right that it’s your overall health state that matters–but some of us will never be in perfect health again, so we have to do more research to find out if our health problems will lead to tattoo problems.

  3. It’s been my dream to have a tatoo on my back but my wife wouldn’t agree. I never thought tatoos could be linked to so many health issues. It’s your overall health state that conditions everything. If you are weak a runny nore can turn into a fatal illness. All of the above (eg migraines or cholesterol meds reactions) are not tatoo issues, imho.

  4. That’s interesting. I took simvastatin during the time I got my last tattoo. I didn’t realize there might be problems.

  5. I was warned that tatoos and other procedures are unwanted in the course of treatment with simvastatin. SO i gave up the idea/

  6. It is very interesting! Migraine can be linked to anything, literally. I believe even tatoos could provoke it. I had to give up all sorts of food besides fruit, vegs and some cereals. No sweets, coffee, bread or alcohol, and, yes, no perfume – and that seems to help. Hope that helps somwone else…

  7. One of my best friends gets migraines when people near her wear too much perfume. We have a long way to go before we figure out exactly why our bodies do what they do. 🙂

  8. The article is really interesting. It gives something to think about…A fiend of mine had his shoulders tattoed all over and his health somewhat worsened since then. I never linked tatoos to illnesses before (except for infections), but as i understand they can provoke immune overeactions which cause other diseases. Migraine comes to my mind: not yet properly studied, but can be triggered by things absolutely hamless for your health at first sight.

  9. Sue, anyone who has an autoimmune disorder should be very careful indeed about putting any more stress on the body. Tattoos may not be right for you, unfortunately. Good thing there are so many great temporary tats around these days.

  10. God, I have rheumatoid arthritis and want a small tatoo on my back. My doctor never warned about tatoos and leflunomide instruction has no precaution about tatoos, and it did’t occur to me to ask..Thanks for that warning!

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    There are many things in this world that are taboo, off limits, too difficult to talk about, or to put it bluntly, just plain disgusting. We think, there is just no way we would ever discuss this, let alone allow our name to be associated with the subject.

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