Do Tattoos Show Up on X-rays or MRI Scans?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on March 02, 2023
    Last Updated: April 7, 2023

With millions of people sporting tattoos worldwide, there has clearly been quite a large number of tattoos that have been under or through various medical imaging devices.

While tattoos are a permanent form of ink, there is a common belief that they can also show up on X-rays or MRI scans. Whether tattoos are visible on X-rays or MRIs is a topic of interest among both tattoo enthusiasts and medical professionals alike. Read on to find out more.

Will My Tattoo Show Up on an X-Ray?

To understand whether tattoos show up on X-rays, it’s important to know how X-rays work. X-rays use high-energy electromagnetic radiation to produce images of bones and internal organs. They work by passing through the body and being absorbed by different tissues to varying degrees, with denser materials like bones appearing white on the X-ray and less dense materials like muscle appearing black.

The ink used in tattoos is composed of various materials, including pigments and metals, which can have different densities. Some tattoo pigments, such as iron oxide, are denser than other body tissues and could show up on X-rays. However, the amount of ink used in a tattoo is typically small, so the density of the ink is usually not enough to have a noticeable impact on the X-ray image.

One factor that can influence whether tattoos show up on X-rays is the location of the tattoo on the body. Tattoos performed on very thin areas of skin near certain bones or joints could be more likely to show up on X-rays as the ink is deposited so close to the area of interest. On the other hand, tattoos located on fleshy areas of the body are less likely to show up because the X-ray passes through the flesh without being absorbed.

Another factor that can impact the visibility of tattoos on X-rays is the age of the tattoo. Over time, the body’s immune system can break down the pigments in the tattoo, which can reduce the density of the ink and make it less visible on X-rays. Additionally, older tattoos may have faded or blurred over time, making them less noticeable on X-rays.

Can Tattoos Affect X-Ray Quality?

It is possible for tattoos to affect the outcome of an X-ray very slightly. However, the degree to which this happens can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the size and location of the tattoo, the type of ink used, and the quality of the X-ray machine being used.

Some studies suggest that tattoos can produce a localized reduction in X-ray transmission, which can make it harder for doctors to interpret the images. However, advances in X-ray technology have led to the development of digital imaging systems, which can help to compensate for this effect by using software to adjust the contrast and brightness of the image.

Additionally, radiologists are trained to look for signs of tattoos or other types of image distortion, and can adjust their interpretation of the images accordingly. In some cases, alternative imaging methods such as MRI or ultrasound may be used to get a clearer view of the underlying tissue.

Overall, while tattoos can potentially affect the outcome of an X-ray, it is usually not a major issue and can be managed by using appropriate imaging techniques and interpretation.

Can X-Rays Damage a Tattoo?

The amount of radiation used in a typical X-ray is generally not enough to cause damage to a tattoo and the risk of X-ray damage to a tattoo is low, particularly if the tattoo is small or located in an area that is not being imaged.

However, if you are concerned about the potential effects of X-rays on a tattoo, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor or radiologist before undergoing any imaging procedures.

How About MRI Scans?

Tattoos can show up on MRI scans, but the degree to which they are visible depends on the size and location of the tattoo, as well as the type of ink used. Unlike X-rays, which use ionizing radiation, MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the body’s internal structures, so it is generally safe for individuals with tattoos.

However, there is a tiny potential for tattoos to be damaged during an MRI scan. This can occur if the tattoo contains metallic components or if the tattooed area gets too hot during the scan. Metallic ink or other metals in the tattoo can cause a burn on the skin or interfere with the MRI image, while overheating of the tattoo can cause discomfort, swelling, or even blisters.

It should be stated that damage caused to a tattoo from an MRI scanner is extremely rare. Millions of tattooed patients go through an MRI scanner every year and the proportion that recieve any sort of damage to their tattoo is minuscule.


While tattoos can show up on X-rays, they are not typically a significant concern for medical professionals. Whether you have a tattoo or are considering getting one, it’s important to educate yourself on the potential risks and benefits of this form of body art and to make informed decisions about your health and well-being.

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