Tattoos are created by injecting ink into the dermis (the second layer of skin) to incorporate a form of skin decoration. Tattooing is practiced worldwide and has often been a part of cultural or religious rituals. In Western societies today, tattooing has re-emerged as a popular form of self-decoration.
Technically, a tattoo is a series of puncture wounds. An electric device uses a sterilized needle and tubes to penetrate to a deeper layer of skin and inject ink into the opening it creates. The tattoo machine moves the needle up and down between 50 and 3,000 times per minute. The machine’s operator, a tattoo artist, will use a flash or stencil of the design you select. Typically the design is outlined in black, shading is filled in and then solid areas of color are completed.
Any puncture wound is susceptible to bacterial or viral infection, which is why it is imperative that you work with a licensed tattoo artist who adheres to stringent infection control standards. Single-use needles and disposable materials should be used in conjunction with sterile procedures, such as the artist wearing latex gloves, cleaning the affected area after each stage of tattooing and using an autoclave to sterilize any materials or equipment that is re-used.
After the tattooing is completed, it is important to care for the damaged skin until it fully heals. Keep a bandage on the area for at least the first 24 hours. Wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap once daily and gently pat it dry. Avoid touching the tattoo and don’t pick at the scabs as they form. You can also use an antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection. Do not use petroleum jelly because it may cause fading. If you experience redness or swelling, put ice on the tattoo. Keep your tattoo away from water and out of the sun until it has completely healed.
Complications from tattoos generally involve either an infection or an allergic reaction to the ink. If you have a skin condition, like eczema, you should probably avoid getting any tattoo.
Tattoos are designed to last for a lifetime. However, if your feelings about a tattoo change over time, there is a laser removal technology. The process tends to be expensive, requires multiple visits and can be painful. Essentially, the laser’s energy is aimed at pigments in the tattoo. The laser emits short zaps of targeted light that reach the deeper layers of the skin. This stimulates the body’s immune system to remove the pigment. It is critical that the procedure be handled in a sterile manner in order to prevent infection. Home care following laser removal treatments is similar to the care recommended for getting a tattoo.