Tattoos and Psoriasis: Think Before You Ink
Last updated: June 2023
Did you know that 26% of adults in the western world have at least one tattoo?1 I venture to guess that a small percentage of those adults also have some sort of skin condition, perhaps psoriasis being one of them. So what should someone with psoriasis think about before getting inked?
Approximately 25% of psoriasis patients are prone to developing new skin lesions on previously unaffected skin after a tattoo. That means that 1 in 4 psoriatic patients are affected by the tattoo process!2
Tattoos, psoriasis, and the Koebner phenomenon
This happens so much so that there’s even a name for it: the Koebner phenomenon. Aside from causing targeted outbreaks, tattooing could also cause a generalized flare of psoriasis.
Many things can trigger a flare in your symptoms. A commonly accepted trigger is trauma to the skin. Something like a cut, scrape, or even a bug bite could cause a flare. Because the tattoo process is essentially a needle plunging into your skin repeatedly, it could absolutely cause a flare.
How the tattoo process impacts psoriasis
Even if the tattoo doesn’t cause a full-blown flare, it might still cause other side effects that are worth considering. Some side effects of tattoos on psoriasis patients include swelling, itching, and allergies.
Typically doctors do not advise getting a tattoo during flares of psoriasis, as it is considered that during active and unstable stages of the disease, the patient’s skin might be more prone to new skin lesions. Immunosuppressive treatments can also increase the risk of infection, especially when tattooing occurs in unhygienic conditions.
What does the research have to say?
A 2021 study, conducted by the Faculty of the Medicine Medical University of Gdańsk surveyed 150 tattooed psoriatic patients regarding their experiences with their psoriasis after getting tattooed. Thirteen (8.7%) of the participants experienced complications associated with their tattoos.3
Though there are some risks for psoriasis patients when it comes to getting tattoos, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one. It just means you should be aware of the effects it could have on your skin.
Another study reported that complications of tattooing in psoriatic patients are usually mild and fleeting4 (unlike the tattoo itself. That’s on you forever, pal.) On a positive note, the same 150-person study revealed that tattoos actually improve mental health in patients.
Tattoos are meant to be symbols and expressions of one's self, taking the inside of a person and projecting it onto the outside. Maybe when we are not feeling so good on the inside, it helps to place something beautiful and meaningful on the outside.
Questions to ask before getting inked!
Only about 8% of people with psoriasis sought medical advice before getting a tattoo.5 Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask your dermatologist what the potential consequences might be after a tattoo. Even though the risks of a tattoo when you have psoriasis aren’t serious, doctors often discourage them.
This is because you could make your skin worse. But if you want the tattoo, get the tattoo! Ask your dermatologist if they can help you find ways to make any potential problems less likely.
Also, have a chat with your tattoo artist. There is usually a consultation before the appointment. Take the time to have a chat about your skin and your concerns. If they’ve been at this for a while, you’re not their first client with psoriasis. And please pick a reputable place that is clean and all the equipment is sterilized.
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