Are They Really Worth It?

The Effects of Tattoos

Written By: Ashley Nelon, Hannah Thompson, and Zach Katz

Process of Tattooing

Artists create tattoos by injecting ink into a person's skin. To do this, they use an electrically powered tattoo machine. The machine moves a solid needle up and down to puncture the skin between 50 and 3,000 times per minute. The needle penetrates the skin by about a millimeter and deposits a drop of insoluble ink into the skin with each puncture.

  • Sterilization: A tattoo machine creates a puncture wound every time it injects a drop of ink into the skin. Since any puncture wound has the potential for infection and disease transmission, much of the application process focuses on safety. Tattoo artists use sterilization, disposable materials and hand sanitation to protect themselves and their clients.To eliminate the possibility of contamination, most tattoo materials, including inks, ink cups, gloves and needles, are single use. Many single-use items arrive in sterile packaging, which the artist opens in front of the customer just before beginning work. Reusable materials, such as the needle bar and tube, are sterilized before every use. The only acceptable sterilization method is an autoclave: a heat/steam/pressure unit often used in hospitals. Most units run a 55-minute cycle from a cold start, and they kill every organism on the equipment. To do this, an autoclave uses time, temperature and pressure in one of two combinations: a temperature of 250 degrees fahrenheit under ten pounds of pressure for thirty minutes, or a temperature of 270 degrees fahrenheit under fifteen pounds of pressure for fifteen minutes.
  • Prep Work: Prior to sterilizing the equipment, the artist cleans each item and places it in a special pouch. An indicator strip on the pouch changes colors when the items inside are sterile. Before working on customers, tattoo artist wash and inspect their hands for cuts and abrasions. Then they should do the following: disinfect the work area, explain the sterilization process to customer, remove all sterilized packaging infront of customer, and then disinfect the area to be tattooed.
  • Creating A Tattoo: First the artist draws or stencils the design onto the clients skin, then they give it a thin permanent outline in black ink, then they go over the outline with thicker ink to create even and solid lines. Then after all the outline work is done, the artist finally goes over the tattoo with all the color.
  • Final Cleaning and Bandaging: After using a disposable towel to wipe away any blood or anything else the artist covers the tattoo in a sterile bandage. Some bleeding always occurs during a tattoo, but most stops within a few minutes.

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Effects on Each Layer of Skin

When first injected into the skin, tattoo ink spreads from the puncture site to both the epidermis and the dermis. The upper layer of skin, the epidermis, contains keratin-producing cells, cells important for immune responses, and cells producing pigment. It's the epidermis that's regularly sloughed off and replenishes. And as your tattoo heals, this layer of skin does its job. Immune cells or phagocytes engulf the ink and epidermal cells flake off, carrying ink away. It's how your dermis reacts that makes your tattoo more or less permanent.The dermis is the skin layer beneath the epidermis where you find collagen- and elastin-producing cells, hair follicles, oil glands, and pain and touch receptors. The dermis also contains cells involved in immune responses and that recognize the tattoo ink as foreign. However, the dermis doesn't turn over its cells the way the epidermis does. Tattoo ink is trapped in the dermis in a meshwork of fibroblast cells and collagen that form granulation tissue. If a tattoo is done properly, tattoo ink won't reach the bottom layer, the hypodermis, which provides a layer of fatty tissue and more support for the dermis and epidermis. As you get much older, the tattoo pigment may migrate deeper into the dermis (that's why your tattoo may fade a bit over time), but for the most part, it remains at the upper portion of the dermis, closer to the epidermis.

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Potential Health Risks

Since tattoos involve needles and blood, they carry several risks. These include transmission of diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis and possibly HIV. When tattoo artists follow all the correct sterilization and sanitation procedures, risks for disease transmission are relatively low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has not been a documented case of HIV transmission from a tattoo. However, doctors warn that non-sterile tattooing practices can lead to the transmission of syphilis, hepatitis B and other infectious organisms.

Infections can occur in new tattoos, especially without appropriate aftercare. Some people also experience allergic reactions to tattoo inks. Although the pigments used may have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for other purposes, the FDA does not regulate tattoo inks. Finally, some people experience pain or burning during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations because of metallic pigments. Some doctors have also reported interference and distorted MRI images from permanent makeup pigments.

In addition, most states place restrictions on whether people who have tattoos can donate blood. Because of the danger of hepatitis, the American Red Cross will not accept blood from someone who has been tattooed in the past year unless the tattoo parlor is state-regulated. Most states do not regulate tattoo parlors.


Potential Future Aesthetic Consequences

Color could fade overtime. Tattoo could stretch if you gain weight or muscle. You could get wrinkles and your tattoo wouldn't look the same anymore.You could get tired of it, and want to get rid of it. It could effect your employment, some jobs would want you to cover up any tattoos you may have and some tattoos could be very difficult to cover up.