Tattooing involves deliberately placing permanent colours into the skin. Considering the popularity of tattoos, complications are relatively rare. However the introduction of foreign substances into the skin can result in an allergic or immunological response. If the process is not sterile infection can be transmitted. Hepatitis and herpes and staph infections are well described.
There is no standard for the ink pigments that are used so toxicities of the various chemicals can exist.
What does this mean for a person with eczema?
Eczema sufferers are at a higher risk of being allergic to the dyes used in tattooing. Tattoos and eczema effects for an individual is a common question we are asked. We recommend having a patch test prior to getting your tattoo to determine your suitability to the dye pigments in your dermis. The tattoo artist will inject a tiny amount of the dye into the skin where you want to have the tattoo. A delayed reaction is still possible.
After a week have the patch checked by your doctor for inflammation or infection. If it is clear you are most likely not allergic to the dye. Even if the patch test is clear it is not a guarantee that you will not have a reaction to the tattoo in the future.
Eczema skin is dry and scaly and is easily irritated by triggers. Heat created from the needle which is heated as it penetrates the skin, and the attack of the skin due to the procedure are both triggers that could flare up eczema. A flare up of eczema is possible even if the tattoo is applied to an area of skin free from eczema. The healing time for a tattoo will be prolonged if it is performed over eczema or if eczema flares up during/after the procedure. It is possible that a severe flair would blur the tattoo.
Apply moisturisers regularly and resist the urge to scratch. It is often difficult to tell if the itching is worse when you have eczema or if it is the scabbing of the tattoo causing the itch. Topical or oral steroids would allow the inflammation of eczema to settle prior to a tattoo.
Complications from tattooing are relatively uncommon however allergic reactions, acute inflammatory reactions, infections and contracting infectious diseases are all possible. Always have a tattoo performed at a reputed tattoo shop that uses sterile instruments.
Note: Although it is possible to acquire HIV from piercing or tattooing, there have been no documented cases of this happening at a professional business. There are cases of HIV transmission as a result of amateur tattooing. If any problems develop after piercing or tattooing, see a dermatologist right away.
Henna tattoos apply the dye to the skin surface so the skin is not penetrated. Many people believe this to be a safer form of tattooing than permanent tattoos however the American Academy of Dermatology released a warning that black henna tattoos made with the chemical paraphenylenediamine (PPD) can cause serious allergic reactions and eczema. In rare circumstances this can lead to permanent scarring at the site of the tattoo. Children should not try this type of tattoo.
Tattoos and Eczema in Summary
- Always have the area patch tested before tattooing
- A tattoo may cause eczema to flare up even if it wasn’t present on that area prior to the tattoo
- Some tattoo artists will not perform tattoos over eczema because of the risk of infection
- Tattoos over eczema or on eczema prone skin may be itchier and will take longer to heal
- Consider having a tattoo carefully - will the tattoo you choose still be fashionable to you in 20 years?
- Always use a reputable tattoo artist who uses sterile equipment.