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Piercing and Tattooing with Ehlers-Danloss Syndrome

Basically, what this relates to is the difficulties in healing piercings & tattoos for those with Ehlers-Danloss Syndrome.

There are several types of EDS, but whatever type you may have, healing piercings, and to a lesser extent, tattoos, can be made more difficult by EDS.

Tattoos are the easy ones to heal, but the hard ones to get.

My skin has a great deal of elasticity, and feels thinner than the skin of a "normal" person. When being tattooed, the skin doesn't provide the same level of resistance to pressure that yours might. Imagine trying to push a pin through a rubber band supported by a pillow, as opposed to a piece of paper supported by a cork. One artist at a studio in London thought he was about to make some easy money. He spent twice as long as he thought he'd have to, just to get even shading. He was developing a look on his face that started with "this is weird" and graduated to "ok, I'm getting pissed off now" before I let him in on what was happening.

The upside is that I seem to have a higher pain tolerance, just as well seeing as line work isn't so bad, but shading needs to be gone over, and gone over, and gone over again. Not a particularly wonderful experience in the armpit, however much I kid myself about being hard.

This over and over work does lead to scarring, but of a different nature. Normal connective tissues consist of a woven collagen matrix providing a stable structure. My collagen is woven loosely, like a crappy basket that you can push and pull around a bit. This means, as well as being stretchy, apparently thin, and crappy to tattoo, that when scars form, they aren't the tight bunching of fibres ready to prevent further damage to the sensitive epidermis. My scars tend to be more diffuse, fade quickly, almost impossible to feel and generally cause no problems. (I've pretty much given up on scarification as such, but if anyone knows a good brander in Auckland, NZ outside of Fleshwound in Wellington...)

One thing that can happen is funny though. If I have an allergic reaction to something, sometimes my body will decide to pack a shit about ink as well, and the diffuse scars caused by the shading will puff up, as well as one large single-needle piece that's 12 years old!

Healing times are the same, normal (by comparing notes) itching, flaking etc. It's just the tattooing that's a little different.

Piercings, however...

They're a bitch to heal.

The piercing is easy, but they are prone, due to the elasticity of my skin, to going where they want, and aren't held as firmly (if you will) by the body. I've had both nipples pierced for the last seven years, and despite perfect horizontal placement by Hamish at Fleshwound in Wellington, New Zealand, it didn't take long for them to migrate to an angle where they feel more natural.

The healing has been an ongoing struggle for the last seven years. The initial healing period was a pain, I'd catch them, open them up, apply antibiotics, and patiently wait. Much entertainment for flatmates as I sat on a couch watching telly with a shotglass of saline over each nipple. Once I eventually managed to stay incident-free for long enough, the secondary "toughening up" period (note: No clear deliniation between the two, they just tore in different ways when I caught them!) began. Even now, I'll be lucky if I get six months without a snag, resulting in antibiotics, frustration, and a general sense of "if she didn't like these bloody things..."

I've tried different jewellery, currently wearing 14g bars, but it's not the opening up that's the problem, it's the slow healing all over again!

Of all the piercings I've healed successfully, all but a navel, the easiest and fastest, infection-free and least painful have been mucous membrane related, namely tongue and PA. No surprises there.

The basic thing I have discovered, through trial and error, is that EDS will make healing any "skin-ish" piercing a bugger to heal. Earlobe, nipple, navel and anything surface can be healed, but will be eternally fragile, prone to infection, and generally a pain in the arse.

I have no experience with EDS cutting (can't see it being a good idea, I've had a few good goes at taking my left thumb off with piss-all scarring to show for my efforts) or branding, but am curious to see if any of this has been noted anywhere else, EDS websites and official journals have much material on the condition, but not an any lifestyle effects. I did find an interesting article indicating that the tattooed and pierced community are more likely to be sexually adventurous, and promiscuous. ("tramp-stamp" joke anyone?)

Anyway, if you've pissed of a tattoo artist with your stretchy skin, or been confounded with a problematic piercing, you ain't alone!


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 13 March 2008
in Culture

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Artist: Various
Studio: Various
Location: New+Zealand+and+the+U.K.

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