Medical Tattooing Shows Promise for Improving Quality of Life from Scars and Skin Grafts

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The practice of medical tattooing, though routinely used by plastic surgeons following nipple reconstruction, has seen minimal evaluation for its effectiveness as a follow-up treatment for other types of patients. A recent study has aimed to prove that medical tattooing can improve patient satisfaction and quality of life following scars or skin grafts.

In Brief: Medical Tattooing

Medical tattooing—also known as Dermatography—refers to the practice of using tattooing techniques to improve the appearance of a patient’s skin following certain procedures. In this particular study, the practice is used to reduce color mismatch between a patient’s skin and their graft, or to improve the appearance of scars.

The Study

The research looked at 56 patients in a Netherlands cancer institute who underwent medical tattooing for scars or grafts on their neck or head. The patients were given two questionnaires to measure their perception of the scar/graft appearance, and their quality of life before and after the treatment. The participants had an average age of 56.5 and 42 of them (75%) were female.

The first questionnaire was an Outcome Assessment that measured patient satisfaction on a 0–10 scale. On this assessment, patients saw an average improvement of four points following medical tattooing.

The second questionnaire was a modified Patient Scar Assessment Questionnaire that used nine questions on a five-point scale, and focused on appearance and quality of life elements (pain, etc.) regarding the scars. A uniform improvement of one point was seen on all questions.

With both patient satisfaction and quality of life scores showing significant improvement following medical tattooing, the conclusion was reached that it could be an effective follow-up procedure for head and neck patients with scars or skin grafts.

Though the study is small, there are few inherent reasons to doubt the findings. Scar and skin graft patients naturally find comfort and satisfaction in an improved appearance, and medical tattooing seems a useful way of providing that benefit.


Drost, B., et. al., “Dermatography (Medical Tattooing) for Scars and Skin Grafts in Head and Neck Patients to Improve Appearance and Quality of Life,” JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, 2016; 10.1001/jamafacial.2016.1084.