I have diabetes. Can I get a tattoo? – Cleveland Clinic

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All tattoos tell a story, whether it’s something incredibly meaningful or an impromptu decision you made on a random Tuesday.

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When making the decision to get inked, you may not immediately think about the medical risks. But if you have diabetes, getting a tattoo can come with unique risks.

“When you are diabetic, you really have to consider the physical consequences of everything you do”, explains the endocrinologist Shirisha Avadhanula, MD.

How does my blood sugar affect the risks associated with tattoos?

To get a tattoo, the skin is pierced between 50 and 3000 times per minute by a tattoo machine.

“Your skin is a barrier that protects you from infections,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Getting a tattoo breaks that barrier. A tattoo affects the dermis, or the second layer of skin, because the cells in the dermis are more stable than the first layer, or the epidermis.

Piercing the skin at this level presents unique risks for people with diabetes. If your blood sugar is not well controlled, your immune system is also affected, putting you at an even higher risk of infection and potential difficulties fighting it off. If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you may have a significantly increased risk of develop an infection, too much.

The tattoo is under strict hygiene rules of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of this risk of infection. The needles should only be used once and the tattoo artist should wear gloves while working. According to the FDA, hepatitis is one of the most serious infections that can be transmitted.

If you’ve factored in the risk and still want to get a tattoo, remember to do the following:

  • Talk to your doctor first. It is important to discuss your particular case with your doctor so that he can assess your individual risk. Getting your doctor involved is even more important than the American Diabetes Association, which would normally offer advice, has not released any official position statement on tattoos yet.
  • Make sure your blood sugar is well controlled. This means blood sugar tests and hemoglobin a1c, or an average blood sugar index for the past three to four months, should be within the target range. Your hemoglobin A1C level should be below 7%.
  • Get a tattoo in an area that is not susceptible to infection. The feet, shins, ankles, and buttocks are places that can have poor blood circulation, which can make them more susceptible to infections.
  • Make sure you go to a reputable place. Sometimes it’s not so clear which places are truly reputable and allowed, especially when there are thousands of them in the US alone. You can find a good place by asking for references and checking with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints filed. Don’t be afraid to call them and ask about their sanitation equipment and practices.

“By taking the right precautions, you can be sure that you are making an informed decision about tattoos and the risks involved when you have diabetes,” she says. “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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