It may not be a risk you consider, but keloid scarring is something you definitely need to keep in mind before you get a tattoo. You may be wondering: what is a keloid scar? Will a tattoo cause a keloid? How can I be sure I won’t get a keloid scar from a tattoo? And, is there a way to avoid getting a keloid scar from a tattoo? Our thorough guide narrows down everything you need to know.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Related: Can You Tattoo Over Burn Scars?
What Are Keloids?
A keloid scar is a pinkish or red scar that is raised off the skin. It can happen anywhere where there is a prominent skin injury that breaks the skin or causes bleeding, and a tattoo can fall into that category as well.
They are thick, irregular, lumpy, and can range in size depending on the original injury. There is no real understanding behind what could cause a keloid scar, but Mayo Clinic states, “it's likely a dysfunction of the wound-healing process. Collagen — a protein found throughout the body — is useful to wound healing, but when the body produces too much, keloids can form.”
Who Is At Risk for Keloids?
Keloids may also be caused by the following factors:
- Individuals with brown or black skin are more prone to keloid scarring;
- Keloid scars can be genetic, so if there is a personal history of other members of your family getting keloids, you may be predisposed to them as well;
- Individuals under thirty are more prone to keloids, and if you get one, you’re likely to continue getting them with any serious skin injury.
Do Tattoos Cause Keloids?
Tattoos themselves are not the cause of keloid scarring, but poor wound management and aftercare could be an influencing factor in the development of keloid scars.
Keloid scars will completely distort your tattoo, to the point where you will likely not see your design at all. If your family has a history of keloid scarring, or if you’ve experienced keloid scarring from a skin injury in your past, it is recommended that you generally avoid getting a tattoo. You cannot safely anticipate how your skin will react to the process of tattooing and may end up with a very prominent keloid scar instead of a beautiful new piece of art.
Keloid scarring generally appears when the wound occurs deeper than the dermis. Tattooing, with a professional and qualified artist, stops at the dermis. In this case, you can usually avoid triggering a keloid healing from your tattoo if you avoid places on your body where there are large muscles and frequent movement.
You can also ask your artist to perform a test by getting a small but thick tattoo in a hidden area and monitoring how that heals before dedicating yourself to a larger and more prominent piece.
Can You Tattoo Near or Over Keloids?
While tattooing over scars is possible, tattooing over keloids is not. This is because the structure of this skin completely differs from regular skin and the ink cannot be safely deposited in a layer that will hold the pigment. In addition, this could cause further irritation to the keloid scar and cause it to flare up and become larger, worsening your scar.
If you want to tattoo near your keloid scar, just make sure you inform your artist about the presence of the keloid close to where you want your placement so they can be cautious of it.
Can You Prevent Keloids?
Keloids cannot be anticipated and therefore cannot truly be prevented. But it is recommended that proper aftercare and wound care will help minimize the development of and size of keloid scarring. This includes but is not limited to:
- Proper wound care which means washing it with antibacterial soap, using moisturizers to help the scarring process, and applying pressure to the wound if needed.
- Avoiding UV rays which could irritate or inflame the wounded area.
- Avoid taking collagen vitamins while your wound is healing so you don’t produce an excess amount as your wound is healing.
- Generally protecting your skin from injury by being hyper-aware and conscious of avoiding minor or major injuries.
Can Keloids Be Removed? Will It Ruin My Tattoo?
Keloid scars cannot be removed but smaller keloids can be reduced or have the swelling flattened through various techniques. Keep in mind that if your keloid scar appeared where your tattoo was meant to heal, chances are the tattoo is already ruined and cannot be saved.
- Pressurized Wound Care - For new keloids, pressured bandages are sometimes effective in minimizing the appearance.
- Injected Medicine - Smaller keloids can have their thickness reduced with steroids or cortisone.
- Freezing the Scar - Smaller keloids can be reduced or flattened with liquid nitrogen therapy.
- Laser Treatment - If you have a larger keloid, you can possibly flatten it using pulsed-dye laser therapy. It’s often used in combination with a prescription steroid cream.
- Radiation Therapy - This may help flatten the keloid or minimize the appearance of scar tissue.
- Surgery - While you could surgically remove your keloid, be aware that keloids will often reappear where they once were flattened or removed.
Our Final Thoughts
Whether you’re prone to keloid scarring or your family has a history of keloid scars, it is generally recommended that you avoid getting tattooed or you put yourself at risk of developing a keloid where your design is meant to be. Of course, you could always ask your artist for their advice or ask them to do a “test tattoo” on your skin to monitor how it heals.