If you have psoriasis and are considering getting a tattoo, it’s important to understand the potential risks. A tattoo is possible, but it may not be a wise choice for everyone with psoriasis.
Tattoos and psoriasis
Most people get a tattoo without a second thought about their health. This is not necessarily the case for people with psoriasis.
Psoriasis causes raised, red, scaly patches on the skin.
For anyone thinking about getting a tattoo, there are basic risks you should be aware of. Tattoos break the skin and cause bleeding. This inherently opens you to various risks.
These risks include:
- infection (some infections can become severe)
- disease from cross-contamination (if tools and needles are not properly sanitized), which can include HIV, hepatitis B or C, tuberculosis, and tetanus
- allergic reaction to the dyes used
Precautions to avoid some of these risks include:
- use a tattoo studio with a very good reputation
- make sure the studio is clean and using proper sanitization processes
- be sure inks are used one time from individual cups, not from a multiuse bottle
- ask questions about the studio’s process as well as about the experience and training of the staff
Any skin trauma, such as a cut, insect bite, or sunburn, can cause psoriasis-type lesions to develop. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon. Since tattoos cause skin trauma, getting one may cause these psoriasis-like lesions to occur on your skin around the tattoo.
The Koebner phenomenon happens about 25 percent of the time in people with psoriasis who experience skin trauma. It typically occurs within 10 to 20 days of injury, but may take as little as three days or as long as two years. Researchers once believed that Koebner phenomenon only occurred in people with pre-existing psoriasis or other types of skin problems. However, the diagnosis criteria were expanded to include people with no previous skin conditions. Still, there is not enough scientific evidence to inextricably link tattoos with psoriasis.
To help prevent infection, be sure your tattoo artist is reputable. Check their references and confirm that their license is current. Talk about sanitation procedures, and make sure they wear gloves and only use needles removed from sealed packages.
Follow healing instructions precisely. Contact your dermatologist right away if you experience new or worsening lesions or signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or burning that last beyond the typical healing period.
Dyes and inks
While not isolated to people with psoriasis, the dyes and inks used in tattooing may cause an allergic reaction. This reaction can range from mild to serious, depending upon the individual.
Rules and laws
Some tattoo shops refuse to tattoo people with psoriasis. Others will only tattoo areas where there are no lesions.
State laws vary about tattooing people with psoriasis. For example, Louisiana does not allow tattoo artists to work on people with psoriasis. Oregon tattoo artists are not permitted to work on any area of the skin where there are lesions. South Carolina also does not allow tattooing on skin with any type of rash, lesions, pimples, etc.
Taking care of your tattoo
Tattoos take about two weeks to heal. They will scab over and then the scab will eventually fall off. During this time, your tattoo may itch, but avoid scratching it. Scratching it may slow the healing process.
Your tattooist should give you specific care instructions, but here are some basic guidelines.
- Remove the bandage after several hours or some suggest you leave it on until the next morning.
- Wash and dry your tattoo gently, do not scrub.
- Apply ointment given to you by your tattooist.
- Don’t soak your tattoo in water until it has healed. This includes soaking in a bathtub, hot tub, and swimming.
- After it has healed, apply a good moisturizer to your tattoo regularly.
If at any point after the initial healing process time your tattoo becomes red or burns, you should consult a medical professional. This usually indicates that the tattoo is infected.
Once you have a tattoo, be sure to avoid exposing it to sunlight for very long. Sunlight will fade or damage your tattoo. Be sure to always cover it with sunscreen.
If you eventually decide that you would like to remove your tattoo, a dermatologist or plastic surgeon can do it. However, the results are not guaranteed and may or may not get rid of the entire tattoo. This is why it is important to really think through getting a tattoo. It is permanent.
Instead of removal, it is possible to alter your tattoo or cover it up. However, a cover-up will usually be larger than the original tattoo. Your cover-up will also be limited in color, as the inks will be blending with the color ink you already have. An alteration or cover-up can be done any time after your tattoo is fully healed, even years later.
The verdict is out on whether or not tattoos increase the risk of worsening or inducing psoriasis. It’s a good idea to talk about your psoriasis with your tattoo artist ahead of time, especially if lesions are present. They may choose to postpone the procedure or discuss placing the tattoo in a different location.
There is no way to predict with certainty if a tattoo will worsen psoriasis. If you plan to move forward with the procedure, talk to your dermatologist ahead of time about the risks. Depending on what side of the debate your doctor falls on, they may or may not recommend that you get a tattoo. In the end, the choice is up to you.