How CBD May Help With New Tattoos (and Old Ones Too)
Experts believe CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties may help a host of skin conditions. But the jury’s still out on if it can help heal new tattoos — and tattoo removal. Image Credit: By Andrey_Popov on shutterstock.
Tattoos are more out in the open than ever. After years of being hidden under the sleeves of sailors, it’s now common to see tattoos on your barista, banker, doctor, or even your young-at-heart mom. In fact, a 2017 survey from Statista found that 4 in 10 American adults aged 18 to 69 have a tattoo, and 25 percent have more than one piece of ink.
Cannabis — especially non-intoxicating CBD — is also discarding past stigmas and having a moment right now. In August, a Gallup poll found that 1 in 7 American adults, or 14 percent of the population, now uses a CBD product. Just as with tattoos, people of all ages are getting in on the trend: Boomers have become some of the most avid CBD consumers out there. Regardless of their age, the most common reason users cited for using CBD was to relieve pain and inflammation — which also happen to be two of the less-than-desirable side effects of getting that sweet Spongebob portrait inked across your back.
It’s easy to see, then, why so many people have embraced CBD as a way to take the angst out of getting (and caring for) a new tattoo. But is it really a good idea?
If You’re Considering a Tattoo, Here’s What CBD Might Offer
You may be surprised to learn that scientists haven’t spent much time studying how CBD could make it easier to get tattoos (they tend to be more focused on its uses for epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome, or other health conditions). Having said that, it’s possible to draw some inferences from studies on other subjects.
Here are three ways that CBD might — might! — come in useful before, during, or after a tattoo appointment:
Reducing anxiety — It’s perfectly normal to be nervous before you get a tattoo on your body. After all, it’s permanent! And if you considered using CBD to help you calm down, you wouldn’t be alone: 20 percent of respondents to the aforementioned Gallup poll said they use it for the same reason.
There’s a decent amount of scientific evidence that CBD can help you with anxiety. A 2012 review conducted by Brazilian researchers showed that the studies to date “clearly suggest an anxiolytic-like effect of CBD.”
Relieving pain and inflammation — As mentioned before, this is the most common reason people use CBD, and it’s also relatively well-supported by science. CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have been the subject of numerous studies, and the overall results are encouraging.
By reducing inflammation, CBD has been shown to be effective at relieving pain from arthritis and other serious conditions, so there’s an argument to be made that it could prove useful for tattoos as well.
Healing skin — CBD’s ability to reduce skin redness and inflammation isn’t the only thing that makes it potentially useful for healing irritated skin (and if you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, you’ll agree that your skin is most definitely irritated afterward).
It could also help prevent infections. Earlier this year, Australian researchers discovered that CBD could be effective against “superbugs” like Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that cause staph infections (and have become increasingly resistant to conventional antibiotics over the years).
How People Are Using CBD for Tattoos
People use CBD for tattoos in two main ways: 1) to relieve pain and anxiety before or during an appointment, and 2) to expedite the healing process afterward. If you’re interested in either of these uses, certain products will be more effective than others. Here’s what you should know:
CBD Before or During a Tattoo Appointment
Here are two common rookie mistakes when getting a tattoo:
- Having a drink or two beforehand to take the edge off your anxiety
- Downing a couple of pain relievers so the needle doesn’t hurt as much
Both alcohol and pain relievers will thin your blood, which increases bleeding during your tattoo. Not only does this prevent the ink from “sticking” as it should, it also slows down the healing process.
Since CBD is known for its positive safety profile — when the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended removing all international controls on the cannabinoid, it cited its lack of significant side effects — many people assume that swapping out alcohol or painkillers for CBD is a safer move.
However, the Harvard Health Blog reports that “CBD can increase the level in your blood of the blood thinner coumadin.” Plus, the American Society of Regional Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA) says that CBD has been “found to affect platelets and anticoagulants by suppressing their production and thereby potentially increasing bleeding tendencies.”
As a result, it’s not clear that CBD is actually a good idea to use before or during a tattoo appointment, though no studies have specifically examined this yet. If you don’t mind rolling the dice, your best options would be a fast-acting delivery method like vaping, smokable hemp, or perhaps a sublingual strip or tincture. Just be forewarned that it might not go as well as you’d hoped.
CBD Tattoo Aftercare
Getting a tattoo is (relatively) fast and easy, but caring for it afterwards can feel like an interminable slog. It’s normal for the area to be tender and swollen for a week or more. This inflammatory reaction is your body’s natural response to being punctured thousands of times by tiny needles and having ink deposited deep into your dermis, aka the inner layers of skin.
To relieve that localized pain and inflammation, a CBD topical is likely to be your best option. These can be applied directly to your tattoo in the same way as conventional topicals like Bepanthen — the general rule of thumb is to apply a thin layer whenever the tattoo feels dry or brittle. In the first few days after getting a new tattoo, you might need to re-apply the topical every couple of hours. Later, as the tattoo heals, you can apply the topical less frequently.
Today a number of CBD topicals are formulated specifically for tattoo aftercare, including:
Salves: Susan’s Tattoo Aftercare Salve, for example, is a topical that comes with 300 mg of CBD per ounce and a promise to “keep your tattoo moisturized without blurring the ink.” It’s made with CBD isolate, which isn’t the most effective option available, but it could be worthwhile for those who are extra-sensitive about avoiding CBD.
Ointments: If you’re unclear about the difference between salves and ointments, don’t feel bad — most people have no idea either! The main difference is that salves are made with fresh or dried herbs, while the plant material in ointments comes from essential oils.
If you’re more of an ointment person for whatever reason, you might opt for a product like Hemp Bomb’s Premium Tattoo Aftercare Ointment. It only contains 50 mg of CBD isolate per ounce, though at least it’s tested by a third-party laboratory for purity and potency.
Roll-on applicators: In the tattoo world, these often resemble sticks of deodorant, and the Ink 20/20 product from Hemp Basics is a prime example. The easy-to-apply balm is made with full spectrum CBD (the brand doesn’t specify how much) and also includes SPF to protect your ink from the sun — though you should probably be covering it up until it’s fully healed, anyway.
Is It Safe to Put CBD Topicals on a Tattoo?
That’s a good question, and one that scientists have not yet answered conclusively. Some people with sensitivities to terpenes have been known to experience allergic reactions when using CBD topicals, and there’s always the risk of getting a contaminated product that could cause skin problems due to the heavy metals or pesticides in it. But in general, no major side effects have been identified when using CBD topicals on healthy skin
Tattooed skin isn’t really “healthy,” though — it’s wounded, for lack of a better word. While scientists haven’t specifically examined CBD topicals’ healing properties for tattoos, there is some evidence that suggests they could be useful for healing wounds in general. For example, a 2017 paper in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that “topical medical cannabis has the potential to improve pain management in patients suffering from wounds of all classes,” without causing unwanted side effects.
Regardless of the scarcity of evidence, the tattoo world has embraced CBD tattoo products wholeheartedly. As Inked Magazine put it, “What’s better than a kickass aftercare product? An amazing aftercare product that reduces your pain with CBD.”
Still, that’s not exactly a ringing medical endorsement.
Can You Use CBD to Help Heal From Tattoo Removal?
Around 11 percent of people with tattoos regret their decision, according to a 2016 survey from research firm Statistic Brain. That’s the bad news. The somewhat-less-bad news is that tattoos can be removed — it’s just not a fast or easy process, since it typically takes multiple sessions that can cost up to $500 a pop. Some common forms of tattoo removal include:
- Laser removal
- Surgical operations
- Dermabrasion (essentially, scrubbing it off your skin)
According to the Mayo Clinic, tattoo removal can entail scarring, skin discoloration, or infection. In theory, CBD topicals could help minimize these issues, though saying there’s a scarcity of research on the topic would be an understatement.
We’ve already covered CBD’s ability to help the body fight off infections, but what about scars? No studies have specifically examined this, but CBD has been shown to help fight free radicals, which can contribute to scar formation. It’s a tenuous link at best, to be sure, but such is life in the still-fledgling world of CBD research.
As for discoloration, so far the science paints a mixed picture. In a 2019 study published in the journal Molecules, Hungarian researchers found that the endocannabinoid system (which can be activated by CBD) does play a significant role in pigmentation disorders. However, they weren’t able to pinpoint if — or to what extent — CBD might be able to help restore skin to its natural color.
So, Should You Use CBD for Your Tattoo?
Ultimately, the decision depends on how much you trust the anecdotal evidence from other tattoo aficionados. However, it does seem like using it beforehand to relieve anxiety or pain might not be the best idea, and the jury is still out on using topicals for aftercare.
At the end of the day, people have been getting (and healing) tattoos for centuries without the benefit of CBD. It might be wise to stick to the tried-and-true methods of our inked-up forebears, at least until the science catches up.
Does CBD Help with Tattoo Healing?
Tattoos have been used as a form of expression and individuality for thousands of years, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt. While the processes of tattooing have developed considerably, the impact on our skin remains the same in regard to inflammation and swelling.
CBD has followed a not too dissimilar path in this respect. Cannabis has been used for therapeutic purposes for thousands of years. Both cannabis and tattoos eventually built up something of a stigma around them, until widespread opinion started to shift to one of acceptance in the 21 st century. CBD is now widely used in topical products, such as CBD balm and CBD moisturiser by tattoo artists around the world.
We are all fully aware now that getting a tattoo can be a very painful experience. Anyone who tells you it does not hurt is more than likely lying! While some may feel anxious about the prospect of getting a tattoo or worried about how their skin will react afterwards, CBD can provide certain answers.
There are five essential ways in which CBD can help the process of getting a tattoo. These include reducing anxiety, pain relief and preventing infection. This article will aim to cover exactly how CBD can benefit those considering getting a tattoo.
A Brief History of Tattoos
A tattoo is a form of body modification characterised by applying indelible, permanent ink in the dermis layer of the skin. There are a number of reasons as to why people decide to get tattoos, ranging from sentimental ones, to symbolic, to cosmetic.
The origins of tattoos can be traced back thousands of years. A number of Egyptian mummies were found to have tattoos on their bodies, all the way back to 3351 BC. There were a variety of reasons as to why people got tattoos, from a record of how many scalps a warrior had taken, to those who wanted to take home a bit of culture from their voyages.
The word tattoo originates from the Polynesian word tattow, which translates as “to strike”. It is widely believed that Captain James Cook was responsible for introducing this word to Western culture at some point during the 18 th century, after one of his many voyages to the South Pacific. His archives documenting these travels contained both text and pictures of tattoos that he had encountered.
During this time tattoos remained the preserve of the aristocracy due to the cost of the process. Sailors were also often tattooed on their travels. The affinity to the upper class remained until the early 20 th century, when the electric tattoo machine turned the tables and made tattoos accessible for all.
How do Tattoos Work?
Tattoos are made by first piercing the top layer of skin with sharp needles, before ink pigmentation is inserted into the opening. Electric tattoo machines, or tattoo guns as they are also known, are used to guide the needles. Each time the gun penetrates the skin, ink is left behind to leave a permanent marking.
It is almost certain that you will feel some kind of pain during the tattooing process. The extent of this will depend largely on the size and location of the tattoo. There are a few ways in which you can prepare for this process in order to reduce the pain, such as sleeping well and eating a healthy meal before while ensuring that you are hydrated, but this will not eliminate. There are many reasons to believe that CBD could be one of the best solutions to ease the tattoo process.
Unfortunately, once the tattoo has been completed, the pain is still not over! The next two weeks in particular are incredibly important in the healing process. You must heed the advice of your tattoo artist with regards to their aftercare instructions which will protect your skin from infection.
Typically, this includes washing multiple times a day with soap and antibacterial cleanser, while also regularly applying moisturiser to keep the area hydrated. It is also recommended to avoid tight clothing on the tattooed area, as well as avoiding jewellery that could rub against, and irritate, the tattoo.
Are Tattoos Safe?
When done correctly, tattoos are of course safe to get. However, you must ensure that you utilise a licensed, reputable tattoo artist who works in a clean, hygienic environment.
The tattoo parlour itself is paramount to your safety. It is recommended to visit the shop itself and ensure hygiene rules are being followed. This means that the tattoo machine should be sterilised and disinfected between use, request a disposable needle and tip and make sure that the artist is wearing gloves.
These guidelines are important to follow as failure to do so can have serious adverse effects. Due to the fact that there is direct contact between the tattoo process and your blood, there is potential to contract diseases such as hepatitis, chlamydia and syphilis.
What is CBD?
There are over 500 compounds found within the cannabis plant, including over 100 different cannabinoids. While prohibitive legislation on a largely global scale has acted as a roadblock to substantial research, this is slowly beginning to change.
We are now developing a much clearer understanding of these compounds, although there is still some way to go. The two cannabinoids that we know the most about are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and these often cause confusion.
To begin with, THC is the dominant psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant. This means that it is responsible for causing the ‘high’ typically depicted in popular culture – think red eyes and gargantuan bags of crisps.
CBD on the other hand is a non-psychoactive compound, which does not get the user high. While it does not have any cognitive impact on the user, it still retains a wide range of health benefits, as will be detailed later in the article. It is due to the lack of psychoactive impact that it is now widely accepted as a safe health option. This was referenced in the World Health Organization (WHO) report into CBD, which stated “there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
There are three different types of CBD that all users should be aware of. Both the extraction process and effect on the user differentiate these three types. They are as follows:
- Full SpectrumCBD– Full spectrum CBD contains the widest range of compounds, including terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids and fatty acids. Full spectrum CBD also contains trace elements of THC. It should be noted that the legal THC limit is 0.2% in the UK – not sufficient enough to intoxicate the user.
- Broad Spectrum CBD – Broad Spectrum CBD is essentially the same as full spectrum CBD, containing the same range of compounds except from THC.
- CBD Isolate – This is the purest form of CBD available and typically comes as a powder. It is removed of all other terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids.
How Does CBD Help Manage the Tattoo Process?
It is becoming more and more common to see tattoo parlours stocked with various topical CBD products now – eyes are being opened in a variety of settings. One of the issues that comes with this increased prominence in the mainstream is an influx of unbased claims that CBD is the fix-all solution to everything.
This is why we have put together this guide – to cut through the nonsense and provide you with research-based facts on the therapeutic potential of CBD in relation to tattoos and tattoo aftercare. We have linked to these studies throughout, so feel free to follow these and delve a little deeper!
As stated earlier in the article, tattoos do come with a degree of pain and unfortunately there is no escaping this fact. The extent of this is dependent on the location and size of the tattoo.
Common traditional methods of over-the-counter pain relief, such as ibuprofen, exacerbate the process. When you take ibuprofen, it thins your blood. Not only does this mean that you are going to bleed more, but the artist will have more difficulty following the stencil and the healing process will be impaired.
Instead of ibuprofen, why not try CBD instead next time you get a tattoo? Research suggests that this would be a far more useful approach. There are numerous studies that highlight CBD’s efficiency as an analgesic.
CBD may well help you cope with the pain of a tattoo due to its impact on your glycine receptors. These are found in the central nervous system and dictate how your body processes and responds to pain. One of the most illustrious CBD studies conducted in 2008 (before CBD research was more widespread), highlighted the relationship between CBD and the aforementioned glycine receptors. CBD increases the effectiveness of your glycine receptors, resulting in a reduced perception of pain.
There is no doubt that getting a tattoo can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety, particularly if it is your first. To make matters worse, research suggests that people are likely to be more sensitive to painful stimuli when experiencing stress. This is also compounded when people are suffering from depression or anxiety as well.
Step forward CBD. Numerous studies suggest that CBD can provide a relaxing, soothing sensation when taken. This means that the perception of pain during the tattooing process is likely to be reduced.
Perhaps the most notable of these studies was conducted in 1990 by Guimaraes, Chiaretti, Graeff and Zuardi. In their rodent study, they declared that CBD had “an anxiolytic-like effect” on rats who were stress-induced through the introduction of a complex maze. They stated that the subjects were observed as having lower behavioural and physiological signs of anxiety and stress.
In general, studies on CBD’s impact on anxiety disorders can reasonably be translated into its ability to combat stress. For example, a particular 2011 study looked into the impact that CBD had on people with social anxiety disorder (SAD). After the completion of their double-blind study, they found that participants who were given an oral dose of CBD experienced reduced anxiety compared to the placebo group.
While ingestible CBD products, such as CBD oil or CBD capsules, take up to an hour to take effect, there are alternative solutions. Vaping CBD is the fastest delivery method and typically takes under 5 minutes for the effects to be felt. This may be the best solution prior to your tattoo session.
Better Healing Process
Having covered the process of receiving your tattoo, we will now turn our attention to the aftercare process and how CBD can improve this.
Once your fresh tattoo is complete, the body’s natural healing process will then take hold. This means that the area where you were tattooed will likely become red and swollen. All this shows is that your immune responses are effective! Generally speaking, it takes between 1-4 weeks for the swelling to calm down before the itching takes over for a short while at the end of the healing process.
CBD is well regarded as a powerful anti-inflammatory, and this is probably its most researched property. There are numerous studies that point to the efficacy of CBD in this regard. Despite the fact that the majority of these are animal studies, researchers believe that these findings can be translated into a human setting.
One such study conducted on rats, found that oral CBD treatment (i.e. CBD oil), reduced both sciatic nerve pain and inflammation in rats, induced via an adjuvant intraplantar injection.
A further example of a robust rodent study was conducted in 2016 by Hammel et al, who studied the impact of CBD on inflammation in rats with arthritis. They found that when applying a topical CBD gel, the rats experienced a reduction in both swelling and the perception of pain.
While vaping CBD, or ingesting is likely the optimal approach when receiving your tattoo, there is no doubt that topical CBD products come into their own during the aftercare process. CBD balm is effective in reducing inflammation and itching, while also providing a calming sensation upon application.
Keep it Clean
In order for our bodies to maintain health and vitality, antioxidants are required. There are a number of foods that are powerful antioxidants and help to protect both body cells and our skin against damage. However, CBD also possesses antioxidant properties.
This is highlighted in a distinguished meta review conducted by Atalay et al in 2020. They found that CBD is a powerful antioxidant and also “interrupts free radical chain reactions, capturing free radicals or transforming them into less active forms.”
Not only does this mean that flaking and scabbing should be minimised at the back end of the healing process, but also that CBD will likely protect the vulnerable area from infection.
As a result of the proliferation of CBD within the skincare industry, it has quickly become a favourite moisturiser for many. Almost all tattoo artists will stress the importance of keeping the tattooed area moisturised in both the short and long term.
During the short term, moisturised skin means that sticking, rubbing and peeling damage are minimised. In the long term, the quality of the tattoo is maintained, including the definition of the lines, the vibrancy of the colours and generally protecting against degradation.
CBD is a particularly effective moisturiser and comes highly recommended in the instance of tattoo aftercare. We know that CBD is rich with fatty acids that reinforce the oil barrier of our skin and helps to retain moisture.
Cannacares’ CBD moisturiser is also packed with vitamin E and cacao butter – both of which benefit the tattoo healing process.
Our Guide to Using CBD for Tattoos
Now you have assessed the research on why CBD is effective during the tattoo process, it is time to recap exactly what our recommended routine is. As noted, certain CBD products are more important at certain periods of the process. Let us cover this below:
Before Getting Your Tattoo
It is extremely common to feel anxious about getting a tattoo, particularly if it is your first time. People often describe the pain of their own experiences, but this differs with each individual. As mentioned earlier in the article, it is important to avoid ibuprofen as a pain reliever as this will thin the blood and increase bleeding.
CBD works most effectively when it is used for a sustained period of time. While this can vary between individuals, it is generally accepted that CBD takes around 4 weeks to build up in your system and have maximum effect. Consequently, we recommend starting to take CBD 4 weeks before your tattoo appointment in order to maximise its impact.
Vaping CBD just before the start of your appointment would also be a wise move, as this is the fastest delivery method. This is because it goes directly into your blood stream, rather than passing through the digestive system like CBD capsules would have to.
Once your tattoo is complete, it is now time to start the recovery process. The size, intricacy, colour and location of the tattoo will affect this process.
Once complete, your artist will likely apply some kind of anti-bacterial topical product before covering it with clingfilm. Once the tattoo stops bleeding, it is then time to remove the clingfilm.
Once removed, the area should be washed with lukewarm water.
Short Term Aftercare
It is likely that in the days following your tattooing, there will be some excretion from the wound and the skin will become red and swollen. It is important during this phase to routinely wash the tattoo without soap and keep the area dry and clean.
It is also important to keep a degree of airflow circulating around your tattoo as exposure to the air will accelerate recovery. Maintaining your CBD intake will help with the pain management side.
3 days after your tattoo is done, you should start utilising topical CBD products in order to aid the recovery process.
Cannacare’s vegan-friendly CBD balm is one of the most effective tattoo aftercare products on the UK market. Not only will this act as an anti-inflammatory, it will also reduce your body’s perception of the pain, keep your wound clean and maintain hydration.
Throughout the healing process, the skin will sporadically scab over. When this does occur, it is recommended to apply further CBD balm. After 2 weeks of consistent application and CBD intake, your skin should return to normal on the uppermost layer. The deeper layers however, take longer to heal.
Long Term CBD Tattoo Aftercare
Many people don’t realise that it actually takes approximately three months for your tattoo to fully heal. This should be when the colours are most vibrant and lines most defined, without irritation.
By maintaining use of a CBD balm or CBD moisturiser, this will help to increase the lifespan of your tattoo and avoid any costly retouching work.
Sun cream should also be used when exposed to the sun, as UV damage is the most common reason for tattoo damage.
As you will fully know, tattoos are a permanent marking on our bodies. Thus, if you do decide to proceed then you should take as much care of it as you can in order to maintain the quality. This means taking advantage of the myriad therapeutic benefits of CBD.
Not only will this make the experience for you less painful before, during and after the tattoo, but it will also aid the prevention of infection.
From CBD vape oil, to CBD oil, to CBD balm, Cannacares have you covered from start to finish in your tattoo journey.
We also recommend talking to your tattoo artist before using CBD for your tattoo.