What you need to know if you have diabetes and want to get a tattoo

Tattoos can be an expression of yourself, used to memorialize a loved one, or even to make others aware that you have a serious medical condition. If you have diabetes and want to get a tattoo, here are a few things to consider.

Can you get a tattoo if you have diabetes?

people with diabetes can get tattoos

Absolutely! A person with diabetes can get a tattoo if they so desire but it is advisable that your A1c be under 8% and ideally under 7%. 

If you have had A1cs over 9%, are experiencing neuropathy, circulation or kidney problems, the University of Southern California’s REAL Diabetes program states that you could be putting your life in danger by getting a tattoo. This is because you will most likely have issues with healing that will make you more susceptible to infection and gangrene.

Need help keeping track of blood glucose levels and other tasks to manage your diabetes? Check out our Diabetes Planner

Do you need to talk to your doctor before getting a tattoo?

Again, if you have been maintaining good control and have experienced no diabetes-related complications to date, you should be fine to have a tattoo applied without contacting your diabetes team.  If you are unsure about your A1c or are concerned about your healing time, please consult your doctor before you begin.

Where should a person with diabetes have a tattoo placed?

where to place a tattoo when you have diabetes

If you have poor circulation, you will most likely NOT want to have a tattoo on placed on your buttocks, shins, ankles or feet.  You may also want to avoid common insulin injection sites like your arms, abdomen or thighs. Injecting insulin repeatedly into your tattoo could potentially mess up the design. Ultimately the choice of where you place the tattoo will be up to you.

Other things to consider if you have diabetes and want to get a tattoo

A tattoo is permanent.  While it may fade over time, it will be with you forever.  Before you commit to getting a tattoo make sure that you love the design. Find a reputable artist that can create the design that you have in mind.  Look at examples of his/her work before you begin to make sure that their style and yours are the same.

Also, make sure that the parlor your artist works in is clean and reputable.  They should only hire properly trained professionals who wear disposable gloves while working.  Needles should come from sealed containers and pigment trays should be new. The parlour should also have sterilization equipment and ensure that all surfaces are properly sterilized including their chairs.

How to care for your tattoo

Every tattoo parlor has a different protocol on how to care for your tattoo.  Follow their instructions.  They are the experts.  There are a few common practices that you should follow, however.

  • Gently wash your tattoo every morning and night with lukewarm water and antibacterial soap. Pat it dry with a clean towel or paper towel.
  • Rinse it with water (at least) any time it comes in contact with dirt or excessive sweat, or other dirty environments.
  • Apply a recommended “lotion” at least twice a day. Vaseline or cocoa butter are usually recommended. Avoid anything with added scents or colors–these could contribute to an infection.

What are the normal stages of healing for a tattoo?

It usually takes about 30 days for a tattoo to be fully healed.  During the first week you may see some oozing, swelling, and/or redness that gradually gets better each day.  There will be some scabbing that begins to form over the area. Remember do NOT pick at the scabbing.

During the second week, you may find that the tattoo is itchy and flaking may occur.  This will continue until all of the dead skin and scabbing has fallen off.

In the final 15-30 days, you will see that the tattoo looks fully healed but it may appear slightly cloudy still.  The deeper layers of skin are still healing during this time so it is important to continue to follow the wound care guidelines from your tattoo artist.

Signs that your tattoo could be infected

No matter what size of tattoo you have, there is always the slight risk of infection.  Here are some of the things that you should watch for.

  • Spotty rash: sometimes red, sometimes white
  • Extreme redness 5 days after getting the tattoo
  • Extreme itching (healthy scabs will itch a bit)
  • Feels hot to the touch
  • Swelling 5 days after getting the tattoo
  • Blistering
  • Excessive oozing, pus, especially associated with pimple-like bumps
  • Foul odor
  • Red streaking on the skin around the tattoo (also known as blood poisoning)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (a sign your body is trying to fight infection)
  • Fever and tiredness

If you have diabetes and want to get a tattoo, go for it! With proper care, good blood sugar levels, and a reputable tattoo artist and shop, you should not have to worry about infections in your new tattoo. 

If you are still undecided on your design, you can view some of the tattoos that others in the diabetes community have created over the years.

Once you have made your choice and are happy with your design, we would love to see a copy of the final product! Email us at advocacy @ diabetesadvocacy.com

What to know if you have diabetes and want to get a tattoo
If you have diabetes and want to get a tattoo make sure to watch out for signs of infection
if you have diabetes and want to get a tattoo make sure the site is clean
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