Tummy Tuck & Tattoos: What You Need to Know

A significant number of my tummy tuck patients from the Scottsdale and Phoenix area have tattoos.  These range from small, discrete tattoos to large sleeves and full back pieces. While these tattoos usually have little impact on surgical choices, sometimes they need to be carefully worked in to my surgical plan.

With abdominoplasty surgery, a large amount of lower abdominal skin is removed (usually everything between the pubic area and the belly button).  For patients that have a lower abdominal tattoo that they no longer like, this is nice as the tattoo can be removed during surgery.  For those that have a lower abdominal tattoo that they do like, I will explain how much of the tattoo will need to be removed to tighten the skin properly.  Patients can then decide if the surgery is worth it, and how they want to manage the tattoo postoperatively (i.e.- will they have it redone, or just leave it as is).

Occasionally, I will see patients thinking about a tattoo to cover or hide an abdominoplasty scar.  There are a few things I explain to these patients.  First of all, scars tend to fade over time, so if the scar is less than a few years old, it generally has room for further improvement.  Adding a tattoo can draw more attention to the scar, so I don’t think this is a great way to camouflage things.  Additionally, scars that bother patients for the first few years after surgery often fade so much that they become a non-issue naturally over time, while the cover-up tattoo will tend to hold its color over the years.

The other issue with tattooing a scar is that scar tissue does not hold ink as well as regular skin.  Because of this, the scar can still show as a lighter or darker colored line running through a tattoo.  Additionally, scar tissue is more fragile than regular tissue and will sustain more trauma during the tattooing process.  This has the potential to lead to further scar thickening or even a soft tissue infection.

My suggestion for scars is always to do what is needed to make them less noticeable.  This includes scar massage, UV avoidance, topical treatment such as Biocorneum or silicone sheeting, and steroid injections when necessary.  Tattooing scars can make things aesthetically worse rather than better, so I usually recommend saving the ink for a beautiful design in an area with healthy skin where you want attention to be focused.

In this blog post, we’ll talk about tattoos from 2 perspectives: 1) People looking to cover up an existing tattoo, and 2) People who are thinking about getting a tattoo to cover a tummy tuck scar.

For the crowd with an existing tattoo, we’ll explain that while it depends significantly on the precise location and size of the tattoo, it’s possible to remove one that’s placed entirely between the navel and the pubic bone.

For those wanting to cover up a scar from a previous tummy tuck, we’ll advise caution. We will point out that scars take up to a year to heal fully and mention other remedies to ameliorate the scar’s appearance, such as scar massage and topical scar creams. We’ll close the post by noting that it may be fine to get a tattoo eventually, if you get the green light from your surgeon first.

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