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Type 1 Diabetes and Tattoos: 5 Facts To Know About Getting One

Posted on June 4, 2024

If you have a medical condition like type 1 diabetes, you may wonder if tattoos are safe for you. Some people with type 1 diabetes — like anyone else — want tattoos to express themselves. Others want a tattoo to express their pride in living with diabetes. Finally, some want a medical alert tattoo as an alternative to a medical alert bracelet.

People with type 1 diabetes don’t necessarily have to say no to body art or piercings — but it’s important to know that high blood glucose (sugar) levels can make your body more vulnerable to infections and increase the time it takes to recover after a tattoo.

Although getting a tattoo can pose risks for anyone, people with type 1 diabetes should consider taking some special steps to protect themselves and encourage proper healing.

1. Tattoo Location Matters

Popular places to inject insulin include the arms, belly, and thighs. However, if you inject insulin to manage your diabetes, you should consider where you inject it when choosing a location for your new ink. It’s best to avoid getting a tattoo around your usual injection site. Frequent injections into the tattoo site may affect the design. It can also be painful and potentially dangerous as your tattoo heals.

Other areas people with diabetes may want to avoid include the shins, ankles, feet, and buttocks. These places tend to have poor circulation and may not heal as easily.

2. Glucose Levels May Fluctuate During Your Tattoo Session

Blood glucose levels can go up and down unexpectedly while you’re at the tattoo parlor. After all, getting a tattoo can be painful, plus you may feel excited or anxious during your appointment.

It’s a good idea to let your tattoo artist know that you have diabetes and may need to take breaks during the session. Testing your blood sugar periodically throughout the session and taking breaks to drink water or have a snack as needed can help you get through it safely.

3. Some Tattoo Artists Are Safer Than Others

A professional artist should adhere to strict hygiene practices, including always wearing sterile or disposable gloves and never reusing needles. In short, everything that comes in contact with you during the session should be sterilized. These steps are essential to prevent dangerous infections.

Do your research and ask questions before scheduling your tattoo session. Check what type of inks will be used and whether any have been recalled. Find out what type of safety precautions the tattoo artist and tattoo parlor follow, and see what other patrons have had to say about their experience.

You can look on your state’s Department of Health website to confirm that the tattoo artist has a license to practice. You can also see if they’re listed on the Better Business Bureau website, see their rating, and check for any customer complaints.

4. Your Tattoo Could Take Longer To Heal

It may take a month for the tattoo to heal normally. Poor blood circulation and neuropathy (nerve damage) from diabetes can slow down the body’s natural healing process. Because tattooing intentionally injures the skin, people with diabetes may expect longer healing times as a result.

Being mindful of your diabetes care before, during, and after getting a tattoo can help improve your chances of healing. Before getting a tattoo, monitor your hemoglobin A1c levels. This measurement reflects your blood sugar control over the past four months. Ideally, you should wait to get a tattoo until your levels are in an appropriate range. Some experts say your levels should be under 7 percent, which means you have “good control” of your diabetes management.

Talk to your health care provider about your interest in getting a tattoo and see if they have special recommendations that you should follow. Preparing your body and waiting until the right time to tattoo can help promote a faster recovery.

5. High Blood Sugar Can Increase Infection Risks

Tattoos put stress on the body. As a result, your blood sugars may tend to be higher in the early days of recovery. Unfortunately, high blood sugars also prevent your body from fighting off infections. Check your blood sugars regularly after getting a tattoo. Taking the recommended steps from your doctor to correct high blood sugar levels is crucial.

Once your tattoo is complete, be sure to follow the tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions. Keep the tattooed area clean, avoid swimming pools and hot tubs, and apply the ointments or moisturizers as recommended. Watch carefully for signs of infection, and let your doctor know right away if you have any concerns. Skin infections can develop immediately after getting a new tattoo, or they may take months to develop.

You can expect some soreness and pain after getting a tattoo. But if the pain seems to get worse rather than better and you have a fever, chills, and lots of itchiness and swelling, you may have an infection. Getting infections treated quickly lowers the risk of more serious complications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers and health care providers to report to MedWatch (the FDA’s problem-reporting program) any undesirable adverse reactions related to getting or removing a tattoo.

Find Your Team

On myT1Dteam, the social network for people with type 1 diabetes and their loved ones, more than 2,800 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with type 1 diabetes.

Have you been tattooed since being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? If so, how was your experience, and what type of tattoo did you get? Did you get guidance from a health care professional before getting a tattoo? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on June 4, 2024

    A myT1Dteam Member

    I have 8 tattoos. But this information is good to know.

    posted July 7
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    Are There Any Possible Extra Issues To Be Aware Of If You Decide To Get A Second Tattoo Maybe? Just Curious…
    June 24, 2024 by A myT1Dteam Member 2 answers
    Sarika Chaudhari, M.D., Ph.D. completed her medical school and residency training in clinical physiology at Government Medical College, Nagpur, India. Learn more about her here.
    Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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