Science History

The Science Behind Tattoos

Many people in the present time love to get their skin inked, however, some cannot bear having one because the pain is unbearable for them. Others, on the other hand, see tattoos as a form of rebellion. But did you know that the practice of tattooing is as old as civilization itself?

Tattoos

A tattoo was a form of a body art that was linked to sailors, working men, and criminals, centuries ago. In the 20th century, it became one of the latest trends in fashion. Different classes of people, even some celebrities display their tattoos in public.

Why do people like to get inked? One of the main reason why some people like to have a tattoo is to honor or give tribute to their loved ones. You could see in some parts of their body the name or the image of his lover or a loved one in the family implanted in his skin.

Others, on the other hand, choose to get inked to tell a story of their lives or to disseminate messages to society. One example of this is raising awareness for autism or cancer by having the symbols of the two tattooed on the skin.

There are also some people who just want to try some new things and experiences and getting a tattoo is one those. Whatever reasons people might have, there is something interesting about the tattoo process and its chemistry. Here are some details about the science behind tattoo and how it works.  

The Art of Piercing

The art of piercing in the body is called tattooing, which had been thought centuries ago in the West as scarring, painting, or staining. The word tattoo was derived from the Samoan word “tatau” in the 18th century, meaning “to strike.” The process of tattooing involves implanting the chosen design or object into the dermis layer of the skin using ink, dyes, and pigment.

The Macrophages and the Tattoo

How does a tattoo work? A tattoo artist uses a tattoo machine or sometimes called a tattoo gun with needles to puncture the skin at about 50 to 3000 times per minute. The needles with the ink must go through the outer layer of the skin known as the epidermis, going to the dermis, which is the inner layer of the skin, in between 1mm and 2mm underneath.

Tattooing is indeed painful. And the willing wearer endures the pain because he definitely likes it. Moreover, the wearer would acquire a wound once the needles penetrated the skin. Then, it would undergo an inflammatory process. The immune system would then quickly send a signal to the macrophages that would attempt to heal the wounds by eating up the dye, which is the substance that goes through the skin.

The macrophages are derived from the Greek word “macro” meaning “big eaters.” They are the types of white blood cells that gobble the foreign substance, microbes, cancer cells, and cellular debris in the body.

In the tattoo process, the macrophages could not eat all the foreign substances or the dye. Some of the inks remain in the dermis and become visible.  These then become the body art you desire to appear embedded on your skin.

The Tattoo Ink

However, experts believe that the tattoo ink may cause infections, and some wearers may have allergic reactions to the tattoo ink.

Ines Schriever, a chemist from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, together with his team investigated the risk effects of the tattoo ink. In the study, they found that one of the most common ingredients of a tattoo ink is the carbon black that could break down into nanoparticles and goes through the lymph node. They also discovered that there were heavy metals contained in the tattoo ink such as cobalt, nickel, and chromium that were detected in the lymph node. These results showed that these particles could cause enlargement of the lymph node and could trigger some blood clotting. Due to this study, more scientists are planning to conduct more research on the safety of tattoo ink.

Tattoos are indeed a wonderful form of art and a lot of people are into having them because getting inked is their way of expressing their styles and feelings. However, before deciding to get a tattoo, you should also make sure that it is safe to avoid risks and infections.

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