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Medical Conditions & Tattoos

I am frequently asked about how medical conditions mesh with getting tattooed, so I thought I would write a bit about the importance of taking precautions when preparing for any type of ink work. Remember that getting tattooed is in essence like minor surgery. Your skin is being punctured with a needle, there is blood involved, safety issues that must be adhered to, aftercare and healing to deal with; it is serious stuff and you need to always treat it that way.

Healing and an increased risk of infection are important issues to keep in mind. While basic precautions always apply in regards to where you go and who your artist will be, there are some medical conditions where special measures should be taken before going under the needle.

If you suffer from any of the following (or ANY other medical condition that you believe might be an issue) PLEASE always consult your doctor first before making a tattoo appointment. Be up-front with your artist and be honest with yourself. Ink is beautiful, but never worth risking your health and well-being.

  • Diabetes: a blood condition in which the body either does not produce enough, or does not properly respond to, insulin (a hormone produced in the pancreas). Insulin enables cells to absorb glucose in order to turn it into energy. In diabetes, the body either fails to properly respond to its own insulin, does not make enough insulin, or both. Healing problems can be serious for some diabetics who get tattooed if the sugar levels are not kept at safe levels.
  • Anemia: a condition that causes a decrease in normal numbers of red blood cell or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood.  Since hemoglobin (found inside RBCs) normally carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, anemia leads to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in organs. Healing can be difficult for anemics. Increased bleeding can also be a factor.

Some red cell diseases that might be common for those with Anemia:

- Congenital Spherocytosis
- Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Vitamin Deficiency
- Auto-Immune Hemolytic Anemia
- G6PD Deficiency
- Sickle Cell Anemia

  • Cancer: a class of diseases in which a group of cells display uncontrolled growth, invasion, and sometimes metastasize to other body sites.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): is a virus that attacks certain types of white blood cells, which work to fight infection. With HIV, infection can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) a condition in which the immune system begins to fail, leading to life-threatening infections.
  • Leukemia: are cancers of the blood or marrow bone, characterized by an abnormal multiplication of blood cells (usually white blood cells, or leukocytes). White blood cells, which are involved in fighting pathogens, may be suppressed or dysfunctional. This could cause the patient's immune system to be unable to fight off a simple infection or to start attacking other body cells.
  • Hemophilia: is a group of hereditary genetic disorders that impair the body's ability to control blood clotting and coagulation (which is used to stop bleeding when a blood vessel is broken). A hemophiliac does not bleed more intensely than a normal person, but can bleed for a much longer amount of time. In severe hemophiliacs even a minor injury, dental work, etc., could result in blood loss lasting days, weeks, or not ever healing completely.
  • Granulomas: are nodules which form when the immune system attempts to wall off substances that it perceives as foreign but is unable to eliminate. Granulomas are sometimes formed when the body perceives tattoo pigment as a foreign substance.
  • Keloids: are a type of scar that result of an overgrowth of granulation tissue at the site of a healed skin injury which is then slowly replaced by collagen. If you are prone to developing keloids, you might be at risk of a keloid formation from a tattoo. Although keloids may form any time you injure or traumatize your skin, keloids tend to occur more frequently as a consequence of tattoo removal. 

Some other circumstances in which it is best to seek professional medical opinions before getting tattooed:

  • Anyone on blood thinning drugs/agents
  • Pregnant or breast feeding women (see this page for more info)
  • Anyone with psoriasis (tattooing may cause a flare-up)
  • Anyone with hepatitis (many states actually prohibit those with hepatitis from getting a tattoo)
  • If you have or recently had a sunburn
  • If you are taking antibiotics, it might be best to wait until you are off them & get the go-ahead from your doctor

Take the process of preparing for and getting tattooed seriously. Keeping your skin and your body healthy make the beauty of the art form even more beautiful.

Happy inkin'.

Last updated on January 16, 2012 by Jinxi Boo