Tattoos And Diabetes

Can I get a tattoo if I’m diabetic?

Whether you have Type-1, Type-2, or another form of diabetes, there are plenty of extra questions to ask when considering putting ink to skin, but to shed light quickly on that broad question, I’ll tell you now – yes you can!

Before we make that consultation or deposit, let’s take a few considerations into accounts:

How Is Your A1C?

As a person with high blood sugar, your ability to fight infections is compromised. Between nerve damage and reduced blood flow, your immune system can be weakened and prone to infection.

One of our body’s biggest defenses is our skin, a thick armor against bacteria and such. When you get a tattoo, you’re puncturing through the epidermis a few hundred times per minute and leaving ink in the deeper dermis layer where the ink can find a home. This is also where nerves and blood vessels exist, opening up the possibility of infection. The lower your average blood sugar, the better your immune system can generally operate.

We often use a HbA1C test to measure our running three-month average blood sugar levels. When sugar enters the blood, it will attach to the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. The A1C test tells us how many red blood cells have sugar attached to them. The American Diabetes Association says (most) adults with diabetes should aim for a 7% or under. (Those without insulin-related deficiencies will aim for a lower percentage.)

While you should always consult with your medical team before making decisions, having an A1C under 7% is generally a good starting point to knowing how well your body will heal after a tattoo.

Where Are You Getting Tattooed?

This is a two-part question. Where are you getting tattooed in terms of what shop are you going to and where on your body are you getting tattooed?

Always choose a tattoo shop or artist with a good reputation for using clean ink and safe practices. The FDA requires artists to never reuse needles and wear gloves the entire time. Make sure you’re comfortable with your artist and feel free to ask questions pertaining to how well they are keeping you safe. If this is one of your first tattoos, they should also send you home with written instructions on how to care for it, including using anti-bacterial hand soap on it a few times a day.

Another thing to consider is where on your body you are getting the tattoo. Your extremities have reduced blood flow meaning your body can’t heal as well as places closer to your heart. If you are insulin dependent and use places on your body regularly for pump changes and injection sites or you use a continuous glucose monitor, understand that getting a tattoo will create a buildup of scar tissue in the area. If you are used to injecting in a certain spot, it may be harder to break through once the tattoo scars over.

My Experience

As we approach my one-year diaversary (happy holidays to me!), this was my first tattoo post-diagnosis. As I’ve had many appointments in the past, I had a healing routine down and made sure my A1C was in a comfortable spot (my last result was 6.6% in December.) I knew the artist and how he prided himself on clean and safe techniques. I just had two big questions leading into the appointment:

  • Would my blood sugar spike or plummet during and immediately after the appointment?
  • Would the healing process take longer than normal?

To answer the first question, my blood sugar stayed just fine through the entire process. I took a few screenshots of my CGM reading to share with you/

I had eaten a carb-dense meal of pasta about two hours before the appointment and had a few crackers right before walking into the shop and I took my usual amount of bolus insulin with each. My observation was that nothing out of the ordinary happened during the appointment. I was curious if the shock would stimulate a high-glycemic spike, but it looks like it was a pretty normal climb from the late lunch.

For the healing process, it was one of my quickest to ever heal. I stopped oozing after the first night and began flaking four days after.

Day after. Normal redness.

I hope this helps you if you’re diabetic and considering getting a tattoo. Understand the long-term impact of your decisions but don’t let this illness keep you from living your best life. Thanks for reading!

Interested in where I got my inspiration from? Check out this post about our day trip to Olhão this past Fall.

Interested in learning more about tattoos? Check out this post about getting a traditional Sak Yant from a Buddhist monk in Thailand.

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