Tattoo Info


Welcome to our General Tattoo Info page, here you will find lots of useful information about the multi-faceted world of Tattoo's.

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Leopard on upper arm
Leopard on upper arm

A tattoo is a mark made by inserting pigment into the skin: in technical terms, tattooing is micro-pigment implantation. Tattoos may be made on human or animal skin. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, while tattoos on animals are most often used for identification.

Tattooing has been a nearly ubiquitous human practice. The Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, wore facial tattoos. Tattooing was widespread among Polynesian peoples, and in the Philippines, Borneo, Africa, North America, South America, Mesoamerica, Europe, Japan, Cambodia and China. Despite some taboos surrounding tattooing, the art continues to be popular all over the world.

Terms

The word "tattoo" is traced to the Tahitian tatu or tatau, meaning to mark or strike (the latter referring to traditional methods of applying the designs). In Japanese the word used for traditional designs or those that are applied using traditional methods is irezumi ("insertion of ink"), while "tattoo" is used for non-Japanese designs.

Two abstract designs
Two abstract designs

Tattoo enthusiasts may refer to tattoos as tats, ink, art or work, and to tattooists as artists. The latter usage is gaining support, with mainstream art galleries holding exhibitions of tattoo designs and photographs of tattoos.

Tattoo designs that are mass-produced and sold to tattoo artists and studios and displayed in shop are known as flash.

History

Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice at least since Neolithic times. Mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the second millennium BCE have been discovered in Xinjiang, West China. Tattooing in Japan is thought to go back to the Paleolithic era, some ten thousand years ago. Various other cultures have had their own tattoo traditions, ranging from rubbing cuts and other wounds with ashes, to hand-pricking the skin to insert dyes.

Purpose

Religious theme
Religious theme

Tattoos have served as rites of passage, marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, sexual lures and marks of fertility, pledges of love, punishment, amulets and talismans, protection, and as the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts.

Today, people choose to be tattooed for cosmetic, religious and magical reasons, and as a symbol of belonging to or identification with particular groups (see Criminal tattoos). Tattoos of favourite bands and football teams logo's are fairly common in the west. Some Ma-ori still choose to wear intricate moko on their faces. In Cambodia and Thailand, the yantra tattoo is used for protection.

People have also been forcibly tattooed for a various reasons. The best known is the ka-tzetnik identification system for Jews in part of the concentration camps during the Holocaust. European sailors were known to tattoo the crucifixion on their backs to prevent flogging (since it was a crime to deface an image of Christ).

Some people choose tattoos for comic effect
Some people choose tattoos for comic effect

Tattoos are also placed on animals, though very rarely for decorative reasons. Pets, show animals, thoroughbred horses and livestock are sometimes tattooed with identification and other marks. Pet dogs and cats are often tattooed with a serial number (usually in the ear, or on the inner thigh) via which their owners can be identified. In Australia, the symbol ? is tattooed in the ears of cats and dogs to indicate that they have been neutered. Also, animals are occasionally tattooed to prevent sunburn (on the nose, for example). Such tattoos are often performed by the veterinarian him or herself and in most cases, the animals are anaesthetized during the process. Branding is used for similar reasons and is often performed without anaesthesia, but is different from tattooing as no ink or dye is inserted during the process.

When used as a form of cosmetic surgery, tattooing includes permanent makeup, and hiding or neutralize skin discolorations. Permanent cosmetics are tattoos that enhance eyebrows, lips (liner or lipstick), eyes (shadow, mascara, liner), and even moles, usually with natural colors as the designs are intended to resemble makeup.

Prevalence

Tattoos have experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent decades in many parts of the world, particularly in North America, Japan, and Europe. The growth in tattoo culture has seen an influx of new artists into the industry, many of whom have technical and fine art training. Coupled with advancements in tattoo pigments and the ongoing refinement of the equipment used for tattooing, this has led to an improvement in the quality of tattoos being produced. Movie stars, models, popular musicians and sports figures are just some of the people in the public eye who are tattooed, which in turn has fueled the acceptance of tattoos. During the 2000s, the presence of tattoos became evident within pop culture, inspiring television shows such as A&E's Inked and TLC's Miami Ink.

Lower back tattoos are common among young women
Lower back tattoos are common among young women

In many traditional cultures tattooing has also enjoyed a resurgence, partially in deference to cultural heritage. Historically, a decline in traditional tribal tattooing in Europe occurred with the spread of Christianity. A decline often occurred in other cultures following European efforts to convert aboriginal and indigenous people to Western religious and cultural practices that held tattooing to be a "pagan" or "heathen" activity. Within some traditional indigenous cultures, tattooing takes place within the context of a rite of passage between adolescence and adulthood.

A poll conducted online between July 14 and 20, 2003 (Harris 2003), found that 16% of all adults in the United States have at least one tattoo. The highest incidence of tattoos was found among the gay, lesbian and bisexual population (31%) and among Americans ages 25 to 29 years (36%) and 30 to 39 years (28%). Regionally, people living in the West (20%) were more likely to have tattoos. Democrats were more likely to have tattoos (18%) than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%); approximately equal percentages of males (16%) and females (15%) have tattoos.

Negative associations

Secular attitudes

Some employers, especially in professional fields, still look down on tattoos or regard them as contributing to an unprofessional appearance. Tattoos can therefore impair a wearer's career prospects, particularly when inked on places not typically covered by clothing, such as the hands, neck or face. It is not unusual for tattoo artists to refuse to tattoo these very conspicuous areas.

In some cultures, tattoos still have negative associations despite their increasing popularity, and are generally associated with criminality in the public's mind; therefore those who choose to be tattooed in such countries usually keep their tattoos covered for fear of reprisal. For example, many businesses such as gyms, hot springs and recreational facilities in Japan still ban people with visible tattoos, in part because of their association in the popular imagination with the yakuza, or Japanese mafia. In Western cultures as well, some dress codes specify that tattoos must be covered.

According to popular belief, most triad members in Hong Kong have a tattoo of a black dragon on the left biceps and one of a white tiger on the right; in fact, many people in Hong Kong use "left a black dragon, right a white tiger" as a euphemism for a triad member. It is widely believed that one of the initiation rites in becoming a triad member is silently withstanding the pain of receiving a large tattoo in one sitting, usually performed in the traditional "hand-poked" style. One reason the Chinese associate tattoos with criminals is because historically criminals who were released from prison for minor crimes were given a tattoo on their face as a "warning sign" to other people.[citation needed]

In the United States many prisoners and criminal gangs use distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior, prison sentences, and organizational affiliation. This cultural use of tattoos predates the widespread popularity of tattoos in the general population, so older people may still associate tattoos with criminality. At the same time, members of the U.S. military have an equally established and longstanding history of tattooing to indicate military units, battles, etc., and this association is also widespread among older Americans. Tattooing is also widespread in the British Armed Forces.

Tattoos can have additional negative associations for women; "tramp stamp" and other similarly derogatory slang phrases are sometimes used to describe a tattoo on a woman's lower back.

Abrahamic religious prohibitions

Some followers of Abrahamic religionsóJudaism, Christianity, and Islamófeel that their religious doctrine proscribes or constrains tattoos among followers, or has other religious significances.

Procedure

Modern tattoo machine in use: here outfitted with a 5-needle setup, but number of needles depends on size and shading desired
Modern tattoo machine in use: here outfitted with a 5-needle setup, but number of needles depends on size and shading desired

Some tribal cultures traditionally created tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents; some cultures continue this practice, which may be an adjunct to scarification. Some cultures create tattooed marks by hand-tapping the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones or, in modern times, needles. Traditional Japanese tattoos (irezumi) are still "hand-poked," that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel.

The most common method of tattooing in modern times is the electric tattoo machine, which inserts ink into the skin via a group of needles that are soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 80 to 150 times a second.

The modern electric tattoo machine is far removed from the machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891. O'Reilly's machine was based on the rotary technology of the electric engraving device invented by Thomas Edison. Modern tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils. The first coil machine was patented by Thomas Riley in London, 1891 using a single coil. The first twin coil machine, the predecessor of the modern configuration, was invented by another Englishman, Alfred Charles South of London, in 1899.

"Natural" tattoos

According to George Orwell, workers in coal mines would develop characteristic tattoos owing to coal dust getting into wounds. This can also occur with substances like gunpowder. Similarly, a traumatic tattoo occurs when a substance such as asphalt is rubbed into a wound as the result of some kind of accident or trauma. These are particularly difficult to remove as they tend to be spread across several different layers of skin, and scarring or permanent discoloration is almost unavoidable depending on the location. In addition, tattooing of the gingiva from implantation of amalgam particles during dental filling placement and removal is possible and not uncommon.

Dyes and pigments

A wide range of dyes and pigments can be used in tattoos, from inorganic materials like titanium dioxide and iron oxides to carbon black, azo dyes, and acridine, quinoline, phthalocyanine and naphthol derivates, dyes made from ash, and other mixtures.

Iron oxide pigments are used in greater extent in cosmetic tattooing. Many pigments were found to be used in a survey of professional tattooists. Recently, a blacklight-reactive tattoo ink using PMMA microcapsules has surfaced. The technical name is BIOMETRIX System-1000, and is marketed under the name "Chameleon Tattoo Ink".

Studio hygiene

The properly equipped tattoo studio will use biohazard containers for objects that have come into contact with blood or bodily fluids, sharps containers for old needles, and an autoclave for sterilizing tools. Studios are also required by law to have hot water.

A reputable tattooist will wash his or her hands before starting to tattoo a client, and between clients, as well as wear disposable latex gloves (a new pair for each client). He or she will refuse to tattoo minors without parental consent, (in some states it is illegal to tattoo a minor even with parental consent) as well as intoxicated people, people with contraindicated skin conditions, or those incapable of consent due to mental incapacity, and attempt to ensure that the customer is satisfied with and sure about the design before applying it. Moreover, she or he will open new, sterile needle packages in front of the client, and always use new, sterile or sterile disposable instruments and supplies, and fresh ink for each session (loaded into disposable containers which are discarded after each client).

Membership in professional organizations, or certificates of appreciation/achievement, generally require that an artist is aware of the latest trends in equipment and sterilization. However, many of the most notable tattooists do not belong to any association. While specific requirements vary between jurisdictions, many mandate formal training in bloodborne pathogens, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and cross contamination. A local department of health regulates tattoo studios in many jurisdictions.

Proper tattoo furniture should also be used to ensure the comfort of the client. A comfortable tattoo chair will decrease the risk of the client having to readjust. This will minimize the risk of the tattoo artist making a mistake. A reputable and leading tattoo furniture company is TATSoul Tattoo Furniture.

Aftercare

Tattoo artists, and people with tattoos, vary widely in preferred methods of caring for new tattoos. Some artists recommend keeping a new tattoo wrapped for the first twenty-four hours, others suggest removing temporary bandaging after a few hours. Many western tattooists advise against allowing too much contact with water for the first few days or weeks; in Japan, in contrast, a new tattoo is often bathed in very hot water early and often.

General consensus for care advises against removing the scab that forms on a new tattoo and avoiding exposing tattoos to the sun for extended periods, which can contribute to fading. Various products may be recommended for application to the skin, ranging from those intended for the treatment of cuts, burns and scrapes, to petroleum jelly or lanolin. In recent years, specific commercial products have been developed for tattoo aftercare. In other cases, the client will be advised to use no products on a new tattoo.

Tattoo removal

While tattoos are considered permanent, it is possible, to varying degrees, to remove them. Complete removal, however, is often not possible, and the expense and pain of removing them typically will be greater than the expense and pain of applying them. Some jurisdictions will pay for the voluntary removal of gang tattoos.

Tattoo removal is most commonly performed using lasers that react with the ink in the tattoo, and break it down. The broken-down ink is then absorbed by the body. This technique often requires many repeated visits to remove even a small tattoo, and may result in permanent scarring.

A newer method of removal is by tattooing glycolic acid into the skin with a tattoo machine: the acid pushes the ink to the surface of the skin in the scab, which is later removed. This method purportedly scars less than laser techniques. Glycolic acid is also used for facial peels; when used for tattoo removal, a lower percentage mix is used.[citation needed]

Some wearers opt to cover an unwanted tattoo with a new tattoo. This is commonly known as a coverup or cover-up. An artfully done cover-up may render the old tattoo completely invisible, though this will depend largely on the size, style, colours and techniques used on the old tattoo. Some shops and artists use laser removal machines to break down and lighten undesired tattoos to make coverage with a new tattoo easier.

Overall, green-based ink is the most difficult to remove. Black ink is most readily broken down by the laser, and unprofessional tattoos done at home are the easiest ones to remove, due to the low quality of ink used, as well as the ineffective manner in which they were applied.

Health risks

Because it requires breaking the skin barrier, tattooing may carry health risks, including infection and allergic reactions. In the United States, for example, a person who receives a tattoo will generally be prohibited from donating blood for 12 months (FDA 2000).

Modern western tattooers reduce such risks by following universal precautions, working with single-use items, and sterilizing their equipment after each use. Many jurisdictions require that tattooists have bloodborne pathogen training, such as is provided through the Red Cross.

Infection

Since tattoo instruments come in contact with blood and bodily fluids, diseases may be transmitted if the instruments are used on more than one person without being sterilized. However, infection from tattooing in clean and modern tattoo studios employing single-use needles is rare. In amateur tattoos, such as those applied in prisons, however, there is an elevated risk of infection. To address this problem, a program was introduced in Canada as of the summer of 2005 that provides legal tattooing in prisons, both to reduce health risks and to provide inmates with a marketable skill. Inmates will be trained to staff and operate the tattoo parlors once six of them open successfully;[1] the program, however, was discontinued by the new Canadian government in 2006.[citation needed]

Infections that could be transmitted via the use of unsterilized tattoo equipment include surface infections of the skin, tetanus, staph, some forms of hepatitis, and HIV. No person in the United States is known to have contracted HIV via a commercially-applied tattooing process. Tetanus risk is prevented by having an up-to-date tetanus booster prior to being tattooed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that: no data exist in the United States indicating that persons with exposures to tattooing alone are at increased risk for HCV infection. In 2006, the CDC reported 3 clusters with 44 cases of methicillin-resistant staph infection traced to unlicensed tattooists (MMWR 55(24)).

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions to tattoo pigments are uncommon except for certain brands of red and green. People who are sensitive or allergic to certain metals may react to pigments in the skin with swelling and/or itching, and/or oozing of clear fluid called sebum. Such reactions are quite rare, however, and most artists do recommend a patch test prior to tattooing.

There is also a small risk of anaphylactic shock (hypersensitive reaction) in those who are susceptible.

Tattoo Inks

Although the FDA technically requires premarket approval of inks; because of limited resources, it has not actually approved the use of any ink for tattoos.[citation needed] The first known study to characterize the composition of these inks was started in 2005 at Northern Arizona University (Finley-Jones and Wagner).

There has been concern expressed about the interaction between magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures and tattoo inks, some of which contain trace metals. Allegedly, the magnetic fields produced by MRI machines could interact with these metal particles, potentially causing burns or distortions in the image. The television show MythBusters tested the theory, and concluded that there is no risk of interaction between tattoo inks and MRI.

However, research by Shellock and Crues reports adverse reactions to MRI and tattoos in a very small number of cases. Wagle and Smith also documented an isolated case of Tattoo-Induced Skin Burn During MR Imaging.

Temporary tattoos

Temporary tattoos are not really tattoos. Rather, they are a type of body sticker, like a decal. They are generally applied to the skin using water to temporarily transfer the design to the surface of the skin. Temporary tattoos are easily removed with soap and water or oil-based creams, and are intended to last only a few days.

Magician Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) claims in his book "Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic" that he had a special tattoo made on his arm that used no pigment (it was simply a needle). Penn states that the tattoo left a red scar that had a discenrable pattern, but would heal to near invisibility after five or six years.

Other forms of temporary "tattoos" are henna tattoos, also known as Mehndi, and the marks made by the stains of silver nitrate on the skin when exposed to ultraviolet light. Both methods, silver nitrate and henna, can take up to two weeks to fade from the skin.

Airbrush tattoos is another popular form of temporary tattoos. This process involves using a stencil design and blowing paint through the stencil onto the skin. This form of tattoo lasts approximately a week.

Forensics

Tattoos are sometimes utilized by forensic pathologists to help them identify burned, putrefied, or mutilated bodies. Tattoo pigment is deep enough in the skin that even severe burns will often not destroy a tattoo.

References

Anthropological

Popular and artistic

Medical

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