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Can I get a Tattoo if I Have Type 1 Diabetes?

I recently sold my Heritage Softail Harley motorcycle after 14 years of riding.  It was a great adventurous part of my life and a fun way to explore the Big Island of Hawaii where I live. Riding a motorcycle is a fun way to meet a variety of people.  There are fundraising poker runs for people undergoing expensive medical treatments, Toys For Tots annual runs to donate hundreds of toys to less fortunate kids, and many other opportunities to ride and celebrate.  Many of the people I met while riding have tattoos.  One woman had a continuous multicolored hibiscus vine that started at one ankle and went up her thigh and across her back and shoulder and down her other arm as a tribute to her sister who died at a young age from cancer.

People often asked me if I wanted to get a tattoo.  My response always was, “I have Type 1 diabetes, I do not go looking for a reason to get poked with more needles.”

The desire to get a tattoo is a very personal one.  It may be a desire for creative or artistic expression.  It may be to celebrate a milestone such as marriage, the birth of children or something that is on “the bucket list”.  Some people use tattoos as their diabetes medical identification.

There is no reason why people with diabetes cannot get tattoos but there are some considerations to keep in mind as with any procedure.

Blood sugar is one of those considerations. 

Any stress on the body can raise the glucose so monitoring is important since good control is important for healing.  The risk of infection is important to consider when picking an artist or salon to make sure the proper cleanliness and safety practices are in place. Single-use needles, individually portioned ink and ointments and having a conversation with the tattoo artist first to answer all your questions. Infections can be more common in people with diabetes and poorly controlled glucose which could also affect the healing time.  Following the aftercare guidelines such as avoiding the sun, swimming, and staying hydrated are important.

Other considerations are where you tend to put your continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and insulin pump sites.

For instance, if you tend to wear your CGM on your upper arms, you may want to stay away from those areas when planning a tattoo. The same guidelines apply if your pump sites tend to be around your abdomen.

Some research has been done (and stopped) called the DermalAbyss project to see if replacing traditional tattoo inks with biosensors whose colors change in response to variations in the interstitial fluid could blend advances in biotechnology with traditional methods in tattoo artistry.   This was a research project, which has ended. There are no plans to develop DermalAbyss as a product or to pursue clinical trials.

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