Is it safe for diabetics to get a tattoo?
Tattoos have become an extremely popular way for people to express themselves. Whether it’s chronicling a great love, remembering a favorite pet, honoring a lost loved one, inscribing a favorite quote or memorable date, or just an artful form of personal expression that a person finds interesting, more and more people are making the choice to use their body as a canvas.
Of course, there are the well-known ramifications that come with getting a tattoo. Basically, they’re permanent. So, it’s always a good idea to be certain about what you’re doing (and what you’re getting) before getting inked.
For those living with diabetes, however, there are added concerns with getting tattooed, and they have more to do with your health than with any unfortunate tattoo regrets.
“Diabetics Shouldn’t Get Tattoos”
It wasn’t long ago that this was taken as somewhat of a general truth. Fortunately, like a lot of misconceptions about diabetes, this one has pretty much fallen by the wayside and, these days, there are plenty of individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes getting tattoos. This doesn’t mean, however, that those with diabetes don’t need to take precautions. We do. Just like we do in a lot of aspects of life. So, what are the big concerns when it comes to diabetes and tattoos? There are two primary things to consider.
A1C Score – Is Your Blood Sugar Under Control?
Managing blood sugar is part of the daily routine of anyone with diabetes. In terms of tattoos, it is very important that blood sugar is under control, and has been for some time, before letting an artist get to work.
Some doctors recommend making sure your A1C score is less than 8%, while other physicians and diabetes educators play it a little safer and put an A1C of less than 7% as the benchmark for getting a tattoo. Why?
Tattoos and The Risk of Infection
Whether you’re getting a tiny work of art, an elaborate tattoo, or a full-on sleeve, your skin is being pierced thousands of times each minute. This is why there is an inherent risk of infection with any tattoo procedure, but when blood sugar is elevated that risk of infection is greatly increased.
High blood sugar weakens the immune system, so if you undergo a tattoo procedure with elevated numbers, you’re looking at a far greater likelihood of experiencing problems. But if your A1C is in check, you’ve done what you can to minimize the risk of infection. If you’re not sure about your A1C levels, or what they should be before getting inked, ask your diabetes physician.
By the way, if your A1C is a bit elevated, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever get a tattoo. It just means that you’ll need to improve your diabetes management and blood sugar control before getting inked. If your A1C is high, regaining control is what you want to do anyway – tattoo or no tattoo. Maybe it means testing more often with a glucose meter and test strips or switching to a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device or insulin pump. Talk with your doctor about the best ways to get your blood sugar back under control.
The Tattoo Healing Process
People living with diabetes often experience longer “healing” times than those without the disease. This can be exacerbated by hyperglycemia and the inflammation associated with diabetes. Additionally, chronic high blood sugar can lead to diabetic neuropathy and poor circulation. Depending on where you get a tattoo, these conditions could reduce blood flow to the tattoo site, further slowing the healing process. Neuropathy can also cause a loss of sensation in the legs, feet, and arms, so depending on where you get a tattoo, if you have neuropathy, you might not sense any problems until the infection has grown severe.
This is another reason it is so important to have your A1C in check prior to getting a tattoo. You still may take a little longer to heal and that’s okay. But with blood sugar in check, you’re likely to recover at a reasonable rate. Also, be sure to inform your tattoo artist about your diabetes. A good artist will understand that as a diabetic you may have a longer healing process and will likely provide added care instructions.
Speaking of which…
Always Use a Reputable Parlor and Artist
One of the most important ways to avoid infection when getting a tattoo is by trusting your body to a true professional. Skin infections related to tattoos are usually caused by contaminated inks, non-sterile needles and equipment, unsanitary tattoo environments, and improper care post-procedure. For these reasons, it’s always a smart idea to go to a tattoo shop you can trust. If you can, choose one recommended by a friend who has had a great experience. Never base your decision solely on price – if you can’t afford a quality shop and artist – it’s probably not time to get inked. Some other things to look for include:
- Is the tattoo shop accredited and is the license up to date?
- When you step in the door, does it feel clean and sanitary?
- Check online for reviews. If you see too many bad ones, there’s probably a reason for them.
- Are you treated with professionalism? Your artist should have your safety and satisfaction as a top priority.
- When you inform your artist of your diabetes, is it met with understanding or not.
- Are both the tattoo process and post-procedure care clearly explained to you prior to the procedure? If not, be wary.
Avoiding infection is also on you
Listen to your tattoo artist and follow the instructions you’re given on healing your new tattoo. Again, as someone with diabetes it may take a little longer for you to heal, but you should still be able to do so effectively provided you take the proper steps. A good tattoo artist will go over them in detail. Stick to the plan. Don’t get lazy. Your health and the quality of your tattoo are both at risk.
Medical Tattoos – A New Thing
We thought we’d touch on a new trend among those with diabetes – medical tattoos. You’ve probably heard about medical alert bracelets recommended by the American Diabetes Association and used to inform caregivers and anyone on-hand in an emergency that a person has diabetes should they become unresponsive or incapacitated.
Medical tattoos work the same way – only they’re tattoos. Some are artfully designed. Others just state the facts, such as “Type 1 Diabetes”. Either way, medical tattoos are becoming more popular and give you the freedom to design whatever works for you. Of course, it’s important that the tattoo is on the wrist, arm or someplace noticeable where caregivers can easily spot it in an emergency. If this is a problem, then it’s best to stick with the medical alert bracelet.
There’s no reason those with diabetes should be excluded from expressing themselves with tattoos. But don’t be reckless. If your diabetes is not well controlled and your A1C is too high, wait until your numbers are back where you want them before getting inked. If you experience any diabetes-related complications, such as neuropathy, high blood pressure, or poor circulation, it’s important to consult with your physician before getting a tattoo. Art is great. But your health should come first. Once your diabetes is properly under control, then go ahead and express yourself!