Diabetes and Tattoos

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 5, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Many people have medical conditions that they must take into account before getting a tattoo, and diabetes is one such example. Today, tattoos are more popular (and more socially acceptable) than ever before. In fact, today, nearly one in three Americans have at least one tattoo, so it makes sense that a number of these citizens would also have diabetes, especially as it’s estimated that up to 10 percent of Americans are diabetic. 

While getting a tattoo as a person with diabetes is possible, it’s essential to consider how the procedure will affect you first. In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to think about before mixing diabetes and tattoos.


Why Shouldn’t I Get a Tattoo With Diabetes?

If you have diabetes, you probably already know why getting a tattoo can be a risky endeavor. However, for those who don’t have diabetes, it might seem like a strange thing to be cautious about. After all, diabetes just raises your blood sugar, right? What does that have to do with getting a tattoo?

Well, believe it or not, high blood sugar levels in your body can affect how effective your body is at healing itself. Since people with diabetes can’t regulate their blood sugar the same way non-diabetics do, a tattoo can end up being a source of infection when it doesn’t heal properly. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a tattoo if you have diabetes. On the contrary, many people with diabetes get tattoos and heal successfully afterward. It just means that you have to be much more careful about keeping your blood sugar and A1C levels in check during your healing process, as well as minimizing your risk for infection.

However, it’s essential to keep in mind that even with proper A1C management, people with type one or type two diabetes have a higher-than-normal risk of getting an infection after a tattoo. Those with type one diabetes are at even higher risk than those with type two diabetes. 

If you think that you have your diabetes in control well enough that getting a tattoo is worth the risk, you can start your preparation process. Anyone should take some time to prepare before getting a tattoo, but this is especially true for those with diabetes. We’ll go into the steps you should take in the sections below.

Tattoo Preparation with Diabetes

Tattoo preparation for an individual with diabetes involves three main steps. These include:

  • Talking to your doctor
  • Getting (and keeping) your blood sugar under control
  • Finding a reputable, hygienic, and trustworthy tattoo parlor

We’ll delve deeper into these three steps below.

Talk to Your Doctor

Talking to your doctor is always the first thing you should do when considering a tattoo, even if you do not have diabetes. Your doctor or physician should tell you whether or not getting a tattoo is a good idea for you from a health perspective and offer you care and preparatory advice.

You see, even non-diabetic individuals can have adverse reactions to tattoos in rare situations. If, for example, you experience an allergic reaction to the dyes used in your new tattoo, you could end up in a life-threatening situation. Your doctor may be able to walk you through your predispositions to such reactions, as well as other risk factors that may apply to you.

However, as a diabetic, your doctor will likely give you advice on whether your diabetes is controlled enough for you to get a tattoo. If you haven’t had very good A1C tests lately, then your doctor will probably recommend that you hold off on your tattoo for a while until you get things under control. 

Finally, if you have a history of being prone to infections, then your doctor may recommend that you not get a tattoo at all. 

A1C Control and Risk of Infection

The more you keep your blood sugar in check as a person with diabetes, the lower your chance of developing an infection becomes. As you might expect, if your A1C levels are within acceptable levels, your doctor is more likely to clear you to get a tattoo. 

Your doctor may set specific goals for you based on your current health and your personal history. However, as a general rule, you should aim to have several months of tests with an A1C lower than 8.0. 

If your A1C is consistently higher than 9.0, your doctor will most likely recommend that you wait a while to get your tattoo. Additionally, any issues with neuropathy, blood circulation, or problems with your kidneys are also reasons to put off getting a tattoo.

Finding a Reputable Tattoo Parlor

Finding a safe place to get your tattoo done is just as important as any other part of the process. In fact, it might be even more critical for some people with diabetes. For example, if you choose an unhygienic tattoo parlor, that could push your risk of contracting an infection even higher. 

The United States alone has more than 20,000 tattoo parlors open and running today, and as you might expect, some are better, and some are worse. That’s just part of the consequence of having so many. 

If you can, look for an accredited tattoo parlor with lots of positive, verified reviews, examples of past work that you can look at, and mid-tier to high-end prices. Tattoo parlors with low prices tend to have some sort of catch, such as low quality or hygiene issues, so look for something that’s at least middle-of-the-road. 

Finally, you should always let your prospective tattoo artist know that you have diabetes before starting your tattoo. If they’re an experienced, respected artist, the chances are that they’ve worked with diabetic clients before, and they’ll have special care instructions for you to follow. 

Bonus: Tattoo Placement

Believe it or not, even something as simple as tattoo placement can play a role in how your body accepts your new tattoo. This is even more important for people with diabetes, as they can sometimes have areas of the body that suffer from bad circulation. These areas don’t heal as well, so people with diabetes may want to avoid them when getting their tattoos. Some of these areas include:

  • Insulin injection sites like thighs and arms
  • Shins
  • Buttocks
  • Feet
  • Ankles 

Tattoo Aftercare for Diabetics

You’re not out of the woods yet when you’ve come home after your final tattoo appointment. On the contrary, you have a long road of recovery ahead of you, and as a person with diabetes, you should be working extra hard to keep your new tattoo clean and healthy as it heals. 

Aftercare isn’t just crucial for diabetics, though – anyone who receives a tattoo should tend to it carefully to make sure it heals properly. However, people with diabetes should double-down on the hygiene aspects of tattoo care.

The most important thing to do after your tattoo is to follow the advice of your trustworthy, accredited tattoo artist as closely as possible. If you aren’t willing to follow the aftercare regimen they give you, then don’t get a tattoo in the first place. You need to be willing to commit to it in the long run, too, as diabetics can sometimes take nearly twice as long to recover as non-diabetics. 

Your doctor may also give you some recovery tips for after you’ve received your tattoo. Make sure to keep these and the advice of your tattoo artist in mind as you heal. 

Some important care steps you might want to take after receiving a tattoo are:

  • Wash your tattoo with antibacterial soap every morning and every night
  • Rinse your tattoo any time it comes into contact with an unhygienic environment
  • Apply any lotions or creams as directed – don’t over-apply or under-apply
  • Take showers instead of baths
  • Keep your lifestyle healthy and clean – i.e., wash your sheets, shower often, and wear fresh clothes

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s not only possible for a person with diabetes to get a tattoo, but it’s relatively safe, too. While your risk factors as a person with diabetes may be slightly higher than an average person, as long as you’re willing to work hard to keep your health and environment in check, it’s a definite possibility for anyone.

The only thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t try to mix diabetes and tattoos if you’re unwilling to commit to the process entirely. The healing process for a person with diabetes can be long, and you’ll need to be proactive about keeping yourself and your environment healthy, too. However, if you can do all that and stick to it, a new tattoo may definitely be in your future.