When I do a Google search, most of the results are about whether or not people can get HIV / AIDS from getting a tattoo through dirt needles. I am, however, curious whether or not it is possible to get a tattoo if you have AIDS.

Quoting wikipedia's entry on tattoos:

Tattooing involves the placement of pigment into the skin's dermis, the layer of dermal tissue underlying the epidermis. After initial injection, pigment is dispersed throughout a homogenized damaged layer down through the epidermis and upper dermis, in both of which the presence of foreign material activates the immune system's phagocytes to engulf the pigment particles.

If your immune system is not working properly, I can imagine that the phagocytes might never respond to the tattoo ink and that the pigment might not ever enter the fibroblasts?

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    $\begingroup$ AIDS affects T-cells, I have never heard of it being particularly damaging to macrophages/neutrophils... So I would imagine AIDS would have no effect on the tattooing process. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2015 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @TheNightman. AIDS is the disease that is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, so AIDS is the result of HIV infecting T-Cells. The mechanism that it does this by is by glycoprotein 120 binding with high affinity to the CD4 surface receptor. It then binds to the CCR5 co receptor and fuses with the membrane to deliver the viral nucleocapsid and associated proteins. CD4 T-Cells, Macrophages, and Dendritic Cells all have CD4 and CCR5 (barring a mutation) and thus HIV can infect all three cell types. $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR - I edited my answer $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Aug 19, 2015 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD I saw, thank you for the acknowledgment. Was there something you wanted me to do further? This comment was related to The Nightman's comment... $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Aug 19, 2015 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ One of my interests is immunology, and I spent a good amount of time this Spring looking at the adaptive immune system and how HIV infections occur at the cellular level... I was actually kind of disappointed that I had to look some things up... What is it, we lose 70% after the first month? 😊 $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Aug 19, 2015 at 1:40

2 Answers 2


Posted due to certain inaccuracies in comments and answers provided to this question regarding the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

It should be noted that while it may not affect the ability for macrophages in the dermis to phagocytose the heavy metals found in the inks used in tattooing, and thus not interfere with the fixing of a tattoo in an HIV+ person, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus responsible for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) does in fact have the ability to infect any cell type that expresses the cell surface glycoproteins CD4 and CCR5.

Cells that express CD4 and CCR5, barring mutations seen in the bone marrow received by the Berlin Patient (Timothy Ray Brown), among them CD4 "Helper" T-Cells, Macrophages, and certain Dendritic Cells, are all capable of being infected by the HIV virus.

Glycoprotein 120, found on the surface of the HIV envelop, binds with high affinity to CD4. The coreceptor CCR5 then binds to the gp120 CD4 complex and allows the HIV envelop to fuse with the plasma membrane of the host cell. The fusion then delivers the viral nucleocapsid and associated proteins into the cytoplasm of the cell and the infection takes place.

If I had to venture guess, I would say that as Macrophages tend to be present within the dermis of the person for extend periods of time, there is likely enough of a population present in the skin to have the macrophages necessary to fix the inks used in tattooing.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 thanks for your careful analysis. I adapted my answer to be in line with yours. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Aug 18, 2015 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ Yes.. If I am not wrong HIV strains are classified as M-Tropic (macrophage) and T-Tropic (T-cell). $\endgroup$
    Aug 19, 2015 at 5:35
  • $\begingroup$ The same infection in initial stages is more m-tropic and later turns in the late stages, more t-tropic $\endgroup$
    – Polisetty
    Oct 21, 2016 at 9:14

Short answer
People with HIV can get tattoos.

In Africa there are countries that tattoo people identified with HIV (Source: Kenya Today) and some people with HIV find comfort in tattooing biohazard symbols and related images on themselves to express their illness (Source: CNN).

However, as rightly mentioned by @AMR, macrophages which are mainly responsible for ink fixation express CD4 and therefore can be infected by the HIV virus targets.

Hence, while I don't think HIV affects tattooing given the fact that HIV-infected people get tattoos, in theory HIV could reduce the ink fixation.

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    $\begingroup$ While it may not affect the ability to get a tattoo and have it fix in the skin, The HIV virus infects T-Cells, Dendritic Cells, and Macrophages. gp120 binds with high affinity to CD4 and then needs CCR5 to fuse with the cell membrane. Both CD4 and CCR5 are present on those three cell types and thus the virus can infect all three. $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:19

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