Skin tattooing impairs sweating during passive whole body heating

Maurie J. Luetkemeier, Dustin R. Allen, Mu Huang, Faith K. Pizzey, Iqra M. Parupia, Thad E. Wilson, Scott L. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Tattooing of the skin involves repeated needle insertions to deposit ink into the dermal layer of the skin, potentially damaging eccrine sweat glands and the cutaneous vasculature. This study tested the hypothesis that reflex increases in sweat rate (SR) and cutaneous vasodilation are blunted in tattooed skin (TAT) compared with adjacent healthy skin (CON) during a passive whole body heat stress (WBH). Ten individuals (5 males and 5 females) with a sufficient area of tattooed skin participated in the study. Intestinal temperature (Tint), skin temperature (Tskin), skin blood flow (laser Doppler flux; LDF), and SR were continuously measured during normothermic baseline (34°C water perfusing a tube-lined suit) and WBH (increased Tint 1.0°C via 48°C water perfusing suit). SR throughout WBH was lower for TAT compared with CON (P = 0.033). Accumulated sweating responses during WBH (area under curve) were attenuated in TAT relative to CON (23.1 ± 12.9, 26.9 ± 14.5 mg/cm2, P = 0.043). Sweating threshold, expressed as the onset of sweating in time or Tint from the initiation of WBH, was not different between TAT and CON. Tattooing impeded the ability to obtain LDF measurements. These data suggest that tattooing functionally damages secretion mechanisms, affecting the reflex capacity of the gland to produce sweat, but does not appear to affect neural signaling to initiate sweating. Decreased sweating could impact heat dissipation especially when tattooing covers a higher percentage of body surface area and could be considered a potential long-term clinical side effect of tattooing. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study is the first to assess the reflex control of sweating in tattooed skin. The novel findings are twofold. First, attenuated increases in sweat rate were observed in tattooed skin compared with adjacent healthy non-tattooed skin in response to a moderate increase (1.0°C) in internal temperature during a passive whole body heat stress. Second, reduced sweating in tattooed skin is likely related to functional damage to the secretory mechanisms of eccrine sweat glands, rendering it less responsive to cholinergic stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1038
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 the American Physiological Society


  • Eccrine
  • Skin blood flow
  • Sweat rate
  • Thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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