Study Suggests Tattoos Are Good For Our Immune Systems

Next time someone makes a remark about your tattoos, tell them they’re a form of self-care.

A small study conducted last year by trio of scholars at the University of Alabama discovered that having multiple tattoos might actually help you acquire a better-than-average immune system.

To come to this conclusion, researchers studied 24 women and five men between the ages of 18 and 47, both before and after the subjects got tattoos. They measured their immune function using saliva samples before and after the tattoo sessions, taking into consideration the number of tattoos a participant had, the total amount of hours they’d spent getting tattooed, the number of tattoo sessions they’d gone through and when they’d received their first tattoo. The saliva samples were then analyzed for levels of immunoglobulin A, which plays a crucial role in your immune function, and cortisol, a stress hormone that helps suppress immune response.


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“Immunoglobulin A is a front line of defense against some of the common infections we encounter, like colds,” Christopher Lynn, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama who co-authored the study, said in a press release.

But before you jet out to get inked in hopes of warding off future illness, it’s important to note that people getting their first tattoos didn’t have the same response as those with multiple tattoos. In fact, Lynn said that getting a tattoo for the first time may actually lower your immunity and make you more susceptible to catching that springtime cold.

tattoo photo
Flickr | SharonaGott

“They don’t just hurt while you get the tattoo, but they can exhaust you,” he said. “It’s easier to get sick. You can catch a cold because your defenses are lowered from the stress of getting a tattoo.”

He went on to say that the body’s response to tattooing is similar to that experienced when exercising in the gym while out of shape: “Initially, muscles become sore, but if you continue, the soreness fades following subsequent workouts.”


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This same principle applies when you have multiple tattoos. Lynn said that “if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher.”

Of course, given its small sample size, this study should be taken with a grain of salt. More research is likely needed to draw more meaningful conclusions between multiple tattoos and immunity. In fact, some people thought the study and the buzz it generated were misleading.

tattoo parlor photo
Flickr | mabecerra

“It’s a dumb suggestion that people go out and get tattoos for the express purpose of improving one’s immune system. I don’t think anyone would do that, but that suggestion by some news pieces is a little embarrassing,” study co-author Lynn told Jezebel. “I’ll be the first to admit that this is not life or death news … I think it’s still interesting news without having to overstate it.”

Nevertheless, Lynn believes the news coverage around his study is ultimately a good thing.

tattoo photo
Flickr | Bohman

“I’m happy people are interested. I hope it motivates students and other researchers to realize you can study pop culture from a scientific perspective and improve on what we did and maybe learn something about human nature,” he said. “And if all it does is shift public sentiment away from the stigma of associating tattoos with teen pregnancy and drug use, that’s OK too.”

RELATED: The original cast members of “The Avengers” recently got matching tattoos.

If you’re looking for some more conventional ways to stay healthy, check out our list of strategies of people who never get sick. Of course, those healthy folks tend to get flu shots and make sure they get enough sleep.


But other habits, such as taking the right combination of probiotics, can also help boost immunity. A study at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found that taking both Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) and Bifidobacterium animalis lactis (BB12) may soften your body’s inflammatory response (i.e., stuffy nose and sore throat) to viruses. You can find these probiotics in over-the-counter-supplements as well as in some yogurts.

yogurt photo
Flickr | WordRidden

How do you stay healthy?