I Have Diabetes. Can I Get a Tattoo?

Body art and managing tattoo risks

person's foot with tattoo

Tattoos. They are more popular than ever. Today, more than 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo. But if you have diabetes, getting a tattoo may pose unique risks.

As diabetes educators, people sometimes ask us for advice about getting a tattoo. When you have diabetes, you really have to consider the physical consequences of everything you do.

How does my blood sugar affect risks associated with tattoos?

People may not realize that to get a tattoo, the skin is pierced between 50 and 3,000 times a minute by a tattoo machine. Your skin is a barrier that protects you from infections. Getting a tattoo breaks this barrier. A tattoo affects the dermis, or the second layer of skin, because the cells of the dermis are more stable than the first layer, or epidermis.

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Piercing skin at this level poses unique risks to people with diabetes. If your blood sugars are not in good control, your immune system is also affected — putting you at even higher risk for infection and potential difficulty fighting it off.

Tattooing is under strict hygiene rules from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of this risk of infection. The needles must only be used once and the tattoo artist must wear gloves while doing the work. According to the FDA, among the most severe infections that can be transmitted is hepatitis.

If you have considered the risk, and still want to get a tattoo, remember to do the following:

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  • Talk to your doctor first. It’s important to discuss your particular case with your doctor so he or she can assess your individual risk. Involving your doctor is even more important as the American Diabetes Association, which would normally offer guidance, has issued no official position statement at this time about tattoos.
  • Make sure your blood sugar is in good control. This means blood glucose tests and hemoglobin A1C, or an index of average blood glucose for the previous three to four months, need to be in the target range. Your hemoglobin A1C should be less than 7 percent.
  • Make sure you are going to a reputable place. Sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s not so clear which places are truly reputable with more than 20,000 tattoo parlors in the United States alone. You can find a good place by asking for references and checking with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints filed.

By taking the right precautions, you can be sure that you are making an informed decision about tattoos and risks involved when you have diabetes. Taking the time to involve your doctor could prevent future problems. Body art is beautiful, but a healthy body is even more beautiful.

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Sue Cotey and Andrea Harris, RNs

Sue Cotey, RN, CDE, and Andrea Harris, RN, CDE, are Diabetes Educators with the Lennon Diabetes Center at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Health Center. Sue is the Program Coordinator.
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  • T1diabetic_fullyInked

    You do not need to speak with a doctor! Hahaaa! I’ve been type 1 for 22 years. I’ve gotten tattoos while under good control and horrible control (1st ink was when my A1c was 13!!!) be informed and be safe: stay away from scratchers!!! Don’t get tattoos below your knees! Feet will not heal well! When healing use the hot/cold method with the orange dial soap! Meaning was with warm soapy water, rinse with warm water, then rinse with cold water. Apply some triple antibiotic and cover with cellophane!! I use cellophane and triple antibiotic off and on for about three days due to naturally slower healing. YOU WILL BE FINE!!! few endo’s will ever tell you a tattoo is a good idea lol!

  • DiabeticInk

    You can TOTALLY get a tattoo.

  • tattedbetic

    My a1c is unfortunately 14+ buuuut I have three tattoos and two of them colored, all healed well and within the projected time period :) got one on my shoulder and two above my elbows

  • Estrella Lazaro

    As a tattoo artist & med tech ALWAYS talk to your Dr first! Never ever rely on how another diabetic healed to decide what is good for you. Healing a tattoo is no joke & if your Dr says no then ask why! He may be worried about something specific with you & it could save you much pain & agony. If in general he is just against a tattoo on a diabetic then the choice is yours but be fair to yourself & to your artist & at least check with your Dr & be sure to tell your artist so they can be aware of your condition & offer you advice on after care. Some artists refuse to do tattoos on someone with diabetes & if you come across one try another but always be honest. I came across this because a diabetic friend wanted me to tattoo him & I wanted to research it before deciding to ink him. We are on his second wonderful tattoo. I also keep in touch with him the first week making sure things are going well. It pays to be honest.

  • Shelsey

    I was told that getting a tattoo with the color yellow could cause more complications with scabbing and such..and by a tattoo artist. Is this true?

  • Jess

    if im at 11 for A1C is it ok,to get a tattoo still,because I Really want one?
    and If so…how do I prepare for a tattoo??