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Rheumas of a tattoo
For those that have know me and have seen me, I have a lot of tattoos. I have actually lost count of how many I have. It’s actually surprising that I haven’t yet written about rheumatoid arthritis and tattoos because they are a big part of who I am.
It all started when I was 16 and you guessed it, with a tramp stamp. I remember the experience like it was yesterday. I walked into the tattoo parlour and was looking around at all the designs. A gentlemen who was sitting on the chair beside me asked if it was my first tattoo to which I replied, ‘Yes. My first and my last.’ He laughed of course and said, ‘Yeah… I said that once.’ The man was covered in tattoos all the way from the top of his neck to his feet. Distinctively, I thought to myself, ‘Yeah mate, that’s you. I am not that crazy.’ Well! Here I am over 20 years later, giving that guy a run for his money.
For those that aren’t yet inked, you don’t know how addictive it can be. I often find myself looking in the mirror and seeing all the blank spots of skin still yet to be filled. It’s a slow releasing addiction. To prove the fact, when I came home after getting my first large tattoo (half sleeve), my dad became very worried. He had asked me outright if I was part of a gang and told me I had to stop! Well, fast forward a couple of years and my dad ended up with a big tattoo on the base of his neck. He didn’t start off small, just went straight into a big piece. He now has a chest tattoo and a half sleeve. Funny how that happens isn’t it? So be warned, once you start, you may not be able to stop!
Can you get a tattoo with an autoimmune disease? Are tattoos bad for your health?
Can a person with an autoimmune disease get a tattoo?
This is a question that is asked a fair bit and there is no straight answer. Generally speaking, tattoos are safe and they are definitely not bad for your health.
When you live with a chronic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, you may want to err on the side of caution. There is a lot at play and a lot of factors that need consideration. There are many living with chronic conditions that get tattoos even those with psoriasis. Since my chronic illness, I have had 2 large pieces done, as well as micro-blading my eyebrows.
Ask your rheumatologist first
If you are unsure, seek medical advice before hand. You might also want to be medically reviewed to ensure that your medication or condition does not interact with the tattoo ink and the healing processes and vice versa. Usually the things to look out for is blood thinners, even the natural ones like turmeric and fish oil which, may effect the end result.
Any reputable tattoo artist or beauty therapist will ask you important medical questions before hand anyway and will help you through the process. Having a chronic condition may give you and increased risk of side effects such as allergic reactions and infection. These are generally very uncommon and usually only occur if you have had body art done using questionable ink and in unsanitary conditions. It should be apparent from the moment you step into a tattoo parlor that they are reputable and have a solid sanitizing system in place. When choosing an artist, word of mouth is best so seek out your inked friends! Finding your tattoo artist is like finding a soul mate. You will know who they are when you meet them and see their work.
What about my immune system? Are tattoos safe?
When you get a tattoo, your immune system kicks in to heal the skin and to protect it from infection. Having an autoimmune disease does not inhibit this process. Your skin will still heal but you may however, find that the tattoo takes longer to heal. Then again, it may not. It really varies amongst all people who get tattoos regardless of whether they have an autoimmune disease or not. Healing time for me was the same before and after having RA.
Methotrexate and tattoos
Many of those living with RA ask about tattoos and immunosuppressants, in particularly Methotrexate. If you are concerned about this, then speak to your doctor as I did. I was on Methotrexate when I was planning on getting another piece. My rheumy advised me that Methotrexate can give you an increased chance of infection being immunocompromised. Having been tattooed many times previous, I knew what I needed to do to avoid any infection. I had a trusted tattooist who has very stringent hygiene protocols in place and I make sure that I am very strict in following the aftercare process. I felt confident knowing that my chances of infection were very low because of my past experiences.
Will I feel more pain?
This is really subjective and just like healing time, this too varies from person to person. As someone with heaps of tattoos, I have not found it more painful since having rheumatoid arthritis. The pain variant will largely depend on the location of the tattoo in my humble opinion. Arguably, knees are the most painful. This is due to the skin being thin and that thin skin is the only thing that stands between the needle and bone.
It’s worth noting that many RA warriors have found it more painful getting a tattoo after their RA diagnosis. You may fall into this category. Then again, you may not. You really won’t know until you get one. In saying that, if there is a difference in pain levels, I don’t think it would be to the point where you would tap out.
Can you take pain medication before getting a tattoo?
The general answer is yes. However, it is important to check with the pharmacist before you do as some pain meds will thin the blood and some will also increase bleeding. I have never taken pain meds before getting inked. The thought has actually never crossed my mind! I’m one of those weird people that think that the pain is all part of the process, especially if you are getting a tattoo with meaning attached as all mine are. With that being said, if you can minimise the pain, then why not? You do you!
I will openly admit that I used numbing cream for my last tattoo. I went in expecting the knee part to hurt, I just didn’t think it would hurt THAT much. So for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th session, I used numbing cream and it did make a considerable difference. I don’t regret that decision at all because that knee area hurts like a b… anana! I must also add that most tattooist don’t enjoy tattooing with numbing cream. It makes their job harder and they try to avoid it if they can because the cream changes the surface of the skin whilst tattooing.
As painful as tattooing can be, it is a tolerable pain. If this were not so, people would not go back for more tattoos. For those of you concerned about the pain factor, perhaps start small and basic and work your way up from there. You don’t want to be 16 year old me, convinced that you’re only going to end up with just the 1.
The healing process
Once your tattoo is finished, it’s important to be stringent about the aftercare. You’ve probably paid a fair bit for your piece of body art and invested a lot into getting it so you don’t want it all to go to waste. There are certain must dos if you want your tattoo to heal properly and to keep looking great. Your tattooist will outline the aftercare process for you.
Home remedies for tattoo healing
I personally use 100% organic beeswax and coconut oil balm for tattoo healing. This combination works wonders for me. Not only is it antibacterial, it’s also healing and moisturizing. My tattoos have all healed within a week from using this blend. A little bit goes a long way so you don’t need much. You don’t want to be caking on the protective barrier because your tattoo still needs to breath. I use my protective barrier concoction 3 times a day when the tattoo is new and once healed, I use it twice a day to keep the skin smooth and the colours bright.
If you’re not comfortable working with bees wax to make your own healing balm, Dr. Bronners has a balm made from bees wax and hemp oil.
The bees wax balm is also great for itching. The itching during the healing process can be the worst part of getting a tattoo. It can get real intense and the urge to scratch can be overwhelming. The bees wax balm prevents and relieves the itching and you can’t overuse it because it is all natural.
Rheumatoid arthritis tattoo designs
One of the reasons why tattoos can get so addictive is because there are so many different kinds of tattoos to get! You may get a tattoo as a special symbol or you may decide on a design that you just love the look of. There are many different reasons in getting a tattoo and your ultimate design will be what resonates with you the most.
As this article is about rheumatoid arthritis and tattoos, this is my RA tattoo. I have always loved peacocks and think they are a great symbol of nature at it’s finest. They speak to me on a very spiritual level. When I see a peacock, I am reminded that there is so much beauty out there. That despite all the horrible things in the world, there is still beauty. So I made my peacock feathers blue and purple: the colours of rheumatoid arthritis awareness. It’s a symbol of me continuing on my life journey despite my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. The peacock is my rheumatoid arthritis symbol!
There are many living with rheumatoid arthritis that have rheumatoid arthritis ribbon tattoos. I think these are wonderful too and a great reminder of the warriors that we are. It’s not just a symbol of rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis awareness, it’s a symbol of strength and endurance.
Share your story!
If you have rheumatoid arthritis and tattoos, please share it with us in the comments below. Any experiences and advice you can offer to your fellow warriors would also be appreciated.
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