Can You Get a Tattoo Before Surgery?

You’re eagerly anticipating your upcoming tattoo appointment. Getting a new tattoo is always exciting. However, you’re also scheduled for surgery around the same time. Although the tattoo studio is far away from the operation location, you’re curious: is it safe to get a tattoo before surgery?

Surgery is a complex procedure that puts the body through significant stress. Like tattoos, surgeries require precautions before, during, and after the process. Your doctor provides instructions to ensure proper recovery, just as a tattoo artist guides you to ensure your tattoo heals well and the ink settles nicely.

So, can you get a tattoo before surgery without complications? Let’s delve into the details.

Key Takeaways

  • Surgery involves preoperative, surgery itself, and post-operative care, similar to obtaining a new tattoo.
  • While old tattoos won’t cause issues, new tattoos can pose various problems during surgery.
  • It’s advisable to wait until after surgery to get a tattoo once you have fully recovered and stopped taking blood-thinning medication.

What Does Surgery Involve?

Surgery comprises preoperative, the surgery itself, and post-operative care. Each phase entails specific tests, strict instructions, and medication as directed by the doctors.

Preoperative Care

Before surgery, you must adequately prepare your body. Instructions may include fasting for a specific period, maintaining cleanliness, and shaving any body hair in the area to be operated on. Similar to getting a tattoo, you’ll be advised to abstain from alcohol and discontinue blood-thinning medication. This ensures minimal bleeding during and after the surgery. Your doctor will also conduct blood tests, x-rays, and other necessary examinations.

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During Surgery

During the surgery itself, you have no responsibilities at all. Simply arrive after completing the preoperative care. The anesthesiologist will administer anesthesia to numb your body, making you feel completely unaware during the procedure. It will be as if you are in a deep sleep.

Post-Operative Care

After the surgery, post-operative care begins. Typically, patients stay in the hospital for a few days to monitor any complications that may arise. You will receive instructions for medication and do’s and don’ts, similar to the aftercare instructions for a new tattoo, ensuring proper healing. The doctor may also request further tests to assess your body’s condition.

How Will a New Tattoo Affect Surgery?

Now that we have a basic understanding of surgery, let’s explore how getting a new tattoo right before surgery may impact the procedure. As previously mentioned, a tattoo is akin to an open wound. The piercing process takes time for the tattoo to fully heal. Before healing, a new tattoo can cause complications during surgery, including:

Risk of Infection

Open wounds carry the risk of infection, which compromises surgery. If any signs of infection arise, doctors will likely reschedule the surgery. To minimize the chances of infection during or after surgery, antibiotics are usually prescribed beforehand. Given that tattoos expose the skin to potential infections, it’s strongly advised to avoid getting a tattoo right before surgery.

Sight of Operation

If your new tattoo covers the area to be operated on, the surgery will undoubtedly be canceled. The chances of infection and damage to the skin tissue increase significantly. Additionally, the new tattoo ink has not fully settled, resulting in disfigurement and the potential for ink to enter your body.

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Blood Tests

When the skin is pierced in an area rich in blood vessels, a small amount of tattoo ink particles may enter the bloodstream. While these ink particles are present in minimal quantities, they are eliminated from the body through the liver. However, a new tattoo can complicate blood tests required for surgery, making it more challenging for doctors and nurses to prepare you adequately.

Heart Rate Readings

Heart rate monitoring using pulse oximeters is generally not a concern, unless you have tattoos on your fingers. These devices, which employ infrared light to measure heart and oxygen rates, may encounter challenges if the light is blocked by a tattoo. This can lead to inaccurate readings. However, unless you have tattoos on all your fingers, this should not be a major concern. Nevertheless, it has the potential to disrupt surgery.


Tattoo inks contain metals like iron, cobalt, and nickel, among others. These metals can interfere with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Older or fully healed tattoos pose minimal problems since the ink has settled. However, a new tattoo that leaks excessive ink can cause distortions during an MRI. Iron, cobalt, and nickel possess magnetic properties that may disrupt the tattoo and the imaging process.

Anesthesia Administration

Anesthesia is typically administered at the base of the spine to numb the body for surgery. However, a tattoo over the lower back can present difficulties for the anesthesiologist, as the specific area may not be visible. Moreover, a new tattoo may lead to ink entering the spinal area, potentially causing health complications.

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Blood Thinners

As mentioned earlier, blood thinners are strongly discouraged for tattoos. However, post-operative care often includes blood-thinning medication to reduce the risk of blood clots. Unfortunately, this is detrimental to a new tattoo, as thinner blood vessels will result in more bleeding and prevent the ink from setting properly.

Considering all these factors, it is strongly recommended to avoid getting a new tattoo right before surgery. The potential complications associated with a fresh tattoo are significant. It is best to wait until after surgery and fully recover before getting a new tattoo.

Personal Experience

I once had surgery scheduled a few weeks after getting a tattoo. I consulted with the doctor and informed them about my recent tattoo, which had not fully healed. The doctor advised me to wait a few additional weeks before undergoing the surgery. They explained the potential risks and how false or inaccurate readings from tests could complicate the surgery. I also mentioned that the sight of the operation would be over one of my existing tattoos. However, the doctor assured me that many patients had undergone surgery on top of old tattoos, and the resulting scars were barely noticeable after a year.

I patiently waited an extra month before having the surgery. I can confidently say that the doctors took great care with my old tattoo. Over the years, the scar has healed beautifully, and it doesn’t even appear as though surgery was performed in that area!


5 WS

Final Thoughts

Many individuals worry about how their tattoos will fare after surgery. Rest assured, a tattoo itself will not affect the surgery process. However, it’s crucial to avoid getting a new tattoo shortly before surgery. The potential complications, particularly the risk of infection, should be reason enough to postpone the tattoo until after you have fully recovered from the surgery. Remember, you can always get a tattoo at a later time, but surgery requires your utmost priority.

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