Tattoos and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, whether it’s safe for you to "get inked" depends on a few factors, including the medications you may be taking.

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RA Drugs and Tattoos

When you get a tattoo, your skin is punctured by a needle 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 also can increase that risk after your tattoo session.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a common, first-line treatment for RA because they help with symptoms and slow the disease's progression. However, DMARDs also suppress the immune system in order to control inflammation, 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 before scheduling your tattoo appointment. 

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

Skin Reactions

Most people with RA don’t have skin-related symptoms. However, it’s possible to have another type of arthritis, along with RA, that may affect your skin. Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that causes patches of irritated, itchy, flaky skin. While it’s not very common, the trauma caused to the skin from getting a tattoo can trigger psoriasis symptoms in people with psoriatic arthritis.

Skin reactions can happen to anyone, especially to 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 known to be painful. If you’re experiencing a painful RA flare-up, you might not respond well to the pain of tattooing. Another consideration is the amount of time you will need to remain still while the tattoo is being applied. This 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 the question. Talk to your tattoo artist about your condition. Ask how long it will take to finish the procedure. Inquire whether it’s possible to break up the tattooing into shorter sessions—even if the tattoo isn’t large.

Taking over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen may also help with pain during the session. 

Tattoo Safety

You can limit your risk of infection by taking certain measures to ensure your tattooing experience is a safe one, including:

  • Choose a licensed tattoo parlor over one that isn’t licensed. 
  • Be open about your RA condition with your tattoo artist.
  • Follow aftercare 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. 

Tattoo artists should use new sterilized needles and disinfect everything—including surfaces and equipment—before getting started. They should also wash their hands beforehand, wear new gloves during the procedure, and place inks in single-use cups that can be disposed of afterward.

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

If you have safety questions relating to your RA, talk to 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 will wound less of your skin.
  • Opt for the RA ribbon. Raise awareness about your condition by getting a symbolic tattoo, such as the blue RA ribbon.
  • 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 ahead of time so you'll know 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

Additional Reading