Do Tattoos Have Health Benefits?

A new study suggests that getting multiple tattoos can strengthen the immune system.

Tattoos serve many purposes, unique to each wearer. They are a means of expression, a symbolic ode to something meaningful, and a form of wearable art. Tattoos are also quite painful—which is certainly no secret.

While some get hooked on getting inked, others aren’t as eager to return to the “ouch” of the process. But with new findings on the horizon, you may want to reconsider going back for another, even if you’re not fond of the tattoo needle. A new study suggests that the pain endured while getting tattooed on more than one occasion could actually be a means to strengthening your immune system. You know what they say, no pain, no gain.

Your first tattoo experience may leave your body in a slightly weaker state due to the stressful, invasive nature of tattoos, and the body’s response to a new foreign substance now permanently embedded in the skin. If you’ve been tattooed before you can understand this feeling as your body recovers: you’re sore, tender, and itchy at and around the site. But your second, third, fourth (and so on) tattoo? That’s where the immune benefits may lie, according to researchers at the University of Alabama.

For the study, conducted with 29 participants (24 females and 5 males), researchers collected saliva samples pre- and post-tattooing in order to measure “immune function using secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA) and cortisol (sCORT).” The participants, ranging in age from 18–47, were also measured by their experiences with tattoos—how many tattoos they’ve received, the total amount of time spent being tattooed, as well as the “percent of body covered,” and “years since first tattoo.”

These points and experiences were crucial to the study in order to determine if the immune system was in fact reacting differently over time as it became accustomed to the tattooing process. The researchers hypothesized that the immune system “habituates to the tattooing stressor in repeatedly tattooed individuals.” So, ultimately, the researchers were looking to find a correlation between the “immune response to the stress of the tattooing process,” and “lifetime tattoo experience.”

The Huffington Post reported on the matter as well:

According to the researchers, the saliva samples from first-time tattoo recipients showed their levels of immunoglobulin A declined much more dramatically than they did for the people who already had multiple tattoos, suggesting that people with more “tattoo experience” had immune systems that were more habituated to that kind of stress.

This is certainly not a PSA to tell you that in order to have better immunity, you ought to go out and get yourself a full back tattoo. While the research does show that the body’s immune and stress response to tattoos does change over time and with frequency, it doesn’t necessarily mean that tattoos are the new flu shot or vitamin C. But this particular study could be a catalyst for deeper research on the matter, as The Huffington Post notes that “the research is piquing the interest of medical experts.” So ink if you’d like, and stay tuned.

Maggie Peikon bio2Maggie is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings on Instagram and Twitter.