Tattoo Advice and History > Tattoo Advice > Acne and Tattoos: Answers About Pimples and Ink


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This Tattoo Corner topic is regarding acne and what effects it can have on a tattoo. Autumn asks:

Q) Hi Jinxi,

I've been thinking about getting a tattoo on my upper back, but the problem is that I get acne there from time to time. Would a pimple mess up the tattoo? 



Hi Autumn!

This is a great question and one that many people are concerned about. Of course, the severity of the acne is important in deciding whether this is a tattoo deal breaker or not. If you only have small outbreaks and it’s an occasional problem, you will want to simply wait until your skin is clear before you begin a project. However, if you suffer from more aggressive acne, it’s important to take precautions and talk to your artist before the planning stages ever begin.

Acne can be inflammatory and non-inflammatory depending on the case. Acne is usually caused by changes in the skin structures where hair follicles and glands reside. When changes happen, then breakouts can occur. Different chemicals and different blockages cause different kinds of acne. When the skin becomes infected, it is much more sensitive and prone to reacting badly, to not only tattoo ink, but to the actual abrasive process of getting the tattoo .

Since a tattoo basically leaves an open wound upon the epidermis, it of course needs to heal; and it needs every chance possible to heal well. If your skin is already irritated, sore, and red from acne, it will make it that much harder to attend to the aftercare steps that are essential to the tattoo healing process.

Talk to your artist and be honest with her/him about your history with acne. If the breakouts are an irregular occurrence, the artist might be fine with planning to tattoo in that area; but if it’s a high-risk spot, it might be well-advised to avoid the region altogether.

Getting pimples after your tattoo has healed is a different story though. Generally, once the tattoo has gone through the healing stages, a new pimple that breaks out in the area is not going to alter the tattoo. It might cause the piece to look a little abnormal for a few days, but the ink is already healed into the epidermis. Of course it’s wise not to pick at the pimple or irritate it further, but an outbreak that occurs after the fact should not be a problem.

If you suffer from scarring due to previous bouts with acne, this can be a bit more complex. Acne scars can be covered, but artists have differing criterion as to which projects they will begin. Covering these scars can be very time consuming and challenging. Depending on where the scar is, the tattoo might require more than one pass to get the ink to adhere. Scar tissue is very sensitive and it can be more painful for the collector to withstand because of the sensitive nerve endings. Again, these are issues you need to discuss with your artist before starting on a new piece.

One other issue that is important to consider is acne-related prescriptions. I have written before about medications and tattooing, but acne meds are sometimes very specific. Oral retinoids (like Accutane) and benzoyl peroxide can be damaging to tattoo ink, so be cautious before getting tattooed if you use either of these.

Benzoyl peroxide is basically a bleaching agent and has been known to cause fading to ink. This is especially dangerous if the tattoo is new and still healing. Accutane can be even more problematic. In an article published by the APT (Alliance of Professional Tattooists), this finding was reported:

"Clients using this medication will present skin that is very different from what we would hope for and expect in young skin. In addition to making the tattoo application difficult, it seems to interfere with the healing process."

Accutane can also cause extra skin sensitivity, which would of course result in a much more painful experience for a collector being tattooed. If you use either of these medications, it’s best to finish out the prescription and allow an ample amount of time for the drugs to withdraw from your system before planning a new tattoo.

As with all subjects that raise concern, the BEST advice is to always be open and honest with your tattooist. Nobody wants your experience to be positive and safe more than the artist and if you come to the shop with worries, please be up front and specific before you sit down in their chair. It will benefit not only the outcome of the ink that you wear, but more importantly, your health.

If there is ever a question, it’s best to put tattoo plans on hold and consult your doctor. Tattoos should be memorable and positive additions to your skin and to your life, so do all that you can to prepare for an optimum experience every time you add a new inked treasure to your body.

Be safe and happy inkin’.

Last updated on January 16, 2012 by Jinxi Boo