Is easily-scarred skin a contraindication to tattooing?
April 7, 2011 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Yet another tattoo/scar question: Although I almost never bruise, I tend to scar very easily. Will this be a problem if I ever decide to get a tattoo?

Even the most seemingly light scratch/broken-skin injury will result in darker or otherwise discolored skin that lasts months, if not years before even beginning to fade back to my regular color. So if light scratches scar me, I'm concerned about how my skin will react to sustained trauma from a tattoo needle. Will the discoloration result in a ruined-looking tattoo? Vital statistics: Male, 35, Filipino with light brown skin.

FWIW I searched AskMe for related questions and I mostly got discussion on keloid formation, which I'm not worried about (or should I be?).
posted by bayani to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It might depend on where you get the tattoo. I'm a Korean female and I tend to form keloids on my uppder body area. Specifically, my ears (I can never get my ears pierced again), and my neck/shoulders. I had laproscropic should surgery, and even though the incision points are really small, I have really big scars around them. Strangely, I don't have problems with my face, nose or arms. A dermatologist told me that keloids affect Black/African-Americans and East Asians at higher rates than other groups. Not sure if Filipinos would be included.
posted by yeoja at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

should surgery = shoulder surgery
posted by yeoja at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2011

I worked last summer with a physician who performed laser tattoo removal. Even after the pigment was gone, many patients still had raised marks where the tattoo had been. One lady had a very subtle raised rose above her rump where the tattoo had been, but it wasn't red or inflamed looking, just raised.

Just from the patients I saw, it seemed that darker skinned people had the raised marks more frequently than very light skinned people. My guess is that this has something to do with collagen deposition in response to trauma, and that it's probably the same mechanism behind keloid formation. It's also possible that some people had a hypersensitivity to the pigments (either going in, or as they were released in laser treatment) which caused fibrosis.
posted by ladypants at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, I scar easily, and also form keloids where major damage has been done (so, surgery = keloid, cat scratch = ordinary scar), and my ordinary scars also tend to hang around and be visible for a long time. (Additional data point: I'm part Hawaiian and look it.)

I also have tattoos - two are heavy blackwork and are slightly raised, but you can really only tell by feeling them, not by looking.

The other tattoo is a fine-lined piece of greywork, and there is no visible scarring or keloiding of any sort.

If you've had surgery or a deep cut or gouge to your skin and haven't formed a keloid, then you probably aren't a keloid-former. But everyone's different - my ears never formed keloids from piercing, but where I had surgery as a kid (right forearm) did.

Talk to some experienced tattoo artists as well, for their perspective - they have seen more skin and what inking can do to it than anyone else, and can help you make a decision.
posted by rtha at 12:53 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anecdata: I bruise and scar very easily, but do not form keloids. Similar to your description, even scratches tend to result in discoloration for months, and generally scar-- though the scar is more of a permanent skin discoloration than a raised mark.

I have a fairly good-sized tattoo on my shoulder, which healed very cleanly.
posted by Kpele at 12:58 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

As long as you let the tattoo heal properly you should be fine. I am a very light skinned person and my tattoo is slightly raised but it doesn't affect the look. If you decide to get one just don't scratch or pick it as it heals. The only problem I have with my tattoo is a tiny weird spot in the middle of the trunk of the tree. This is the result of me giving in and scratching it just a little. Bad choice.
posted by delicate_dahlias at 1:25 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I scar pretty easily -- by which I mean that I have spots all over my pale, pale legs from scratching mosquito bites in summers past -- but I do not form keloids. 18 months ago I got a 3 x 4 inch tattoo, heavy black outline, shading within -- it's healed beautifully. I followed the instructions regarding washing, not picking, and moisturizing and it's probably the healthiest skin on my body at this point. ;o)
posted by MeiraV at 2:16 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I bruise and scar easily, but do not really form keloids, with the exception of my prolific chicken pox scars (Damn you, chicken pox at age 18).

I have a white tattoo on my wrist, and have very pale skin. It's healed beautifully, except for one spot where I picked at it. (The picked-at spot looks like a pock-mark with hardly any ink. It'll be unnoticable once I get it touched-up.) The tattoo as a whole is slightly raised, fwiw.

So, moral: really, really be diligent about your after-care, should you get a tattoo.
posted by Wossname at 5:52 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you EVERYONE for the advice and personal experiences so far! It's encouraging to hear from others and I'm glad I haven't been the only one with these concerns. I want my tattoo to look good when I finally get one!
posted by bayani at 7:46 PM on April 7, 2011

I scar hypertrophic and occasionally 'floppy' as well as discolouring easily. My shins, knees and the tops of my feet are all odd because I had dry skin for a while. All of my tattoos look fine but the white ink is raised and looked AWFUL at the start - lymph leaking and burnt almost. Totally ick for near to 12 months. Now it looks great. But, like the other tattoos, if I get sick and start fluctuating in temperature, they all raise up a lot. It can look swollen, just like the rest of the scars.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:58 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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