Can You Get a Tattoo After Surgery?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on March 19, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

During surgery, the human body is vulnerable as it’s opened and exposed to potential infections. It takes some time to recover from this, and so it’s important not to put too much stress on the body and expose it to any more risks than necessary. 

While it’s okay to get a tattoo after surgery, you should give your body enough time to fully heal before heading into the tattoo studio. Depending on the type of surgery you’ve had, the time may be anything from a few days to a couple of months.

The Body After Surgery 

The human body is remarkable and can recover from surgery and rebuild itself in three steps. Different stages of the healing process affect the body’s immune system differently, which will affect the tattoo healing time by extension. 

Step One: Surgical Wound Healing

Immediately after the surgeon makes an incision, the blood clots to stop bleeding. This dries and forms a scab, to protect exposed tissue against infection. 

Blood vessels around the area bring oxygen and nutrients to the wounded area, to help with healing and to fight away any germs and bacteria damage occurring. 

Impressively, this phase may last for as little as six days! 

It definitely wouldn’t be a great idea to get tattooed at this stage, because the body’s immune system is already low. Getting your ink poses an additional risk of infection, so it’s a bad idea when your white blood cells are already stretched thin. 

Step Two: Growth and Rebuilding

Once the body has fought away infection, it focuses on growing and being able to rebuild itself. 

Blood vessels repair themselves by growing new tissue. As the tissues strengthen themselves, new skin is then produced, and this starts to grow over the broken area. 

The immune system is still weak at this point, and it still isn’t a great idea to get a tattoo while the body is focusing on rebuilding itself.

If you can’t wait to get your tattoo, then you could be tattooed, providing it isn’t close to where you had surgery. 

Remember that, by doing so, you’re still increasing your chances of infection, as opposed to waiting until the body has fully healed.

Step Three: Scarring and Strengthening

Scabs start to fall off, new skin is formed and scarring occurs to strengthen the new tissue that’s been built. 

Scarring can disappear gradually over time, but it’s very normal for scars to remain visible. 

You can get a tattoo over a scar; however, it’s important to find an artist that specializes in this. The needle won’t undo the healing process, though, given the body is fully healed and recovered from the surgery. 

Depending on how big the scar is and the quality of the skin around the scar, scarring will affect the final look of the tattoo. It’s advisable to speak to your tattooist beforehand so you can get a good idea of how your new ink will look on the scarred area.

Surgery Healing Times

It helps to know how long you have until your body is ready for the next ink. Below is a list of the average healing times for common surgical procedures:

These recovery times are averages, and the healing process depends heavily on your circumstances. Some variance is attributable to your health before surgery and how well you look after yourself post-surgery.

Tattoo Location 

If you want a tattoo in an area that’s away from the operated-on area, provided you’ve given your body enough time to heal, you should be ready for your ink. You should be as close to your pre-surgery form as possible, though.

If you want a tattoo over your scar or very close to it, you’ll have to wait much longer. Ensure that the skin is fully healed and fully-scarred so as not to cause any further damage. Make a point of consulting with both your doctor and your tattoo artist, in that order, of course.

Tattoos On Scars

Many people like to get tattoos over scars or have their scars incorporated as part of their tattoo, as a reminder of their surgery, an accident they survived or illness they overcame.

It’s very common for breast cancer survivors to get mastectomy tattoos, which is a tattoo over a removed breast or removed nipple. Some artists can mimic the look of a nipple onto the resultant scar. This provides greater confidence and empowerment to women who’ve lost theirs to breast(s) cancer.

Final Thoughts 

Getting a tattoo after surgery is okay, as long as you give your body enough time to heal and recover before you head off to the tattoo studio. Ensure that you’re comfortable with the idea and are through with any problematic medication. We strongly advise that you get the green light from your physician, just to be safe.

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

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.