Sweet Tattoo: How People With Diabetes Get A Tattoo
If you’re a person with diabetes, chances are you’ve heard all about the “don’ts” and “can’ts” — the long list of foods you “can’t” eat or activities you “shouldn’t” do. But contrary to what you may have heard, you can live with diabetes and still enjoy lots of things — including getting a tattoo.
Tatstat sat down with Sal Lucatero, volunteer for You’re Just My Type, to learn more about how he’s educating and empowering fellow diabetics, both in life and in the tattoo studio. Sal has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for more than half of his life. When he was first diagnosed, he was bombarded with people telling him all of the things he couldn’t do, and a recurring comment was “don’t get a tattoo.”
“As an individual with Type 1 Diabetes, there was definitely a lot of fear that was put into me,” Sal said about getting a tattoo. ”It was like, ‘just don't do it. It's too dangerous. You don't know what your body is going to do.’”
Today, Sal has more than 20 tattoos and has had tattoo sessions that ranged from 15 minutes to 7 hours (whew!). And he’s learned how to manage his diabetes and how to communicate with his artist before starting his sessions.
Sal's first tatoo. Photo Creds: Sal Lucatero
Preparing For Your Tattoo Appointment
Preparing for your session is key to the tattooing process, whether or not you have a pre-existing condition. For those with diabetes, it’s especially important to do your homework before scheduling a tattoo appointment.
Before his first tattoo, Sal got the OK from his doctor, and he researched everything from possible reactions to how to handle low blood sugar while in the chair. Having a game plan not only prepared Sal for his upcoming tattoo, but also empowered him.
“As long as we have that education and we know how our bodies may react, there are still ways to do it,” Sal said. “It's not impossible.”
During your initial consultation, let your artist know that you have diabetes. This will help them determine how to best move forward with your appointment. If you aren’t already familiar with your artist, this is also a good time to see if they’re a good fit for you. (And always make sure that their shop is accredited.)
Next, talk to your artist about the size and placement of your tattoo. The size of the tattoo shouldn’t matter if your levels are balanced, but it may be a good idea to get your artist’s opinion. Placement of the tattoo is important because areas with lower blood circulation (such as feet, ankles, buttocks or shins), or areas that are frequent injection sites (such as arms, stomach or thighs), may take longer to heal or could be more prone to infection.
Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels
For people with diabetes, another important first step happens before your appointment: monitoring your blood sugar. If your glucose levels are unbalanced, you’ll run a higher risk for complications during and after your session. You could also run a higher risk for infection and experience a slower healing process. (Since the recommended number varies, talk to your doctor about what’s an appropriate level for you before your session.)
Sal closely monitors his blood sugar levels the few days leading up to his appointment. “If I notice that I'm having a lot of highs or a lot of lows, I would consider rescheduling, or postponing until I am stable,” he said. But with proper diabetes management, Sal’s never had to reschedule an appointment.
When it’s time to get in the chair, you’ll need to monitor your blood sugar throughout the session, since they can be up to several hours long (though if it’s your first tattoo, it’s recommended that your first session is measured in minutes, not hours). Sal lets his artist know when he needs to take a break, whether that be for eating some fruit snacks or candy to help stabilize his levels, or to take a walk if his blood sugar gets too high.
“If I'm communicating how I feel and how it could affect me, it makes it so much easier,” Sal said.
If you have diabetes, the aftercare for your tattoo will vary slightly. Sometimes, tattoos on people with diabetes may take longer to heal as a non-diabetic. You’ll want to be diligent in following the aftercare instructions from your artist, and keep an eye out for any signs of infection, including pain, redness, heat emanating from the area, swelling or leaking fluids. But after your first successful tattoo, you’ll feel confident in booking future appointments, and will be even more prepared for what to expect.
For some people with diabetes, tattoos can also serve as a way to share their condition: more clients are opting to get a diabetic symbol tattooed on them. They’re often placed in a spot that’s easily seen by paramedics or first responders, but some choose to get a diabetes tattoo as a way to create community. To speak out about his diagnosis and let others know that they’re not alone, Sal’s very first tattoo was a “Type 1 Diabetic” tattoo.
Many of Sal’s friends who are Type 1 Diabetic have tattoos as well. And with the help of You’re Just My Type, they’re educating the community about how to safely get a tattoo. “We've been able to change the narrative of how people see Type 1 Diabetes and tattoos,” he said, “and make it feel like something that people can be comfortable with, not be afraid of.”
Sal hopes that continuing the conversation around diabetes and tattoos will help break down the stigmas out there that he had heard for so long. “I would love for everyone to not be afraid to try something that they might be scared of because of things they've heard, or because of stigmas out there,” Sal said. “You shouldn't feel like there's not a place for you.”