Varicose Veins & Tattoos

Is a tattoo a good idea?

While precise numbers are hard to come by, it is estimated that there are some 700 tattoo parlours in South Africa, with a combined turnover of at least R60Mper year. Perceptions around tattoos have shifted significantly in recent years, fuelled in large part by social media and celebrity culture. Once associated with convicts, sailors and bikers, tattoos have now firmly entered the mainstream, especially among younger people. Up to 40% of people aged 26 – 40 may have tattoos.

While they may be more socially acceptable, tattoos can still cause potential health complications. These can be either immediate, or longer-term.

If you’ve set your mind on having a tattoo, it’s vital to choose a reputable artist who follows all the correct sterilising protocols. This will minimise the risk of skin infections and disease transmission. However, even clean needles may not prevent possible inflammation and allergic reactions to the ink.

Inflammation can lead to unsightly scarring, and can distort the design of your tattoo. More importantly, you should also think about you future plans when you get a tattoo. Weight gain or changes in your body shape (for example, during pregnancy) can also alter the appearance of tattoos. If you require an MRI scan, there is a risk of swelling or even burning in tattooed areas, and the ink may impact on doctors’ ability to accurately assess the results.

Tattoos and varicose veins

In addition to the possible consequences outlined above, you should also understand the relationship between tattoos and varicose veins. This could become important in two scenarios: if you are at higher risk of developing varicose veins but wish to have tattoos; or if you already have varicose veins but are considering using tattoos to hide them or to try and improve their appearance.

You may be at increased risk of developing varicose veins if you have a family history of the condition, if your lifestyle is not especially active or if you are prone to obesity. Pregnancy, age and gender can also contribute to your risk profile.

If you do develop varicose veins, they will almost certainly be on your lower legs so if you may be at increased risk, it could be advisable to avoid having tattoos done in this area. Successful treatments for varicose veins rely on your surgeon being able to see them clearly – if they are partly obscured by tattoos, achieving an optimum outcome could be much harder. In the case of heavy ink pigmentation, treatment may even be impossible.

Don’t hide, treat

As for using tattoos to cover existing varicose veins, this is certainly not something we can recommend. By definition, varicose veins are already under increased pressure and more likely to rupture.

Having a tattoo involves multiple punctures to your skin, any one of which could cause a varicose vein to bleed or swell. Given that tattoos also carry a risk of skin infections, having one over a varicose vein could be especially hazardous.

Varicose veins and spider veins can be unsightly, and this can impact on your body confidence and be distressing. It’s only natural that you would want to improve their appearance, but there are less drastic – and less risky – ways to do this than having a tattoo. Topical vein creams can provide symptomatic relief and cover up unattractive veins, while makeup is another option. Skin-tone compression socks can also help reduce the pain and visibility of varicose veins.

Rather than risk a tattoo, contact Dr Francois Steyn on 012 993 4161 or 012 993 0911, or at to arrange a consultation and learn more about safe, effective treatment methods for varicose veins and spider veins.