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Tattoos and Skin Cancer: What You Need to Know

Mar 22, 2019

To ink or not to ink. If the only thing stopping you from using body art to tell your story is the idea it carries a higher risk for skin cancer, don’t let it stop you any longer. Experts haven’t seen an increase in the likelihood of a skin cancer diagnosis in someone with tattoos or a recurrence in an inked-up individual who has already been diagnosed.

Still, tattoos and other types of body art do present somewhat of a challenge for patients and experts since the colorful depictions can hide some of the most common signs of skin cancer, such as a mole that has become misshapen and discolored. It’s one of the reasons experts recommend never tattooing over a mole or scar tissue from a previous melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer and also one of the most common diagnoses.

Experts recommend having a mole or birthmark checked out prior to having a tattoo to determine its baseline symmetry, such as color, diameter and overall appearance. Changes in any one of those things could be an early detection of melanoma and could help save a life.

Some people like to incorporate a mole or birthmark into a tattoo design to mask its appearance. While doing so isn’t advised, it’s up to the individual to find a trustworthy tattoo artist who knows when to avoid an area with a mole, such as one with a ragged or uneven edge, or if it’s dark in color or larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter.

Should an individual decide to cover up a mole or birthmark with body art, experts advise having a mole and skin checked by a professional every 90 days with regular at-home examinations between such appointments.

For the first month or so after a tattoo, the area will be extra sensitive to sun and to sunscreen. It’s best to keep a new tattoo out of direct sunlight until it is fully healed and then to use sunscreen whenever it's going to be exposed to sun. Most experts recommend using a level 30 sunscreen and reapplying it after swimming or otherwise getting it wet. G.G.S.

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