Having lots of tattoos might make you look tough on the outside, but it turns out it actually makes you tougher on the inside, too. A new study, published in the American Journal of Human Biology, has found that getting lots of tattoos might make your immune system stronger.
The study was small, only including 24 women and five men from age 18 to 47, who were about to get tattoos. Researchers at the University of Alabama collected saliva from participants before and after getting tattooed, and tested the levels of immunoglobulin A (an antibody that kicks into gear when you have an infection like a cold) and cortisol (a stress hormone that can suppress your immune system).
They found that getting a new tattoo actually suppresses your immune response, because your body is stressed out by the experience. That can leave you more vulnerable to infections and colds in the short term. But if you have multiple tattoos already, your immune system gets stronger, and there's less of a freakout when you get inked again. The study was limited because of its small size, but it still points to a fascinating connection between tattoos and the immune system.
The researchers point to two possible reasons behind this: One, tattoo experts might just not be that anxious about getting inked again, so their bodies don't stress out as much. And the other explanation is that people with lots of tattoos are just used to it, like workout fiends who stop getting sore after a while—they're just stronger.
Don't go getting a full back tattoo to prevent you from getting the common cold or anything, but this research does show why people sometimes feel exhausted and even sick after getting ink for the first time. But if your mom gives you the side-eye because of your tattoos next time you go home, reassure her that they might boost your immune system in the long run.
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Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.
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