A tattoo is body art made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Tattoos on humans are a type of decorative body modification, while tattoos on animals are most commonly used for identification purposes. Tattooing has been practiced for centuries worldwide. The Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, traditionally had facial tattoos. Today one can find Berbers of Tamazgha (North Africa), Māori of New Zealand, Hausa people of Northern Nigeria, Arabic people in East-Turkey and Atayal of Taiwan with facial tattoos. Tattooing was widespread among Polynesian peoples and among certain tribal groups in the Taiwan, Philippines, Borneo, Mentawai Islands, Africa, North America, South America, Mesoamerica, Europe, Japan, Cambodia, New Zealand and Micronesia. Despite some taboos surrounding tattooing, the art continues to be popular in many parts of the world.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From Polynesian tatau. The word tatau was introduced as a loan word into English, the pronunciation being changed to conform to English phonology as "tattoo".Sailors on later voyages both introduced the word and reintroduced the concept of tattooing to Europe.
Tattoo enthusiasts may refer to tattoos as "Ink", "Tats", "Art", "Pieces", or "Work"; and to the tattooists as "Artists". The latter usage is gaining greater support, with mainstream art galleries holding exhibitions of both conventional and custom tattoo designs. Beyond Skin, at the Museum of Croydon, is an example of this as it challenges the stereotypical view of tattoos and who has them. Copyrighted tattoo designs that are mass-produced and sent to tattoo artists are known as flash, a notable instance of industrial design. Flash sheets are prominently displayed in many tattoo parlors for the purpose of providing both inspiration and ready-made tattoo images to customers.
The Japanese word irezumi means "insertion of ink" and can mean tattoos using tebori, the traditional Japanese hand method, a Western-style machine, or for that matter, any method of tattooing using insertion of ink. The most common word used for traditional Japanese tattoo designs is Horimono. Japanese may use the word "tattoo" to mean non-Japanese styles of tattooing.
The anthropologist Ling Roth in 1900 described four methods of skin marking and suggested they be differentiated under the names of tatu, moko, cicatrix, and keloid.
Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice at least since around Neolithic times. Other mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the second millennium BC have been discovered, such as the Mummy of Amunet from ancient Egypt and the mummies at Pazyryk on the Ukok Plateau.
Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other central and northern European tribes were often heavily tattooed, according to surviving accounts. The Picts were famously tattooed (or scarified) with elaborate dark blue woad (or possibly copper for the blue tone) designs. Julius Caesar described these tattoos in Book V of his Gallic Wars (54 BC).
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.
Tattooing in the Western world today has its origins in Polynesia, and in the discovery of tatau by eighteenth century explorers.
Types of tattoos
The American Academy of Dermatology distinguishes 5 types of tattoos:traumatic tattoos, also called "natural tattoos", that result from injuries, especially asphalt from road injuries or pencil lead; amateur tattoos; professional tattoos, both via traditional methods and modern tattoo machines; cosmetic tattoos, also known as "permanent makeup"; and medical tattoos.
According to George Orwell, coal miners could develop characteristic tattoos owing to coal dust getting into wounds. 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. A common example of such accidental tattoos is the result of a deliberate or accidental stabbing with a pencil or pen, leaving graphite or ink beneath the skin.
Amateur and professional tattoos
Many tattoos serve 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. The symbolism and impact of tattoos varies in different places and cultures. Tattoos may show how a person feels about a relative (commonly mother/father or daughter/son) or about an unrelated person.
Today, people choose to be tattooed for cosmetic, sentimental/memorial, religious, and magical reasons, and to symbolize their belonging to or identification with particular groups, including criminal gangs but also a particular ethnic group or law-abiding subculture. In Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, the yantra tattoo is used for protection against evil and to increase luck.
In the Philippines certain tribal groups believe that tattoos have magical qualities, and help to protect their bearers. Most traditional tattooing in the Philippines is related to the bearer's accomplishments in life or rank in the tribe. Among Catholic Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, tattoos with Christian symbols would be inked on to protect themselves from the Muslim Turks.
Extensive decorative tattooing is common among members of traditional freak shows and by performance artists who follow in their tradition.
People have also been forcibly tattooed. Tattoos have also been used for identification in other ways.
Gladiators and slaves were likewise tattooed, exported slaves were tattooed with the words "tax paid" and it was a common practice to tattoo "Stop me, I'm a runaway" on their foreheads. Emperor Constantine I banned tattooing the face around AD 330 and the Second Council of Nicaea banned all body markings as a pagan practice in AD 787. The Latin word for "tattoo" was "stigma", hence the English word "stigmatise".
In the period of early contact between the Māori and Europeans, Māori chiefs sometimes drew their moko (facial tattoo) on documents in place of a signature. Tattoos are sometimes used by forensic pathologists to help them identify burned, putrefied, or mutilated bodies. Tattoo pigment is buried deep enough in the skin that even severe burns are not likely to destroy a tattooFor many centuries seafarers have undergone tattooing for the purpose of enabling identification after drowning. An identification tattoo on a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
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. Also, animals are occasionally tattooed to prevent sunburn (on the nose, for example). Such tattoos are often performed by a veterinarian and in most cases the animals are anesthetized during the process. Branding is used for similar reasons and is often performed without anesthesia, but is different from tattooing as no ink or dye is inserted during the process.
When used as a form of cosmetics, tattooing includes permanent makeup and hiding or neutralizing skin discolorations. Permanent makeup is the use of tattoos to enhance eyebrows, lips (liner and/or lipstick), eyes (liner), and even moles, usually with natural colors, as the designs are intended to resemble makeup.
Medical tattoos are used to ensure instruments are properly located for repeated application of radiotherapy and for the areola in some forms of breast reconstruction. Tattooing has also been used to convey medical information about the wearer (e.g. blood group, medical condition, etc). Tattoos are used in skin tones to cover vitiligo, skin pigmentation disorder.
Tattoos have experienced a resurgence in popularity in many parts of the world, particularly in North and South 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 arts 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.
During the first decade of the 21st century, the presence of tattoos became evident within pop culture, inspiring television shows such as A&E's Inked and TLC's Miami Ink and LA Ink. The decoration of blues singer Janis Joplin with a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast, by the San Francisco tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, has been called a seminal moment in the popular acceptance of tattoos as art. Contemporary art exhibitions and visual art institutions have featured tattoos as art through such means as displaying tattoo flash, examining the works of tattoo artists, or otherwise incorporating examples of body art into mainstream exhibits. One such 2009 Chicago exhibition Freaks & Flash featured both examples of historic body art as well as the tattoo artists who
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. However, some Christian groups, such as the Knights of St. John of Malta, sported tattoos to show their allegiance. 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.
Tattooing has become a fad among celebrities. David Beckham, an international soccer star, caught tattoo ‘fever’ beginning with the birth of his first son back in 1999 when he had Malloy ink his son’s name, “Brooklyn” at the bottom of his back. Many studies have been done of the tattooed population and society's view of tattoos. It found that 36% of Americans ages 18–29, 24% of those 30-40 and 15% of those 41-51 had a tattoo. In September 2006, the Pew Research Center conducted a telephone survey which found that 36% of Americans ages 18–25, 40% of those 26-40 and 10% of those 41-64 had a tattoo. In January 2008, a survey conducted online by Harris Interactive estimated that 14% of all adults in the United States have a tattoo, just slightly down from 2003, when 16% had a tattoo. Among age groups, 9% of those ages 18–24, 32% of those 25-29, 25% of those 30-39 and 12% of those 40-49 have tattoos, as do 8% of those 50-64. Men are just slightly more likely to have a tattoo than women (15% versus 13%)
In Japan, tattoos are strongly associated with organized crime organizations known as the yakuza, particularly full body tattoos done the traditional Japanese way (Tebori). Many public Japanese bathhouses (sentō) and gymnasiums often openly ban those bearing large or graphic tattoos in an attempt to prevent Yakuza from entering. In the United States many prisoners and criminal gangs use distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior, prison sentences, and organizational affiliation.At the same time, members of the U.S. military have an equally well established and longstanding history of tattooing to indicate military units, battles, kills, etc., an association which remains widespread among older Americans. Tattooing is also common in the British Armed Forces.
Tattooing was also used by the Nazi regime in Nazi concentration camps to tag prisoners.
Insofar as this cultural or subcultural use of tattoos predates the widespread popularity of tattoos in the general population, tattoos are still associated with criminality. Although the general acceptance of tattoos is on the rise in Western society, they still carry a heavy stigma among certain social groups. Tattoos are generally considered an important part of the culture of the Russian mafia.
The prevalence of women in the tattoo industry, along with larger numbers of women bearing tattoos, appears to be changing negative perceptions.
Modern tattoo machine in use: here outfitted with a 5-needle setup, but number of needles depends on size and shading desired.
Tattooing involves the placement of pigment into the skin's dermis, the layer of dermal tissue underlying the epidermis. As healing proceeds, the damaged epidermis flakes away (eliminating surface pigment) while deeper in the skin granulation tissue forms, which is later converted to connective tissue by collagen growth. This mends the upper dermis, where pigment remains trapped within fibroblasts, ultimately concentrating in a layer just below the dermis/epidermis boundary. Its presence there is stable, but in the long term (decades) the pigment tends to migrate deeper into the dermis, accounting for the degraded detail of old tattoos.
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 (made like needles) with clay formed disks or, in modern times, needles. Traditional Japanese tattoos (Horimono) 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. Traditional Hawaiian hand-tapped tattoos are experiencing a renaissance, after the practice was nearly extinguished in the years following Western contact. The tattooist chooses the design, rather than the wearer, based on genealogical information.
Traditional two coil tattoo machine
The most common method of tattooing in modern times is the electric tattoo machine, which inserts ink into the skin via a single needle or a group of needles that are soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The needles are single-use needles that come packaged individually. The tattoo artist must wash not only his or her hands, but he or she must also wash the area that will be tattooed. The time it takes to get a tattoo is in proportion with its size and complexity. The modern electric tattoo machine is far removed from the machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891. Modern tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils. The first coil machine was patented by Thomas Riley in London, 1891 using a single coil.
Rotation- Tattoo- Machine by Manfred Kohrs; Number 1978 K
Another tattoo machine was developed 1970-1978 by the German tattoo artists Horst Heinrich Streckenbach (1929–2001) and Manfred Kohrs.
Dyes and pigments
Early tattoo inks were obtained directly from nature and were extremely limited in pigment variety. In ancient Hawaii, for example, kukui nut ash was blended with coconut oil to produce an ebony ink. Today, an almost unlimited number of colors and shades of tattoo ink are mass-produced and sold to parlors worldwide. Tattoo artists commonly mix these inks to create their own unique pigments.
A variety of inks at a station in a tattoo shop. The small paper cups on the counter are used for mixing inks.
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.
Modern tattooing inks are carbon based pigments that have uses outside of commercial tattoo applications. In 2005 at Northern Arizona University a study characterized the makeup of tattoo inks (Finley-Jones and Wagner). The FDA expects local authorities to legislate and test tattoo pigments and inks made for the use of permanent cosmetics. In California, the state prohibits certain ingredients and pursues companies who fail to notify the consumer of the contents of tattoo pigments.
There has been concern expressed about the interaction between magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures and tattoo pigments, some of which contain trace metals. The television show MythBusters tested the hypothesis, and found a slight interaction between commonly used tattoo inks and MRI. The interaction was stronger with inks containing high levels of iron oxide.
Professional tattooists rely primarily on the same pigment base found in cosmetics. Amateurs will often use drawing inks such as low grade India ink, but these inks often contain impurities and toxins which can lead to illness or infection.
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. Proper hygiene requires a body modification artist to wash his or her hands before starting to prepare a client for the stencil, between clients, and at any other time where cross contamination can occur. Also, disposable gloves should be taken off after each stage of tattooing. The same gloves should not be used to clean the tattoo station, tattoo the client, or clean the tattoo; the tattoo artist should change their disposable gloves at each stage. In some states and countries it is illegal to tattoo a minor even with parental consent, and (except in the case of medical tattoos) it is forbidden to tattoo impaired persons, people with contraindicated skin conditions, those who are pregnant or nursing, those incapable of consent due to mental incapacity or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Tattoo artist drawing a design on a client before permanent tattooing. Disposable gloves are used in modern tattooing for hygiene.
Before the tattooing begins the client is asked to approve the final position of the applied stencil. After approval is given the artist 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 ink caps which are discarded after each client). While specific requirements to become a tattooist vary between jurisdictions, many mandate only formal training in bloodborne pathogens, and cross contamination. The local department of health regulates tattoo studios in many jurisdictions.
For example, according to the health departments in Oregon and Hawaii, tattoo artists in these states are required to take and pass a test ascertaining their knowledge of health and safety precautions, as well as the current state regulations. Performing a tattoo in Oregon state without a proper and current license or in an unlicensed facility is a felony offense.
Tattoo specific salves have become prevalent in recent years.
Tattoo artists, and people with tattoos, vary widely in their preferred methods of caring for new tattoos. Some artists recommend keeping a new tattoo wrapped for the first twenty-four hours, while others suggest removing temporary bandaging after two hours or less to allow the skin to 'breathe'. General consensus for care advises against removing the scab that may form on a new tattoo, and avoiding exposing one's tattoo to the sun for extended periods for at least 3 weeks; both of these can contribute to fading of the image. Furthermore, it is agreed that a new tattoo needs to be kept clean. In recent years, specific commercial products have been developed for tattoo aftercare. Although opinions about these products vary, there is near total agreement that either alone or in addition to some other product, soap and warm water work well to keep a tattoo clean and free from infection.If a tattoo becomes infected (uncommon but possible if one neglects to properly clean their tattoo) or if the scab falls off too soon (e.g. if it absorbs too much water and sloughs off early or is picked or scraped off), then the ink will not be properly fixed in the skin and the final image will be negatively affected.
Because it requires breaking the skin barrier, tattooing may carry health risks, including infection and allergic reactions. Modern tattooists reduce such risks by following universal precautions, working with single-use items, and sterilizing their equipment after each use. In amateur tattoos, such as those applied in prisons, however, there is an elevated risk of infection. Infections that can theoretically be transmitted by the use of unsterilized tattoo equipment or contaminated ink include surface infections of the skin, herpes simplex virus, tetanus, staph, fungal infections, some forms of hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV. In the United States there have been no reported cases of HIV contracted via commercially-applied tattooing process.
Tattoo inks have been described as "remarkably nonreactive histologically". However, cases of allergic reactions to tattoo inks, particularly certain colors, have been medically documented. Occasionally, when a blood vessel is punctured during the tattooing procedure a bruise/hematoma may appear.
While tattoos are considered permanent, it is sometimes possible to remove them with laser treatments, fully or partially. The expense and pain of removing tattoos will typically be greater than the expense and pain of applying them. Pre-laser tattoo removal methods include dermabrasion, salabrasion (scrubbing the skin with salt), cryosurgery, and excision which is sometimes still used along with skin grafts for larger tattoos.
Temporary tattoos are popular with models and children as they involve no permanent alteration of the skin but produce a similar appearance that can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. The most common style is a type of body sticker similar to a decal, which is typically transferred to the skin using water. Henna tattoos (Mehndi) and silver nitrate stains that appear when exposed to ultraviolet light can take up to two weeks to fade from the skin. Temporary airbrush tattoos (TATs) are applied by covering the skin with a stencil and spraying the skin with ink. In the past, this form of tattoo only lasted about a week. With the newest inks, tattoos can reasonably last for up to two weeks. Airbrush tattoos are generally sprayed with cosmetic paints. Unlike henna tattoos, the cosmetic paints can be rubbed off with isopropyl alcohol.