Can I Get A Tattoo If I Have Diabetes?

Published on 
June 18, 2024
June 13, 2023
K. Thor Jensen
K. Thor Jensen
K. Thor Jensen

Yes, you probably can. Here's how to get a tattoo safely when you have diabetes.

Diabetes and tattoos go hand in hand. A little needle poke (or a few thousand) from a tattoo artist is nothing compared to the injections and blood tests that many people with diabetes have to do each day. Just ask Anne, a Virta member who was so proud that she reversed her diabetes that she got a tattoo of the Virta logo to commemorate her achievement. But even though diabetes and tattoos are natural bedfellows, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about getting one if you have type 2 diabetes. Here’s what you need to know.

How To Get A Tattoo Safely With Diabetes

In general, getting a tattoo is a safe procedure.The days of sketchy, unhygienic tattoo parlors are mostly behind us. However, it’s still important to talk to your doctor to make sure that your diabetes is controlled enough that it is safe to break the skin. You should also be sure to tell your tattoo artist that you have diabetes.

Whether you have type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes, before you get a tattoo, check your daily glucose levels and A1C. In general, doctors advise that your hemoglobin A1C be lower than 7% on your last test before you get a tattoo, but the American Diabetes Association has not issued any official advisories on the subject.

More complex tattoos can take multiple sessions, and those sessions can last several hours. It’s important to manage your blood sugar and physical health while under the needle, whether that means bringing snacks to handle lows and water to stay hydrated, or getting up to walk around regularly to keep your blood circulating. Getting a tattoo may also induce a stress response that could cause your blood sugar to spike temporarily, so prepare for that possibility.

What Are The Risks Of Getting A Tattoo With Diabetes?

As with any medical condition, getting a tattoo when you have bears some risk. Any time you break the skin, it's possible to get an infection, especially for people with diabetes. The speed of the fastest tattoo needle is 300 times per minute, so that compounds the risk. While the vast majority of tattoo parlors are scrupulous about hygiene, a small percentage of people do experience skin irritation and infection. If blood sugar is elevated, that can slow healing and present more danger of infection.

Keep a close eye on your new tattoo for signs of infection. While redness in the skin is to be expected for the first few days, if it continues or is accompanied by swelling, you should see a doctor. Other possible symptoms of skin infections from tattoos include red, itchy bumps; pain that increases over time; fever; chills; and off-colored drainage. If any of these symptoms occur, see your doctor immediately. 

Some areas of the body are riskier for tattoos on people with diabetes because they have less reliable circulation, including the buttocks, shins, ankles and feet. If you experience circulation issues in any other part of your body, do not get a tattoo there. 

It typically takes two weeks for an average person to heal from a tattoo, but people with diabetes may find that time doubled. Commit to the care routine that your tattoo artist gives you until the site is completely healed to ensure that the ink sets correctly and will last a long time. 

Good Ideas For Diabetes Tattoos

Body art can have many purposes. It’s often strictly decorative, but it can pay tribute to important moments in your life (like Anne and her Virta logo tattoo!), your cultural heritage, or just something that you thought looked cool on the tattoo shop wall. But they can also be functional.

Having a type 1 diabetes tattoo or a type 2 diabetes tattoo can serve as a sort of permanent medical alert bracelet, informing first responders that you have a condition that will require a specific type of care. These tattoos can be simple, like just putting the word “Diabetes” on your arm, or can be part of a more complex design. 

The world of diabetes technology is also extending to tattoos. Scientists at MIT are researching a thin layer of nanoparticle-infused ink that would be applied to the skin and operate like a continuous glucose monitor, glowing as sugar levels rise in the bloodstream. A separate device would interpret that signal and translate it into a number so the user could dose with insulin in response. This technology is obviously quite a ways away from public use, but it’s exciting to think about.

The Takeaway

Every human being has a right to feel happy with their body, inside and out. Tattoos can be a powerful and striking way to commemorate a victory, pay tribute to a lost loved one or just decorate your body. There are numerous visual traditions from all over the world to explore, from high-contrast tribal designs to lush, Japanese-influenced tableaus. The social stigma around tattoos that was present in the 20th century is almost completely gone, so there are few barriers between you and the body art of your dreams.

Can people with diabetes get tattoos? Absolutely. Living with diabetes is always a matter of preparedness and self-awareness, and if you bring those characteristics to the tattoo shop your results are more likely to be positive. Consult with your doctor, make sure your A1C is at a good level, think through your design for as long as it takes, and then go under the needle with confidence that you are doing the right thing. 

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and want to live a healthier lifestyle, Virta Health may be able to help. By making healthy lifestyle changes in a medical setting with supportive resources like 1:1 virtual coaching, you can regain control of your health and feel like yourself again. See if you’re eligible for Virta Health here.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

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