Skin Tattoos Alter Sweat Rate and Na+ Concentration

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Jul;49(7):1432-1436. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001244.


The popularity of tattoos has increased tremendously in the last 10 yr particularly among athletes and military personnel. The tattooing process involves permanently depositing ink under the skin at a similar depth as eccrine sweat glands (3-5 mm).

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to compare the sweat rate and sweat Na concentration of tattooed versus nontattooed skin.

Methods: The participants were 10 healthy men (age = 21 ± 1 yr), all with a unilateral tattoo covering a circular area at least 5.2 cm. Sweat was stimulated by iontophoresis using agar gel disks impregnated with 0.5% pilocarpine nitrate. The nontattooed skin was located contralateral to the position of the tattooed skin. The disks used to collect sweat were composed of Tygon® tubing wound into a spiral so that the sweat was pulled into the tubing by capillary action. The sweat rate was determined by weighing the disk before and after sweat collection. The sweat Na concentration was determined by flame photometry.

Results: The mean sweat rate from tattooed skin was significantly less than nontattooed skin (0.18 ± 0.15 vs 0.35 ± 0.25 mg·cm·min; P = 0.001). All 10 participants generated less sweat from tattooed skin than nontattooed skin and the effect size was -0.79. The mean sweat Na concentration from tattooed skin was significantly higher than nontattooed skin (69.1 ± 28.9 vs 42.6 ± 15.2 mmol·L; P = 0.02). Nine of 10 participants had higher sweat Na concentration from tattooed skin than nontattooed skin, and the effect size was 1.01.

Conclusions: Tattooed skin generated less sweat and a higher Na concentration than nontattooed skin when stimulated by pilocarpine iontophoresis.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Sweat / metabolism
  • Sweating / physiology*
  • Tattooing / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Sodium