Can You Get Tattoos If You Have Herpes?

May 9, 2024

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Getting a new tattoo can be an exciting experience. However, for individuals with herpes, deciding whether or not to get tattooed can raise some questions and concerns. This comprehensive guide examines key considerations around tattoo safety for people with a history of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections.

Assessing Your Health for Tattoos with Herpes

The first step is conducting a thorough personal health assessment. This involves determining your herpes symptoms, infection site(s), antiviral treatment plan, and current outbreak status.

Some key aspects to review:

  • HSV type: HSV-1 or HSV-2
  • Infection location: Oral, genital, or both
  • Outbreak frequency, severity, triggers
  • Antiviral medication regimen
  • Last outbreak date and healing status

Compiling this background health profile is crucial for evaluating tattoo risks and planning proper precautions.

HSV Precautions for Tattooing

With some considerations unique to herpes, getting tattooed can be safe for most HSV-positive individuals. However, avoiding tattooing over active herpes lesions is essential.

Some key herpes precautions around tattooing include:

  • Taking daily antiviral medication starting 1 week pre-tattoo and continuing 2 weeks post-tattoo to prevent outbreaks
  • Avoiding tattoo placement on areas with recurrent HSV lesions
  • Rescheduling if herpes symptoms arise preceding the tattoo appointment
  • Disclosing HSV status so artists can assess risks and tailor aftercare guidelines

Adhering to these guidelines minimizes chances of complications.

Outbreak Avoidance Tips

  • Start prophylactic antivirals 1 week before tattoo appointment
  • Avoid potential HSV triggers like stress, fatigue, illness pre-tattoo
  • Postpone tattoo if prodromal outbreak symptoms present
  • Practice outbreak prevention habits (healthy lifestyle, antivirals, etc)

With proper precautions for one’s unique health profile, individuals with herpes can safely get and heal tattoos. However, assessing risks and following medical guidance is key.

Herpes Transmission Risks from Tattoos

A common concern is the potential for contracting herpes from tattooing itself. However, with today’s standards for sanitation and sterilization, transmission risks are generally minimal.

To prevent HSV exposure when getting tattooed:

  • Verify shop has autoclave equipment and licensed technicians
  • Ensure surfaces, tools, and gloves are unused and sterilized
  • Avoid procedures during oral HSV outbreaks
  • Request new ink caps and disposable razor

Like any close contact services, some residual risk exists. But reputable parlors follow strict health codes that protect both artists and clients.

Tattoo Artist Precautions

Well-informed tattoo artists take precautions including:

  • Asking clients to disclose contagious conditions like herpes
  • Declining services during visible outbreaks
  • Using rigorous disinfection and sterilization practices
  • Following standard precautions with all clients per health codes

These measures greatly reduce potential HSV transmission from tattooing. With conscientious artists and clients, risks are nominal.

Tattoo Aftercare Considerations for Herpes

Proper aftercare is critical for all tattoos. But for clients with herpes, extra preventative measures can encourage healing.

Caring for a New Tattoo with Herpes

Tailored aftercare tips include:

  • Continuing antivirals 2 weeks post-tattoo per doctor recommendations
  • Keeping tattooed area hydrated with fragrance-free moisturizers
  • Washing gently with mild cleanser and patting dry
  • Avoiding HSV triggers to reduce outbreak risks
  • Watching closely for early signs of infection or outbreak

By following their custom care regimen, herpes positive tattooees can allow new ink to heal optimally.

Signs of Complications

Individuals with herpes should monitor tattoos for:

  • Increased swelling, redness, pain beyond normal
  • Pus, discharge or foul odor
  • Fever, flu-like symptoms
  • Tingling, blisters, sores at tattoo site

If any of these symptoms arise, promptly consult your healthcare provider.

Seeking Medical Care

Warning Signs to Watch For:

  • Pus/discharge from tattoo
  • Sores or blisters forming
  • Flu-like fever symptoms
  • Significant swelling and redness

What To Do:

  • Stop using topical products on tattoo
  • See doctor for assessment
  • Consider antiviral adjustments
  • Follow medical guidance for care

With vigilant self-monitoring and care, problematic infections can be caught early.

FAQs: Tattoos and Herpes

Tattooing with herpes can raise questions for those considering body art. Here are answers to some frequently asked topics.

Can I get a tattoo if I have genital or oral herpes?

Yes, most individuals with HSV can be safely tattooed using proper precautions – avoiding tattooing over active outbreaks, taking antiviral medication, collaborating with an informed artist, and following robust aftercare. Each person should discuss risks/benefits with their doctor beforehand.

How long should I wait after a herpes outbreak to get tattooed?

It’s advisable to postpone tattooing until any sores or lesions from an oral or genital herpes outbreak have fully healed, plus an additional 2 weeks. This ensures the immune system has recovered in order to handle tattoo healing without complication or reactivation.

Should I tell my tattoo artist about cold sores or genital herpes?

Disclosing current or past HSV infections is wise so tattoo artists can make fully informed technique decisions and provide appropriate aftercare instructions. Be prepared to describe your typical symptoms, outbreak patterns, and existing treatment. With this background, the artist can assess considerations specific to your needs and health profile.

Can tattoo aftercare cause or provoke a herpes outbreak?

Although rare, yes – aspects of tattoo healing like skin trauma, friction, or introducing new products/chemicals could potentially instigate an HSV recurrence in some people. This is why added herpes precautions are prudent when getting new tattoos. Prophylactic medication, extra hydration and skin care, avoiding known triggers, and prompt treatment for any symptoms can minimize this risk.

Is numbing spray okay to use if I have herpes?

Some tattoo numbing agents contain ingredients like lidocaine that could potentially reactivate HSV infections. Assessing your personal medical history, reviewing all product contents, and discussing use directly with your doctor is advised to determine what’s suitable. Alternately considering less reactive numbing creams may be a lower-risk option too.

In Summary

By taking the right health precautions based on one’s unique HSV profile, it is possible to safely obtain tattoos with herpes. Open communication, vigilant monitoring, and proper care can help facilitate optimal healing. Working closely with medical providers and tattoo artists trained on skin conditions allows those with oral or genital herpes to confidently get the body art they desire.

The key is conducting thorough self-assessment, following doctor’s orders, being proactive with outbreak precautions, finding an experienced artist, and carefully tending the tattoo afterwards using best practices. While extra considerations are involved, individuals living with herpes need not rule out tattoos altogether. With some sensible adjustments, beautiful art can be applied without adverse effects.

Hopefully this overview has provided a helpful starting point for those exploring tattooing while positive for HSV. Everyone’s health journey is unique – be sure to pursue individualized medical guidance regarding your situation. Here’s to smooth tattoo results and joyful skin embellishment without complications!


  • [1] American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Dermatologists share tips for dealing with cold sores.” News release, 2018.
  • [2] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Cold sore: Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic, 2022.
  • [3] American Academy of Dermatology Association. “New tattoo? Here are some dos and don’ts for taking care of it.” News release, 2022.
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