Why You Might Get A Cold Right After Your First Tattoo

Photographed By Lauren Perlstein.
The first time you get a tattoo, you're probably too busy worrying about how much it'll hurt in the moment to even consider how you'll feel afterward. But getting inked can have some surprising total-body effects, according to new research.

The study, published in the American Journal of Human Biology, suggests that the stress from being tattooed leaves your immune system in a weakened state — but, if you continue to get tattoos, your body's tolerance for stress may increase, making you less prone to post-tattoo illnesses.

Researchers took saliva samples from 29 customers at local tattoo shops, before and after they were tattooed. They analyzed the levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody, and cortisol, a stress hormone, in the samples to see how the tattooing process affected their immune systems. A major drop in antibody levels would suggest that a person's immune system was much weaker post-tattoo, and thus more vulnerable to illnesses.

As it turned out, the change in levels was much more noticeable among people with fewer tattoos. Meanwhile, the decrease in antibodies was smaller among people with more tattoos, which suggests that their bodies had grown more accustomed to dealing with this kind of stress.

“They don’t just hurt while you get the tattoo, but they can exhaust you,” the study's lead author Christopher Lynn, PhD, explained in a press release. “It’s easier to get sick. You can catch a cold because your defenses are lowered from the stress of getting a tattoo.”

However, just as you get stronger with more exercise, the more ink you get, the more resilient you become to this phenomenon. “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,” Dr. Lynn added.

If you're thinking of getting your first tattoo, pay attention to how your body responds in the following days. It might be a good idea to rest and eat your greens, so you don't stress your immune system anymore. You should always feel prepared leading up to your appointment — and that might mean stocking up on tissues, just in case.

And for you tattoo experts out there? Well, this study suggests you're just as tough as you look.

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