In some ways, scars are like tattoos. They’re permanent body markings of a certain time and place in your life.
In some cases, scars, like tattoos, might carry positive memories. But in other cases, they don’t. That’s why some people wear their scars with pride, while others choose to hide them. Either choice is perfectly OK and totally up to you.
If you have surgery done on a tattooed area of your body, there’s a chance the procedure could disfigure the tattoo. However, surgeons can make their incisions in such a way that the tattoo actually conceals the future scar.
While it’s possible to tattoo over most scars, doing so is more challenging than tattooing over unscarred skin. So, it’s important to use an experienced tattoo artist who’s comfortable tattooing over your scar or incorporating the scar into the tattoo design.
If you’ve been thinking about covering your scar with a tattoo, it can be helpful to learn more about the process. This will help you make the best decisions for your body.
A person might choose to cover a scar or stretch mark with a tattoo for any number of reasons.
People mainly choose to cover scars because they aren’t satisfied with their appearance. Most everyone has scars, but some people are less comfortable with how they look than others. Some people are simply more comfortable hiding their scars under tattoos.
Other people have scarring after having survived an accident or a major health issue requiring surgery, like breast cancer. In these cases, getting a tattoo over scars can feel like reclaiming one’s body and self.
For example, a number of women who’ve had mastectomies say they feel more confident covering their scars with beautiful, personalized tattoos.
Everyone’s body is different, so everyone’s level of pain tolerance is different, too. That’s why some people experience a lot of discomfort when getting a tattoo and others don’t.
However, as a rule of thumb, scar tissue is generally more painful to tattoo than unscarred skin. And in some cases, it might be extremely painful.
Experts say that scar pain is common, especially for people whose scars have caused nerve damage or compression, like amputation scars.
Some types of scars tend to more painful, such as:
- keloid scars
- atrophic scars
- hypertrophic scars
- burn scars
Scars that are deep or large will also be more painful to tattoo. Tattooing over mild scarring is easier and a bit less painful, because they’re smaller scars that lie mostly flat to the skin and remain in the boundaries of the old wound.
There are a few more considerations to keep in mind when you’re thinking of covering your scar with a tattoo.
Your tattoo could cause more scarring
This is primarily an issue for people who have or are prone to keloid scars.
Keloid scars are usually thick and red with a raised, rounded, and irregular shape. Sometimes the scar tissue builds up long after the initial injury, or spreads beyond the borders of the wound.
If you have or are prone to keloid scarring, there’s a higher chance that getting a tattoo to cover your scar will make the scar worse. If you want to cover a newly formed keloid scar, wait at least a year until it’s completely healed.
For deeper or larger scars, you might have to wait much longer for than that, like 3 or 5 years. Tattooing a keloid scar that’s completely healed reduces the risk of worsening the scar.
The color of your tattoo could bleed
Scars harden your skin and make the surface irregular. Scarred skin is less able to absorb ink than unscarred skin. Ink also tends to more irregularly settle in scar tissue than it does in unscarred skin.
Therefore, it’s possible that the ink in the tattoo covering your scar will migrate, causing your tattoo to look smudged or unclear.
Choosing a tattoo artist with experience covering scars can help reduce the risks of worsening it.
Your tattoo might appear irregular
Some scars, like stretch marks and acne scars, are considered atrophic. This means they indent the skin. These scars are also often soft to the touch and a lighter tone.
It’s usually safe to tattoo over atrophic scars once they’re healed. But because atrophic scars are often discolored and don’t match your skin tone, it can be challenging to find a design that can cover these scars smoothly.
An experienced tattoo artist can help you find a design that works best for your scar. Or, you might want to consider a medical-grade tattoo that better matches your skin tone.
Here are several types of common scars and what they’ll likely look like when they’re tattooed:
Amputation or skin-removal scars
When skin is removed and stretched, it’s often smooth. Scars that cover areas where skin or a body part have been removed can usually be tattooed easily, as long as that area of the body isn’t too sensitive. Tattooing over these areas can be very painful.
As mentioned before, keloid scars can be especially challenging to tattoo. Because they’re raised and could scar more after a tattoo, some people choose to cover only a part of a keloid scar.
They may also tattoo around these scars by incorporating them into the tattoo. This can help disguise their appearance while preventing further scarring.
Burn scars can be sensitive when tattooed and are usually irregular in appearance. This can make them tricky to tattoo. A good design with various lines and colors can go far in concealing them as much as possible.
Scars on the stomach
Stretch marks and other scars on the abdomen, such as from a cesarean delivery or surgery, can be covered with tattoos.
Just keep in mind that as your belly grows or shrinks, so will your tattoo. If you’re planning on becoming pregnant or losing a lot of weight, you might want to hold off on your abdomen tattoo until after giving birth or losing weight.
Surgery scars are usually precise incisions that leave minimal scarring. These scars are best worked into the edges of a tattoo to minimize their appearance.
But you can also tattoo right over them, as is commonly done with mastectomy scars — as long as they’re healed first.
The first step in getting a tattoo to cover a scar is finding a reputable tattoo artist with experience covering scars. Call tattoo shops in your area and ask whether they have artists who have tattooed over scars before.
Find several tattoo artists who have experience covering scars, and ask to take a look at their work. Consider an artist’s level of experience, past tattooing work, and the cleanliness of their shop.
Tattoos that cover scars, like all tattoos, carry risks, such as infection and blowouts. A blowout happens when the ink penetrates too far into the skin, causing the tattoo to blur.
The more experienced your tattoo artist and the cleaner the shop, the less likely you are to have complications.
Decide on your design and present it to the tattoo artist you decide to work with. They will probably have some ideas, too.
You can also look on social media to find examples of tattoos over scars like yours to get some inspiration.
Many people choose to cover their scars with tattoos. Doing so can be a good way to hide the appearance of a scar you’re uncomfortable with, or to mark your victory over an illness or injury.
If you’re considering a tattoo to cover a scar, there are some things to consider first. You’ll want to think about the type of scar you have, what tattoo design could best cover your scar, and which artist you should have do your tattoo.
If you’ve thought about those things, you’re more likely to get the best possible results.