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The Ins and Outs of Tattooing

What you should know about tattoos before you get one!
Kevin Devoto Nov 1, 2019
Tattoos are one of the most common types of body art and have been for the last 5,000 years or more. So, one could assume that they won't be going out of style any time soon. It's a good thing because a large portion of the United States population would be in trouble (yet, in good company) if ink suddenly became unfashionable.
After all, about $1.65 billion is spent on tattoos each year in the U.S. alone. Whether you have several tattoos or have no desire for any, you have to admit that the art of tattooing can be pretty interesting.

Tattoo History

Otzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest mummified body, lived around 3300 BC and has approximately 61 tattoos. Other evidence of early tattooing has been found in 49 different parts of the world. No one really knows how old Otzi was when he got his first tattoo, but he probably didn’t realize just how permanent his ink would actually be.
The permanence of a tattoo can be an advantage or a hindrance depending on the person and the amount of meaning it possesses. A tattoo literally becomes a piece of you, a lifetime commitment (most tattooed people wouldn’t have it any other way).
About 30 percent of U.S. adults have tattoos. The growing popularity of tattooing is evidenced by the fact that about half of the millennial population is tattooed. So, getting inked seems to be getting more mainstream. It’s generally no longer regarded as taboo, as was the case in the not-so-distant past.
These days only a fairly small percentage (17 percent) of recipients regret their decision after getting tattooed.

Tattoo Techniques

The most common modern tattooing method is the handheld electric tattoo machine. The attached needle is dipped in ink. Then, it rapidly moves up and down to puncture the skin. This motion can prick the skin from 50 to 3,000 times per minute, pushing the ink into the dermis as the artist creates his/her latest masterpiece.
The artist uses a footswitch for hands-free activation. This pedal starts and stops the machine and controls the speed of the needle.  Each needle can have from three to 25 ends. Outlining is done with needles with fewer ends and needles with more ends are used for coloring and shading.
It’s understandable why most people find it to be a somewhat painful experience.

Tattoo Science

So, how many layers of skin do we have and what makes a tattoo permanent? Human skin consists of three main layers: the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous fat. In order to permanently remain, the ink must be injected into the dermis, the second layer of skin.
Every time that needle hits your skin, capillary action—think liquid through a straw—sucks the ink into the dermis. These punctures essentially create a wound. As soon as your body realizes it’s been compromised, your immune system kicks into gear. Macrophages (aka, immune cells) swoop in to try to attack these foreign pigment particles.
Fortunately for you, these pigment particles are too large for the macrophages to carry away, so the particles get stuck in the cellular membranes. Your immune system will never completely give up trying to rid your body of the ink.
Recent studies have shown evidence that even when macrophages die, new macrophages take over to try to destroy the pigment, so it’s apparently a never-ending battle between your immune system and your artistic expression. This, unfortunately, is why tattoos tend to fade over the years.

Tattoo Removal

Laser treatment is the most common and least invasive tattoo removal method. Highly concentrated light waves heat the ink particles causing particle breakdown. The particles are then removed from the body as the lymphatic system carries them out with other cellular waste.
Complete tattoo removal, if possible, usually requires more than one session and as many as 10 sessions. Typically six weeks between each session is required to allow the ink to be fully absorbed by the body.
Healing and aftercare of the laser wound are much like that of a new tattoo; cleaning with soap and water and frequently applying antibiotic ointment is recommended. It takes about five days to completely heal.