This is another article I’m going to preface with the phrase: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I am a writer, a writer with a penchant for the tattoo industry and learning everything there is to learn about the art form… every in and out… and I enjoy sharing this information with everyone else.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way… we can move on.
Recently, I stumbled upon an article regarding vitiligo and tattoos and my curiosity got the better of me. Now, if you’re not familiar with the disease, let’s go through a quick rundown. Vitiligo is a disease in which the pigment-producing cells of the body begin to die or merely stop functioning correctly. This process can occur in any area of the body, including the mouth, hair, and eyes, in addition to the visible places such as hands, face, legs, and torso. While vitiligo is more noticeable on people with darker skin pigmentations, it does affect every race, regardless of skin tone.
Makes you wonder, right? If the skin itself isn’t holding pigmentation, will it hold the color of the ink? The answer to this is, of course. While the pigment-producing cells have ceased to create the skin’s coloring, that doesn’t stop it from holding foreign pigments—ie: the ink. In fact, many people with this skin-affecting disorder have turned to tattooing as a method of coping with the complications of the affliction.
For some, tattooing is a method of blending in the spots left behind by the lack of pigment. It isn’t rare for a person suffering from vitiligo to tattoo their spots with a flesh tone that matches their darker areas as a means to soften the contrast between their natural skin tone and the distressed spots.
Others use tattooing as a method of hiding their spots by inking designs completely over their vitiligo spots. A skilled tattoo artist can use crafty methods of shading to ensure the image appears as fluid and seamless as possible, hiding the discolored spots beneath a stunning array of imagery in the wearer’s choice.
And then there are those who take pride in their discolorations and instead choose to ink their bodies with powerful words, such as “You are Beautiful” or emblazon the purple vitiligo-awareness ribbon on themselves, reminding themselves that they are not their disease. While these are bold and powerful messages, some people, like Tiffany Posteraro of New York, are so sick and tired of being stared at in public that they opt to use tattoos as a preventative measure. Posteraro tattooed the phrase, “It’s Called Vitiligo” across her forearm in big letters.
But, while there are major perks to tattooing and vitiligo, there are also some downsides. As with any disease, the decision to get a tattoo should not be taken lightly. Regardless of what medical condition you are in, you should always weigh the pros and cons before heading to the tattoo parlor and for those with vitiligo, this process should take a little longer. There are many factors one has to think of and different measures one can go to when mixing tattooing and the pigment-losing disorder.
For those thinking of tattooing their skin with flesh tone, matching the tones exactly can be almost impossible. Sure, you can help bring the pigments closer, but until you place the ink into the skin, you’ll never be 100% sure you have a match. Just like how the foundation in the bottle never looks exactly the same when you layer it on your skin—ink never looks the same in the container as it does beneath your dermis. This is due to the distance light has to travel through layers of skin before it reaches your eye, which alters the pigments you see (it’s called the Tyndall Effect, look it up!). This makes matching skin tones and ink really complicated. Another issue here is if you have active vitiligo, meaning your spots may get larger or increase in number over time. If you try to cover a spot with flesh tone and the spot grows, you no longer have a patch of discoloration…now you have a ring. And blending previous ink with new ink and skin tone will get even harder and more frustrating.
Another factor that must be considered is how your vitiligo behaves. Everyone’s body is different and so is their vitiligo. While some have no reaction to physical trauma, other people find their vitiligo is reactive to any damage caused to the body. For example, some may scrape their knee or cut their arm and find a vitiligo patch pop up in that location. This is why you see a lot of afflicted young children with patches on their elbows and knees, as those are the most popular locations for childhood injuries. If this is your case, you need to understand the manner of the tattoo process. It essentially causes trauma to the skin repeatedly, by injecting ink into the lower levels of the dermis through an assortment of needles over and over again. If you are attempting to cover a patch with skin tone or inking a small design, you may need to consider the possibility that the process will make your patches expand over the healing process.
Whether you are looking to fill in your patches, cover them up, or call them out with the addition of tattoo ink, it’s always best to talk to the artists in your area about your condition. Vitiligo isn’t a rare disease, so finding an artist who has some experience with the disorder shouldn’t be too hard… and, if you can’t locate one nearby with experience in the matter, most artists are always up to the challenge of conquering new trials and helping those who are looking to reclaim their body.