Eczema on my new tattoo! Help!
July 18, 2012 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Over the last six months, I've had a case of eczema on the backs of my hands. Sometimes it's bad; sometimes it's not. Right now, it's totally raging -- worst it's ever been. The rash never spread anywhere else -- until I got this new tattoo...

I got the linework for a large bicep tattoo on Saturday. Starting yesterday, I noticed the tell-tale signs of eczema bumps. Oh god. It itches, and I can't scratch it, and worst of all -- I have no idea what to do to speed the healing without damaging the fresh ink.

I need it to heal fast because I have a second sitting in a few weeks, to fill in the color. I would hate to push the appointment -- the artist is very popular and hard to see. I might have to wait another few months.

Extra danger factor: I can't visit a doctor right now, due to work constraints. I might be able to if it's super important, but I'd really like to avoid it. I have a prescription cream, but it seems totally worthless.

And additional risk factor: I'm currently titrating up on Lamictal, a drug known for exacerbating rashes and things. (Just to be sure: I'm pretty damn sure it's eczema, not the famous deadly Rash. It looks just like the rash on my hands, which has been "approved" by both my psychiatrist and my GP.) I've been on Lamictal for about six weeks, and I'm currently taking 300mg. I'm scheduled to go up to 400 tomorrow. (that's why this question is anonymous; my mental illness treatment doesn't need to be posted on the internet for posterity.)

In short: how can I address this eczema without damaging the new tattoo?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I might be able to if it's super important,

Hm - this happened to my boyfriend, but it's because he has autoimmune-related psoriasis. Any new tattoo or really any insult to the skin starts to develop that blistered skin thing; basically the body trying to reject the invasive ink. Unless your other doctors have ruled out other causes for your eczema, it might be worth looking into. If this is what it is, then doing the rest of the ink would react badly too.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on July 18, 2012

Might be worth taking a trip to the doctor.

My father had a bad reaction to a certain type of ink and basically most of the tattoo came off or had to be touched up because of this, but I believe the doctor gave him some type antibiotic cream that helped with the rash and pain.
posted by hexpen at 7:57 PM on July 18, 2012

Push the appointment. Better to wait a few months than to have a fucked up tattoo forever. Personally, it takes a few months for my skin to go back to normal after an eczema outbreak anyway--it may go back to flat, but it's still super sensitive and likely to break out again for a while.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:43 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Not a doctor, or medical expert in any way, but here are a few thoughts:

Oral antihistamines always help with my skin rashes. Of course, check for drug interactions, or call your pharmacist. Benadryl ointment/gel is good, too. The gel is probably better for the tatt.

If you can't go in to see your doc, can you call or send an email?

If it progresses, go to the ER/urgent care.
posted by annsunny at 9:06 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you can't put A&D/Cetaphil/Aquaphor on the tattoo? Those are the go-tos for post-laser-surgery in the birthmark community, and I don't see how they'd hurt the line art.

But yeah, see a doctor.
posted by SMPA at 9:23 PM on July 18, 2012

I once let my eczema travel from little bumps between my fingers to the backs of my hands, up my forearms and into huge red welts over my inner elbows. I felt like my arms had turned into crab claws, and it was not good for my job as a waitress (it's never good to have to tell your tables, "don't worry, it's not contagious!") This happened over the course of one summer.

I ended needing a prednisone shot, a course of oral steroids, and a steroid cream. I agree with the poster who said that waiting a few months is better than having a bad tattoo forever. You can try taking a ton of antihistamines and using antihistamine cream, but be careful because eczema can get pretty nasty sometimes. If my eczema even starts looking like it might maybe want to think about coming back, I go to the doctor.
posted by alittlecloser at 11:15 PM on July 18, 2012

My thought was also that it might be psoriasis. Ask your dermatologist.
posted by princelyfox at 4:22 AM on July 19, 2012

Your skin is fighting an imbalance and a tattoo is a direct attack on that system. I'd try changing your diet and lifestyle routine to boost your immune system — no cigarettes, sugar, alcohol, (perhaps cutting out gluten). Exercise, take vitamins, get good sleep, drink lots of liquids, follow proper hygiene, eat lots of prebiotic foods and take probiotics (yogurt, pills, etc.). You want to not only clear this up now, but prep yourself for the stress that your skin/body will soon endure again.

If it doesn't clear up in two weeks after all that self-care, I'd push the appointment then.

Personal opinion here (may or may not be able to be verified by scientific evidence)...topical creams are kind of silly when the source of the problem is greater than the after-the-problem-has-manifested solution (the cream). If you target this from the inside, rather than a thin layer of cream on the outside, you might have better results overall.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:38 AM on July 19, 2012

I don't have experience with tattoos, but the best thing I've found for eczema (which I've had on my hands and feet for my entire life) is copious vaseline. Coat the area with it before sleeping. Put a thinner (but still substantial) layer on it during the day. Keep it up, because it takes a few days before it really starts to help.

I started trying vaseline because I read somewhere that eczema is caused by a kind of allergic reaction due to the outermost layer of skin just not sticking together as well as it should and teeny little particles squishing their way in between cells and messing things up. Whether or not that's true, sealing up my hands with vaseline has truly made a huge difference. I follow this regimen (thick coat at night, and lighter coat in the morning) every single day, and if I slack off, it starts flaring up almost immediately.

If vaseline and tattoos don't mix, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by hought20 at 5:58 AM on July 19, 2012

I know very little about eczema other than what it looks like (my friend gets awful outbreaks every couple years), but I'm bored at work and skimming posts...

Do not put Vaseline in your tattoo. Do not. It doesn't allow air to get to the tat, and as a result it won't heal well.

Talk to folks with lots of tattoo knowledge. Eczema isn't all that uncommon; I'm sure you're not the only one who's had this problem. Find forums, get advice, and once you've educated yourself take that knowledge to your doctor - whom you may well be able to reach over the phone instead of scheduling an appointment. Your doctor probably doesn't know much about interactions with tattoos, so if you call him up and explain the situation, then are able to offer feedback regarding anything he suggests that might not be good for your tattoo, things will go much more smoothly.

If you're not completely, 100% cleared up soon, push back the appointment date. Yes, it sucks to have unfinished work on your body for months, but it's better than having a brand new tat get messed up and require revisions - and usually not look as good as it would have if you'd waited a while longer in the first place.
posted by Urban Winter at 10:05 AM on July 19, 2012

Call the doctor who prescribed you the cream and explain the situation. Alternately, call your pharmacist. I have eczema too and topical cream (usually a steriod cream) almost always helps me. I disagree that topical creams are worthless. If this cream was prescribed for your eczema, then you should use it for your eczema. They are not simply anti-itch creams, they are steroids which have fewer side effects than using a systemic pill steroid.

Definitely wait until your flare-up has passed before finishing the tattoo! First off, ow, second the chances for having a messed up thing permanently on you is worth a few months wait.
posted by Katine at 11:40 AM on July 19, 2012

tell tale bumps on the tattoo or elsewhere? is this your first tattoo? if not, did this happen with other tattoos?

if they're bumps on your tattoo, it MIGHT not be eczema on the tattoo. it might be irritation from the tattoo, the lotion, your healing method, etc.

if elsewhere, it's PROBABLY more eczema since you're predisposed to it and you've just given your immune system a jolt and now it's working on healing the tattoo and can't devote energy to the eczema.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:11 PM on July 19, 2012

Shea butter heals eczema very quickly for me. I know people who have had shea suggested by their tattoo artist. Look for unrefined shea and test it on the inside of your elbow just to make sure you're not going to have a reaction to it.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:39 PM on July 19, 2012

Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Creme really helped my hand eczema. I also used coconut oil on it, but it was the creme that did the trick. I slathered it on at all hours of the day and overnight and put on cotton gloves to keep it on. It worked within a week, whereas steroid cream did not.
posted by xenophile at 6:03 PM on July 19, 2012

I'd get to the doctor. There's a lot of possibilities for what this is, given that it's cropped up in a new place.

Like posters above, I too have a friend with auto-immune psoriasis, and hers cropped up on a fresh tattoo as well. So I don't think this is worth messing around with.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 7:30 AM on July 20, 2012

That is some FAST titration. It took me longer than 6 weeks to get up to 150 mg/day. I would probably slow it down if I were you. Talk to your psychiatrist, look up the recommended pace in the literature available online. (I don't remember where it is, but I know it's there, as I did some reading up when I started.) Going up too fast is much more likely to bring on The Rash than if you take it slowly. And from what I hear, Lamictal can also exacerbate more normal skin problems, especially at first. It doesn't have to be full-on Deadly Rash to be having some effect.

Good luck with the Lamictal, by the way. It's the only thing that's ever done me any good. Hopefully it will do the same for you. And good luck with the tattoo, too! (I've never had skin problems while getting any of mine, so I can't offer useful advice on that front.)
posted by Because at 10:21 PM on July 20, 2012

Are you sure it's eczema? One of my tattoos itched so much oh my god the itching, and I don't have eczema. I did nothing but wait it out, but maybe call your tattoo parlor and ask them for advice.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:22 AM on July 22, 2012

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