Tattoos are a common form of skin decoration found worldwide with a long history as part of cultural or religious rituals. They're also frequently used as a form of self-decoration in Western society.
Technically a series of puncture wounds, a tattoo takes shape as ink is injected into the second layer of skin, called the dermis. A tattoo machine uses a sterilized needle and tubes to deliver the ink through the needle in rapid up and down movements. The needle may move between 50 and 3,000 times per minute as the tattoo artist follows a flash or stencil of the chosen design. Once the design outline is blacked in, the artist fills in the shading before completing solid areas of color.
Any puncture wound is susceptible to bacterial or viral infection. This is why it's imperative to work with a licensed tattoo artist who follows stringent infection control standards. An artist should use single-use needles and disposable materials along with sterile procedures, such as:
- Wearing latex gloves;
- Cleaning the affected area after each stage of tattooing; and
- Using an autoclave to sterilize any reusable materials or equipment.
When the tattoo is complete, it's important to care for the damaged skin until fully healed. Keep a bandage on the area for at least the first 24 hours. Use antibacterial soap to wash the tattoo once a day and gently pat the area dry. Try to avoid touching the tattoo and don't pick at scabs as they form — use an antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection. Don't use petroleum jelly as it may cause fading. Put ice on the tattoo to reduce redness and/or swelling. And finally, keep the tattoo away from water and out of the sun until it has completely healed. Skin infections or allergic reactions to the tattoo ink are general complications. It's not recommended to get any tattoo if you have a chronic skin condition such as eczema.
Tattoos are designed to last a lifetime. But, if your feelings about tattoos change, laser removal is available. The technology uses short bursts of targeted light targeted at the tattoo pigments deep in the skin layers. The light stimulates the immune system to remove the embedded pigments. Tattoo removal takes time and can be painful. Because of the risk of infection, it's critical any tattoo removal be completed in a sterile environment and manner. Aftercare for laser removal treatments is similar to tattoo care itself.