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Can You Get a Tattoo if You Have Psoriasis?

When you love body art, you see skin as a canvas—but what if psoriasis is in the picture? Some people with this skin condition do get tattoos. But if you're thinking about taking that step, having psoriasis means there are extra factors to consider.

Make a Statement

Tattoos can be a way to adorn your body and express yourself. One thing a tattoo can't do, however, is cover up your plaques—the raised, red, scaly patches of skin caused by psoriasis. Fortunately, many parts of the body where psoriasis is common—such as the scalp, elbows, and knees—aren't prime tattoo locations anyway.

Tattoos are about making a statement, not hiding something. If you're self-conscious about how your skin looks, talk with your doctor about treatment. To cover up psoriasis until it improves, clothes and makeup are better—and less permanent—options.

The Koebner Phenomenon

The biggest concern with psoriasis and tattoos is the Koebner phenomenon—plaques that develop around minor skin injuries, such as bug bites, scrapes, or sunburns. Tattoos are made by a needle injecting ink into the skin. That's enough to set off the Koebner phenomenon in some people.

Unfortunately, doctors can't predict for sure who will have this type of reaction. But if your psoriasis has been easily triggered by skin traumas in the past, you might want to think twice about getting a tattoo. Also, because the Koebner phenomenon is more likely to occur when you already have active psoriasis, it's probably best not to get a tattoo during a flare-up.

If you do have this kind of reaction, it will typically appear within one to two weeks of getting inked. Most cases can be treated effectively with topical medication. In other cases, your doctor may prescribe systemic medication (taken by mouth or injection) or light therapy.

Think Before You Ink

There are other risks as well. Tattooing involves puncturing your skin and injecting a foreign substance into it. There's always the potential for an infection or allergic reaction. If these complications occur, they not only cause their own problems, but may also trigger psoriasis symptoms.

Allergic reactions to tattoo inks are uncommon, but they can be serious. Symptoms include itching and redness around the tattoo. These symptoms may occur soon after getting a tattoo, or they may flare up months or even years later. Some people report having such reactions after being out in the sun. Tattoo removal may be necessary for these reactions to improve.

Infections may occur if sanitation is lax. Skin infections can result from bacteria getting into the skin. Symptoms include redness, swelling, pain, and draining pus. Bloodborne diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV, can also be passed from person to person via dirty needles. To minimize your risk of getting an infection:

  • Go to a well-trained tattooist. Your tattooist should meet any local licensing or regulatory requirements. Feel free to ask about sterilization procedures. A qualified professional should be happy to answer all your questions.

  • Look for safe tattooing practices. Your tattooist should don a fresh pair of disposable gloves before getting started. Also, ask to see your tattooist remove a new needle and tubes from a sealed pack and pour new ink into a fresh container. Sterilization equipment should be available for nondisposable supplies.

  • Follow instructions for taking care of your tattoo as it heals. If you develop signs of an infection, allergic reaction, or psoriasis flare-up, call your doctor.

Having psoriasis doesn't necessarily mean you can't get a tattoo. For many people, taking basic precautions can reduce the risks. Just be sure that the artwork you choose now is a statement you'll still want to be making in 20 years.

Last Annual Review Date: 2010-12-17 Copyright: © 2000-2010 The StayWell Company, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Reference: Skin, Hair and Nails section on Better Medicine


Did You Know?

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Psoriasis usually starts between ages 15 and 35.