Tattoos Can Impair Sweating, Lead to Heat-Related Injuries

A new University of Kentucky College of Medicine study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology finds that tattooed skin does not sweat as much as non-inked areas of the body, which may have implications for the body’s ability to cool in people with extensive tattooing.

UK Physiology Professor Thad Wilson co-led the study done in collaboration with researchers from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Southern Methodist University, and Alma College. The team studied volunteers with arm tattoos and measured the participants’ sweat rates and body temperatures on both the tattooed and non-tattooed areas of skin on the same arm.

Results showed that skin of the arm containing tattoos has reduced sweat rates compared to the adjacent skin without tattoos. Researchers conclude that damage to the sweat glands caused by tattooing could be the cause and this in turn may increase the risk of overheating.

“This could be a long-term and even permanent problem,” Wilson said. “Just like with any procedure, whether clinical or cosmetic, a person needs to consider all the potential side effects. This sweating related side effect is not being provided to people getting tattoos.”

Although small tattoos are less likely to interfere with overall body temperature regulation, decreased sweating in tattooed skin “could impact heat dissipation especially when tattooing covers a higher percentage of body surface area,” the researchers wrote.

The study is first-of-its-kind, says Wilson. “Other studies have looked into the acute inflammatory responses to the inks used in tattooing, but the delayed and potentially longer-lasting effects of the tattooing process are less studied.”

The research team previously identified that sweat glands in tattooed skin lose more salt and now plans to pursue more studies addressing various inks and procedures used, as well as in people with a higher percentage of skin covered in tattoos.

“Now that we’ve characterized the problem, we need to understand the exact mechanisms of why it occurs. This could ultimately lead to recommendations that change industry practices to decrease the amount and magnitude of tattoo-related side effects.”