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How does tattoo work?

How do tattoos work?  PART 1   

  • Ever wonder how tattoos stay in your skin?

      Let's start with a quick biology lesson on skin.

    There’s 3 main layers in our skin : The Epidermis , the Dermis and the Subcutaneous( Fat)

    The Epidermis Layer is on the surface, sensing our environment and acting as a barrier to keep infectious organisms out. The epidermis is constantly making new skin cells. It grows from the bottom up, like grass on a lawn. The skin cells travel up to the top layer and flake off, about a month after they start.

    The Dermis Layer is in the middle, making sweat and natural skin oils, growing hair, bringing blood to your skin and contains the nerves. This layer will be home to your professional tattoo! 

    The Subcutaneous Layer is a layer of mostly fatty tissue layer beneath your dermis, next to your muscles and bones. It helps control the temperature of the skin and of the body. The size of this layer varies throughout the body and from person to person.

    A professionally executed tattoo is done in the dermis skin layer. The needle must penetrate through the ever changing epidermis to allow the ink to settle in the dermis. If ink is settled in the epidermis, much of the tattoo can begin to disappear within weeks of tattooing. However, going too deep and puncturing the subcutaneous layer can cause permanent scarring. It’s common to see a bruising effect or “blow out” in the subcutaneous layer as the fat tissue in the subcutaneous layer doesn’t hold ink and it tends to spread out beneath the tattoo. Over several months, sometimes years, the ink that has “blown out” can sometimes fade as it gets reabsorbed and eliminated through the body’s natural healing process. 


    1. How does tattoo ink stay in the skin (the dermis)?


    As soon as the tattoo needle punctures the skin and ink is deposited, the body’s immune system springs into action to try and repair the skin. It perceives the ink as a threat and sends macrophages to the area to try to contain it.


    Unfortunately for the macrophages (and fortunately for tattoo lovers), the ink particles are way too big for them to absorb and destroy. So, they end up absorbing the ink and keeping them permanently in the dermis.   

    However, over time and with frequent sun exposure, the ink particles will get broken down into smaller particles. This allows the body to get rid of the pigment where it gets carried away by the bloodstream, into the lymph nodes, and eventually, gets eliminated as waste. This is why tattoos fade as years go by.

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