Tattoos and Rheumatoid Arthritis

For many people, tattoos are an important form of expression. But for people with certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), getting a simple tattoo requires additional considerations besides design and placement.  

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, whether or not it’s safe to get inked depends on a few factors, including the medications you may be taking.

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RA Medications and Tattoos

When you get a tattoo, the needle punctures the skin over and over, producing what is effectively an open wound. For most people, the healing process is uncomplicated.

However, having an autoimmune condition like RA may increase your risk of infection. Some RA medications can also increase your risk of developing a skin infection after your tattoo session.

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a common treatment for RA because they help with symptoms and slow the disease's progression. However, DMARDs also suppress the immune system, which can inhibit your body’s ability to fight off infection. 

There’s no clear indication of whether the timing of DMARD injections can affect infection risk. Waiting a couple of weeks after your injection to schedule your tattoo session may help, but there’s no research to back this up. If you’re thinking of getting a tattoo and you’re taking DMARDs, talk to your rheumatologist. 

Corticosteroids, like prednisone, may be used to treat RA. They can have a negative impact on wound healing.

Skin Reactions

Most people with RA don’t have skin-related symptoms. However, it’s possible to have two types of arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that causes patches of irritated, itchy, flaky skin. While it’s not very common, getting a tattoo may cause a skin reaction in people with psoriatic arthritis.

Skin reactions can happen to anyone, especially in people with sensitive skin.

Other Considerations

If you have RA and are thinking about getting a tattoo, there are a few other concerns to keep in mind.

Tattoos are well known to be painful. If you’re experiencing a painful flare-up of RA, you might not respond well to the pain of tattooing. You’ll also need to stay still for some time, which can be difficult if you’re struggling with chronic pain or stiffness due to RA. 

That doesn’t mean a tattoo is completely out of reach. Talk to your tattoo artist about your condition. Ask how long it’ll take to finish the tattoo. Inquire whether it’s possible to break up the tattooing into short sessions—even if the tattoo isn’t large.

Taking over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may also help with pain during the session. 

Tattoo Safety

You can limit your risk of infection by making sure to get your tattoo done safely. Here are some things you can do to ensure your first tattooing experience is a good one:

  • Choose a licensed tattoo parlor over one that isn’t licensed. 
  • Be open about your condition with your tattoo artist.
  • Follow care instructions to ensure proper healing.
  • Expect extra recovery time. Don’t stop caring for your tattoo after the recommended amount of time. Your wound might need additional time to heal. 

A tattoo artist should use new sterilized needles and disinfect everything—including surfaces and equipment—before getting started. They should also wash their hands beforehand and wear gloves during the procedure.

A good artist will also provide you with plenty of aftercare info and be happy to answer questions you have about the tattooing and healing process.

If you have safety questions relating to your RA, ask your doctor.

RA Tattoo Designs

Excited to get your first tattoo? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get something small. If pain is worrying you, start with a tiny tattoo to get used to the sensation. A smaller tattoo also means wounding less of your skin.
  • Opt for the RA ribbon. Raise awareness about your condition by getting a symbolic tattoo.
  • Pick an inspirational message. Get a tattoo that will make you feel good every time you look at it. 

A Word From Verywell

You’re excited about getting your tattoo, and you’ve done the work to find a reputable artist and studio. But don’t forget to speak to a doctor about your decision. Give them a heads up so they can tell you what to expect from the process as it relates to your RA. Your doctor can also help you weigh the pros and cons of getting inked. 

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Migala J. Tattoos and arthritis: Can you safely get inked if you have arthritis? Creaky Joints.

  2. Arthritis Foundation. DMARDS

  3. National Kidney Foundation. What you need to know about prednisone

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