Eczema is a skin condition that can cause patches of skin to become inflamed, itchy, and rough. This can pose challenges if a person wishes to have a tattoo. However, if they can manage the condition effectively and take suitable precautions, people with eczema can safely get a tattoo.

Eczema describes a common skin condition that affects more than 31 million people in the United States. There are many different types of eczema, which can affect the skin by causing:

  • rough, scaly patches
  • swelling
  • crusting and oozing
  • dark patches

Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular. For a person living with eczema, there may be extra factors to consider when deciding on a tattoo. For example, the presence of eczema on the skin and frequent flare-ups can make getting a tattoo more difficult. However, managing the condition and communicating with an experienced tattoo artist can make this easier.

In this article, we discuss what a person living with eczema should consider before getting a tattoo.

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Deciding to get a tattoo is a big decision for anyone, but individuals with a skin condition such as eczema have additional factors to consider.

Although it is generally safe for a person living with eczema to get a tattoo if they are able to control the condition, it is important to take proper precautions and care for the tattoo appropriately.

Before getting a tattoo, it is advisable to consult a dermatologist, an allergist, and an experienced tattoo artist. They will be able to explain the pros and cons of getting a tattoo.

A person may have many reasons for wanting a tattoo. These can include capturing a memory, liking how they look, improving self-confidence, or wanting to mask any eczematous parts of their skin. As the individual receiving the tattoo knows their skin best, it is their decision whether to go ahead and get a tattoo.

Many people with eczema have tattoos and experience minimal complications during the tattooing and healing process.

The tattooing process involves using a needle to prick the skin and inject pigments and dyes to create a permanent design. As this breaches the skin’s barrier and introduces a foreign substance into the skin, it can trigger a skin reaction and may result in an eczematous hypersensitivity reaction.

Allergic reactions to tattoos can manifest either shortly after the tattoo or, in rarer cases, months to years afterward. These reactions can occur due to the tattoo inks, the artist’s latex gloves, or aftercare products, such as disinfectants or aftercare creams.

Allergic contact dermatitis is a common hypersensitivity to tattoo pigments. In particular, research highlights that eczema flares are a common reaction to pigments in red inks. These reactions usually present as an inflamed rash that may be scaly and flaky.

Itching and discomfort are common symptoms that can lead to scratching and infection. A person may also be at risk of other potential tattoo complications, including contamination from bloodborne viruses, such as hepatitis and HIV.

Learn more about the risks of getting a tattoo.

Additionally, it is highly advisable that a person does not get a tattoo if they are experiencing an eczema flare-up. This indicates an elevated immune response and suggests that the skin will not react well to the tattoo. Allergens and irritants, such as the dye in some inks, can worsen a flare, even if the symptoms are not in the area that the artist is tattooing.

As such, health experts do not recommend a tattoo if a person:

  • has a history of skin lesions relating to a skin condition, such as severe eczema
  • has previously had a topical skin reaction or an adverse reaction to tattoo ink
  • has an increased risk of infection
  • is using isotretinoin, which can slow healing
  • has a history of keloid scars
  • has a bleeding disorder or is on anticoagulants
  • has not had their hepatitis B vaccination

When getting a tattoo, it is important to choose the right artist. Ideally, a person should pick an artist who has experience tattooing people with eczema. Some useful tips for selecting a tattoo artist include:

  • researching an artist’s portfolio and reading reviews
  • asking whether they have experience tattooing a person with eczema
  • asking friends, relatives, or others living with eczema for a personal referral
  • confirming that the artist is licensed
  • having an in-person consultation with the artist to discuss eczema and the tattoo design and placement
  • confirming that the artist uses suitable products that are unlikely to result in a reaction

A person should not proceed with the tattoo unless they are comfortable with and confident in their choice of artist and design.

Once a person has informed the tattoo artist about their medical history and potential allergies, the artist should perform a patch test. This test can help identify potential allergens and indicate whether a person may have an eczematous reaction. However, the test may not be able to determine a possible tattoo ink allergy, as these can develop months to years after the tattoo.

A patch test typically involves tattooing a small dot using the desired ink and monitoring for a reaction. A person can wait a day, a week, or longer to check for a reaction. If a person experiences a negative reaction, it may not be advisable for them to get the tattoo. A person can ask their dermatologist or allergist whether it is medically safe to continue with a full-size tattoo.

It is advisable for a person living with eczema to prepare for getting a tattoo by:

  • getting a good night’s rest the night before
  • drinking sufficient water to stay hydrated
  • eating a full breakfast on the morning of the tattoo and considering having snacks to hand
  • refraining from drinking alcohol the night before
  • taking steps to avoid damaging or irritating the skin, such as covering the skin to prevent sunburn
  • avoiding taking medications that can thin the blood, such as aspirin

After receiving a tattoo, health experts recommend:

  • washing the hands thoroughly before touching the tattoo
  • moisturizing the tattoo regularly
  • trying not to pick at or scratch the tattoo, even if it is itchy
  • trying not to remove any peeling or scabbing skin
  • avoiding submerging the tattoo in water
  • stopping pets from licking or touching the tattoo
  • refraining from applying sunscreen to the tattoo while it is healing
  • trying to avoid direct sunlight

Learn more about tattoo aftercare tips.

Many of the tips available to help manage eczema can also apply to tattoo aftercare. For example, using fragrance-free, hypoallergenic soap and moisturizers and wearing loose fitting clothing can help. However, although bathing can help hydrate eczematous skin, it is not advisable to bathe with a healing tattoo.

Anyone who experiences an eczema flare after getting a tattoo should consult a doctor. Similarly, if a person suspects that a reaction is occurring due to the pigment in the ink, they should consult a healthcare professional.

An individual should also be aware of the potential symptoms of a tattoo infection, which include:

  • a rash, discoloration, or bumps in the tattoo area
  • a fever
  • increasing pain
  • shaking, chills, and sweats
  • worsening swelling
  • purulent drainage, which is a thick fluid that can be white, green, yellow, or brown

Although there are a few extra factors to consider, a person with eczema can safely get a tattoo. Managing the condition well and finding an experienced tattoo artist can make this process easier. A person can consult a dermatologist, allergist, and tattoo artist to ensure that their skin will react positively.

After receiving the tattoo, it is important to follow aftercare tips to promote proper healing of the tattoo.