Sensitive Skin: 7 Things to Consider Before Getting Inked
by Content Team on Nov 07, 2023
For those of us with sensitive skin, even finding the right face wash can be a real struggle. Sometimes, it can feel like your skin has a bad reaction if you look at it wrong, so the thought of injecting foreign substances into your epidermis can seem downright terrifying. You’ve wanted that tattoo for so long, but the fear of setting off your sensitive skin has kept you from going through with it. Now you’re sick and tired of letting that vital (but annoying) organ dictate your life. You just want to be one of the cool kids, damn it!
What’s a sensitive-skinned, prospective tattooee to do? Is there any hope?
It really all depends. Many folks who experience sensitive skin issues can have a healthy tattooing and recovery experience with the proper testing, planning, and after-care.
However, some skin conditions may prohibit a person from getting a tattoo. Before you book that appointment, you should consider these seven factors:
1. Underlying Issues
If you’ve been diagnosed with (or think you might have) conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus, rosacea, discoid lupus, or vitiligo, it’s crucial that you speak with your dermatologist before deciding to get inked. For those who experience sensitive skin issues but have not been diagnosed, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist before you set one with a tattoo artist. It’s important that you’re aware of any conditions that could interfere with the healing process before going under the needle. Wait until you have the green light from your doctor before proceeding.
2. Common Allergens
Before setting an appointment, ask the tattoo artist what ink they use and check to see if any of the ingredients also exist in products your skin reacts badly to. Keep in mind that tattoo ink is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so this info can sometimes be tricky to find. Ingredients that may cause allergic reactions include (but are not limited to):
- Chromic oxide
- Cadmium sulfide
- Mercury sulfide
- Cobalt chloride
- Cobalt aluminate
- Ferric oxide
- Ferric hydrate
- Lead chromate
- Iron oxide
- Phthalocyanine dyes
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium oxide
Bonus tip: Folks with sensitive skin should avoid red ink, as it contains several of the most common allergens and is the biggest culprit of causing allergic reactions.
3. Your Skin’s Current Condition
If flare-ups come and go, let your artist know ahead of time in case you need to reschedule your appointment. Getting a tattoo over open sores, inflamed, or raw skin is never a good idea. Even though a rain check would be a super bummer, developing an infection would be even less ideal. Do your skin a favor and wait until it’s happy and healthy to get inked.
4. Your Artist’s Experience with Sensitive Skin
When choosing a tattoo artist, it’s crucial to find one who is well-informed on all things tattoos and sensitive skin. Your artist should be able to recommend products and after-care procedures specific to your skin, and offer quality inks that reduce the chances of an allergic reaction. When in doubt, ask your dermatologist if they have any artists they could recommend.
5. Sensitivity Testing
Before starting that work of art, ask your artist to perform a sensitivity test, otherwise known as “micro-exposure testing.” Choose a discreet area that won’t be visible to the general public, and have your artist apply a small amount of ink to the skin. Give the ink some time and watch for any signs of possible allergic reactions or infections. If the area heals normally, this is a good indication that you’re ready to proceed with your dream tattoo.
6. Signs of Allergic Reactions and Infections
Unfortunately, your skin isn’t quite like your car. No “check engine” light comes on when something’s not right, but your skin has other ways of letting you know when things are off and need to be checked out. Be aware of the following warning signs, and contact your artist or doctor if you notice anything unusual.
- Intense itching
- Redness (lasting longer than a few days)
- Hardened skin
- Buildup of fluid beneath the skin
- Oozing pus
- Swelling (lasting longer than a few days)
- Skin tags
- Intense burning
- Hot flashes
- Difficulty breathing*
- Swelling around eyes*
*Seek emergency medical help if you experience any of these symptoms.
Properly caring for your skin post-ink is critical to a proper healing process. Take the following steps to avoid reactions and infection:
Let it breathe.
Your tattoo artist will likely instruct you to keep a bandage on your tattooed skin for the first few hours after your session, but it’s important not to keep it under wraps for too long. Allowing your skin to breathe is crucial to keeping infection away.
Avoid sun exposure.
Try to keep your new ink out of direct sunlight for at least two weeks following your appointment.
During the first few days after receiving your tattoo, it is crucial to keep strenuous activities to a minimum. If sweat sneaks into an open wound, it can irritate the area and even cause infection.
Avoid outside irritants.
Any activity that might expose your tatted skin to outside elements such as sand, chlorine, dust, or other irritants will have to wait until your skin is fully healed.
Avoid tight clothing.
When it comes to healing your tattoo, clothing that is tight or scratchy can irritate your tender skin, causing reactions and infections, so make sure your post-tattoo clothes are loose and comfortable.
Do not submerge.
When cleaning your new ink, a splash of cool water or a dab of a damp washcloth a few times a day with a fragrance-free soap will do. Any situation that might cause the area to be submerged in water should be avoided.
Use minimal products (but don’t forget to moisturize).
Light coats of artist and dermatologist-recommended ointments or lotions can keep your skin from drying out too much, but make sure your product is free of allergens and fragrances.
Tattooing on sensitive skin is a different ball game, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With the proper planning and after-care, many sensitive individuals can still enjoy this form of self-expression. However, checking with your dermatologist before booking your tattoo appointment is essential to discuss any issues or conditions that might affect the healing process.