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Over the last few years, tattoos have become increasingly popular, with it estimated that one person in five – 20% – of people in the UK has one, or more (!). Not surprisingly, for young adults, the figure is much higher. One person in three or 33%. 
 
Despite their permanent nature, the main concerns all seem to relate to the process of having the tattoo done. There are no prizes for guessing that the amount of pain which may be involved comes top of the list (!), followed by the hygiene / cleanliness of the Tattoo Parlour. 
 
Interestingly, few people seem to consider what the process of tattooing actually involves. Perhaps, like any operation, they’d prefer not to know the gory details (!). Or, ask the question of what makes a tattoo permanent or what the ink may contain. 
 
 
So, let’s start with the process of tattooing itself. 
 
Well, it’s a very simple process. A thin needle, containing a drop of ink, is inserted through the skin and down into the Dermis, the structural layer of the Skin. This process is repeated many times, slowly building up the shape and colour of the tattoo. Originally, this would have been done manually, one needle piercing at a time, with the resulting pain being seen as an important part of the process (!). These days, the process is much quicker, with the handheld equipment being likened to a sewing machine, with many pricks of the needle per second. And that’s probably enough detail for one post! 
 
Which brings us on to what makes a tattoo permanent and this is down to two different factors. 
 
The first is all about where the ink is deposited. While tattoos seem to be on the surface of Skin itself, the ink is further down, in the Dermis. As already mentioned, this is the structural layer of Skin and made up of Connective Tissue which provides support to the top layer of Skin, along with all the structures needed to nourish it. Blood Vessels, Oil and Sweat Glands, Nerves and Hair Follicles. 
 
Ink is deposited by the needle in the Connective Tissue, into what is effectively a small wound. As with any wound, when it heals, a small scar is left which contains the ink. This is what forms the tattoo and makes it permanent. 
 
With collagen being used by the body to help heal the wound – which is why scars last such a long time, even though they may become less noticeable – this is the reason that tattoos are permanent. Their colour and “sharpness” may slowly reduce over time, but never completely disappear. 
 
The second, is down to the ink itself. Traditionally, ink was plant or mineral based. Henna is particularly well known and could be used on the surface of the Skin – so, providing temporary results – or injected deeper into the Skin using a needle for more permanent tattoos. 
 
These days, inks have become much more complex, with many different ingredients and combinations. While the ink itself may still be water based, it also contains a mixture of solid particles, dyes and binders. These can include minerals such as iron, aluminium, titanium and copper all of which help ensure the “stability” and vibrancy of the tattoo. However, there are many other substances which can also be used, even printer’s inks or car paints. With inks having multiple ingredients, it can result in quite a cocktail of different chemicals, all being injected into the Skin to provide the desired tattoo. 
 
This is the reason why sensitivity and allergic reactions to tattoo ink can occur, sometimes a long time after the tattoo was done. Added to this while, in theory, the ink remains “locked” in the small scars, it can pass into the lymph fluid in the surrounding cells and then into the bloodstream and around the body. This can lead on to a general feeling of being “unwell” and low energy levels, both immediately after having a tattoo and longer term. In addition, if there was any contamination or a hygiene issue at the time of the tattoo, this can also lead to infections such as Hepatitis spreading around the body. 
 
So, where are we going with this? 
 
Well, for us, it’s all about making an informed decision. Yes, we appreciate it may seem more of a fashion question but it is, in effect, a medical procedure. This means it’s important to know what it involves, both in the short and long term. Any risks – both generally and for you particularly – as well as how to mitigate them. While tattoos can be removed – although this will leave scarring – the effects of the ink remaining deeper down in the Skin can continue for many years. 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
 
 
 
Picture by unknown author 
 
P.S. Serendipity strikes again! As we were doing e mails before posting this blog, one came in from mercola.com about an unexpected health risk linked to tattoos, you can find it here
 
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