Tattoos and Eczema: 6 Tips for Aftercare | MyEczemaTeam

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Tattoos and Eczema: 6 Tips for Aftercare

Medically reviewed by Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on September 13, 2023

People living with eczema may worry about doing things that might harm their skin or trigger a flare. After all, no one likes to deal with itchy, swollen, flaky, or discolored skin if they don’t have to. Sometimes, however, the risk may be worth the reward. One situation where people face this dilemma is when thinking about getting a tattoo.

One MyEczemaTeam member asked, “Does anyone here have a tattoo and eczema?” Others shared a variety of answers, including, “I got a black line tattoo, and for the first few weeks, my skin was dreadful. It took about a month to get back to normal but since then, it hasn’t been unusually active in that area.”

Another member replied, “Mine did flare on the tattoo area but was cleared in about a month.”

Others experienced more serious complications, like one who explained, “I’d love to get more and more but had to stop one before filling ink due to severe pain, then found out it was an eczema patch building up in the middle of it. I never managed to get rid of it, so a piece of it outbled and lost some ink.”

There are many things you can do to take care of your skin and your overall well-being if you decide to get a tattoo after your eczema diagnosis. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself as much as possible.

1. Choose an Experienced Artist

Eczema is not as uncommon as some people think, and many experienced tattoo artists either live with the condition themselves or have experience working on people with the diagnosis. See if you can find one of these artists, as they’ll understand your specific needs and concerns and may be able to provide suggestions that will help you care for your eczema and your new tattoo.

Consult with any tattoo artist at least once before you decide to work with them. Most reputable artists will have you fill out a form before your tattoo appointment that includes questions about medical conditions. Make note of your eczema, and talk to them about how, when, and where you experience it. They may recommend changes in tattoo placement or in the materials they use that will lower your risk of an eczema flare-up. If this is your first tattoo, they may take extra precautions to protect you.

2. Test Your Skin

If you don’t know how you’ll react to the ink your artist will use, consider getting a patch test, which entails applying a small amount of a potential allergen to your skin to see if it causes a reaction. This may be especially important if you plan to use red ink in your tattoo design, though there isn’t enough data to make a conclusion.

You can ask the artist for the different inks they’ll use for your tattoo and take them to a dermatologist for the patch test. You should know whether the inks trigger a reaction within 48 to 96 hours.

Alternatively, you can have tiny dots tattooed somewhere out of sight using the inks planned for your main tattoo. If you don’t have a skin reaction to these, you are less likely to have a skin reaction when you get your full tattoo.

Note that the patch test may not provide conclusive proof that a tattoo won’t trigger an eczema flare. You may respond differently to a larger amount of ink in your body or to the tattoo-application process itself, either of which could cause your eczema to flare. However, having a patch test can eliminate some of your worries.

3. Moisturize Your New Tattoo

Most tattoo artists have products to recommend for caring for your tattoo. However, you’ll want to make sure that these don’t contain ingredients that trigger your eczema. If you aren’t sure, you can patch-test the recommended product, too.

Make sure that any moisturizer, soap, or other bath or hydration product you use is water-based. Using petroleum-based products may damage the tattoo. Add moisture to your tattoo as needed, or per your artist’s instructions.

There isn’t a standard set of instructions for applying eczema treatment creams — which may or may not be for hydration — while a tattoo heals. However, you can certainly apply them to the area after it has healed. Make sure the ingredients in your treatments of choice won’t harm your tattoo.

4. Follow Your Artist’s Directions

Follow your tattoo artist’s directions regarding tattoo aftercare as precisely as you can. Guidance may vary among artists, but it’s generally similar. They’ll want you to stay out of the sun or to cover the tattooed area with high SPF sunscreen, as ultraviolet light can damage some tattoo inks. Most artists also will tell you not to swim — whether in a pool, salt water, or fresh water — for at least two weeks or until your tattoo has healed.

These instructions are usually the same whether or not you have eczema. However, as someone with eczema, your goal should be for your tattoo to heal as quickly as possible. Doing anything that may delay this process may raise your chances of an eczema flare.

5. Skip Your Session if You Have a Flare

If, on the big day, you experience a flare-up on your body where you’re planning to have the tattoo, contact your artist to reschedule. Most artists won’t tattoo on skin with active eczema. Others may want to make sure that your eczema, overall, is not in a bad place before they give you a tattoo.

Talk this out with your tattoo artist ahead of time so you have a plan in case of an eczema flare. They may be willing to waive normal cancellation fees, for instance, in case of a sudden flare. Make sure they understand that you’re dealing with an unpredictable skin condition.

6. See Your Dermatology Provider if You Experience Complications

If you experience any worrisome complications after getting your tattoo or think it may have triggered an allergic reaction or become infected, call your dermatologist right away. Anyone can experience these types of complications because the tattooing process pierces the skin’s protective barrier. Your dermatologist should be willing to get you in fast and help you find a treatment to help manage your itching, treat your allergy, or fight off your infection.

If, after getting your tattoo, you develop serious symptoms like dizziness or breathing difficulties, call for emergency medical help immediately. This can be a sign of severe allergies that require swift treatment to prevent further complications.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 49,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Are you living with eczema and trying to care for a tattoo? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on September 13, 2023
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Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D. received his medical degree and completed residency training in dermatology at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Learn more about him here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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