A tattoo is a form of body modification where a design is made by
inserting ink, dyes and pigments, either indelible or temporary, into
the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. The art of making
tattoos is tattooing.
Tattoos fall into three broad categories: purely decorative (with no
specific meaning); symbolic (with a specific meaning pertinent to the
wearer); pictorial (a depiction of a specific person or item). Tattoos
have historically been regarded in the West as 'uncivilised', and over
the last 100 years the fashion has been associated mainly with
sailors, working men and criminals. By the end of the 20th Century
many Western stigmas of the tattoo culture had been dismissed and the
practice has become more acceptable and accessible for people of all
trades and levels of society.
2.1 Traumatic tattoos
2.2 Subcultural Connotations
3.1 United States
3.1.1 Protection papers
3.1.2 Freedom papers
5.1 Historical associations
5.2 Modern associations
6 Advertising and marketing
7 Health risks
9 Temporary tattoos
9.1 Types of temporary tattoos
9.1.1 Decal-style temporary tattoos
9.1.2 Metallic jewelry tattoos
9.1.3 Airbrush temporary tattoos
Henna temporary tattoos
Temporary tattoo safety
9.2.1 Decal-style temporary tattoo safety
9.2.2 Airbrush tattoo safety
Henna tattoo safety
10 Religious views
11 See also
13 External links
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A Māori chief with tattoos (moko) seen by Cook and his crew
The word tattoo, or tattow in the 18th century, is a loanword from the
Samoan word tatau, meaning "to strike". The Oxford English
Dictionary gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow,
tattow. From Polynesian (Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In
Marquesan, tatu." Before the importation of the Polynesian word, the
practice of tattooing had been described in the West as painting,
scarring, or staining.
This is not to be confused with the origins of the word for the
military drumbeat or performance — see military tattoo. In this
case, the English word tattoo is derived from the Dutch word
The first written reference to the word tattoo (or tatau) appears in
the journal of
Joseph Banks (24 February 1743 – 19 June 1820), the
naturalist aboard explorer Captain Cook's ship the HMS Endeavour: "I
shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly, each of them
is so marked by their humour or disposition". The word tattoo was
Europe by Cook, when he returned in 1769 from his first
voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand. In his narrative of the voyage, he
refers to an operation called "tattaw".
Tattoo enthusiasts may refer to tattoos as "ink", "pieces", "skin
art", "tattoo art", "tats", or "work"; to the creators as "tattoo
artists", "tattooers", or "tattooists"; and to places where they work
as "tattoo shops", "tattoo studios", or "tattoo parlors".
A tattooed man's back, Japan, c. 1875
Mainstream art galleries hold exhibitions of both conventional and
custom tattoo designs such as Beyond Skin, at the Museum of Croydon.
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
The Japanese word irezumi means "insertion of ink" and can mean
tattoos using tebori, the traditional Japanese hand method, a
Western-style machine, or 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.
Anthropologist Ling Roth in 1900 described four methods of skin
marking and suggested they be differentiated under the names "tatu",
"moko", "cicatrix", and "keloid".
American Academy of Dermatology
American Academy of Dermatology distinguishes five 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.
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According to George Orwell, coal miners could develop characteristic
tattoos owing to coal dust getting into wounds. This can also occur
with substances like gunpowder. 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. These are particularly difficult
to remove as they tend to be spread across several layers of skin, and
scarring or permanent discoloration is almost unavoidable depending on
the location. An amalgam tattoo is when amalgam particles are
implanted in to the soft tissues of the mouth, usually the gums,
during dental filling placement or removal. Another 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
Tattooing among females of the Koita people of Papua New Guinea
traditionally began at age five and was added to each year, with the
V-shaped tattoo on the chest indicating that she had reached
marriageable age. Photo taken in 1912.
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, amulets and
talismans, protection, and as punishment, like 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 artistic,
cosmetic, sentimental/memorial, religious, and magical reasons, and to
symbolize their belonging to or identification with particular groups,
including criminal gangs (see criminal tattoos) or a particular ethnic
group or law-abiding subculture. Although tattoos can represent
solidarity with a particular group, they can also showcase the
opposition of another group or concept. For example, women can
challenge beauty ideals by getting a tattoo of traditional symbols of
femininity but alter it into something that does not align into the
expectations of femininity. Like getting a tattoo of “...a
beautiful woman, such as Marilyn Monroe, or a traditional pinup, and
turning her into a zombie”.  Some Māori still choose to wear
intricate moko on their faces. In Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, the
yantra tattoo is used for protection against evil and to increase
luck. Text-based tattoos including quotes, lyrics,
personal mottos or scripture are popular in western culture. As an
example some Christians might have a
Psalm or verse from the Bible
tattooed on their body. Popular verses include John 3:16, Philippians
4:13, and Psalms 23.
Extensive decorative tattooing is common among members of traditional
freak shows and by performance artists who follow in their
An identification tattoo on a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration
People have also been forcibly tattooed.
A well-known example is the
Nazi practice of forcibly tattooing Nazi
concentration camp inmates with identification numbers during The
Holocaust as part of the Nazis' identification system, beginning in
fall 1941. The Nazis' SS introduced the practice at Auschwitz
concentration camp in order to identify the bodies of registered
prisoners in the concentration camps. During registration, the Nazis
would pierce the outlines of the serial-number digits onto the
prisoners' arms. Of the
Nazi concentration camps, only Auschwitz put
tattoos on inmates. The tattoo was the prisoner's camp number,
sometimes with a special symbol added: some Jews had a triangle, and
Romani had the letter "Z" (from German Zigeuner for "Gypsy"). In May
1944, the Jewish men received the letters "A" or "B" to indicate
particular series of numbers. For unknown reasons, this number series
for women never began again with the "B" series after they had reached
the number limit of 20,000 for the "A" series. The practice
continued until the last days of Auschwitz.
Tattoos have also been used for identification in other ways. As early
as the Zhou, Chinese authorities would employ facial tattoos as a
punishment for certain crimes or to mark prisoners or slaves. During
the Roman Empire, Roman soldiers were required by law to have
identifying tattoos on their hands in order to make desertion
difficult. 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. Owing to the Biblical strictures against the
practice, Emperor Constantine I banned tattooing the face around
AD 330, and the
Second Council of Nicaea
Second Council of Nicaea banned all body markings
as a pagan practice in AD 787.
In the period of early contact between the Māori and Europeans, the
Maori people hunted and decapitated each other for their moko tattoos,
which they traded for European items including axes and firearms.
Moko tattoos were facial designs worn to indicate lineage, social
position, and status within the tribe. The tattoo art was a sacred
marker of identity among the Maori and also referred to as a vehicle
for storing one's tapu, or spiritual being, in the afterlife.
Tattoo marking a deserter from the British Army; skin removed
Tattoos are sometimes used by forensic pathologists to help them
identify burned, putrefied, or mutilated bodies. As tattoo pigment
lies encapsulated deep in the skin, tattoos are not easily destroyed
even when the skin is burned.
Tattoos are also placed on animals, though rarely for decorative
reasons. Pets, show animals, thoroughbred horses, and livestock are
sometimes tattooed with identification and other marks. Tattooing with
a 'slap mark' on the shoulder or on the ear is the standard
identification method in commercial pig farming. 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, the mark instead being caused by permanent scarring of the
skin. Pet dogs and cats are sometimes tattooed with a serial
number (usually in the ear, or on the inner thigh) via which their
owners can be identified. However, the use of a microchip has become
an increasingly popular choice and since 2016 is a legal requirement
for all 8.5 million pet dogs in the UK.
Tattooed lip makeup
Main article: Permanent makeup
The cosmetic surgery industry continues to see a trend of increased
popularity for both surgical and noninvasive procedures. 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.
A growing trend in the US and UK is to place artistic titoos over the
surgical scars of a mastectomy. "More women are choosing not to
reconstruct after a mastectomy and tattoo over the scar tissue
instead.... The mastectomy tattoo will become just another option for
post cancer patients and a truly personal way of regaining control
over post cancer bodies and proving once and for all that breast
cancer is not just a pink ribbon." The tattooing of nipples on
reconstructed breasts remains in high demand, however.
Functional tattoos are used primarily for a purpose other than
aesthetics. One such use is to tattoo
Alzheimer patients with their
name, so they may be easily identified if they go missing.
Main article: Medical tattoo
Medical tattoo: blood type.
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.). Additionally, tattoos are used in skin tones to
cover vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disorder.
SS blood group tattoos (German: Blutgruppentätowierung) were worn by
members of the
Nazi Germany during World War II to
identify the individual's blood type. After the war, the tattoo was
taken to be prima facie, if not perfect, evidence of being part of the
Waffen-SS, leading to potential arrest and prosecution. This led a
number of Ex-
Waffen-SS to shoot themselves through the arm with a gun,
removing the tattoo and leaving scars like the ones resulting from pox
inoculation, making the removal less obvious.
Tattoos were probably also used in ancient medicine as part of the
treatment of the patient. In 1898, Daniel Fouquet, a medical doctor,
wrote an article on “medical tattooing” practices in Ancient
Egypt, in which he describes the tattooed markings on the female
mummies found at the
Deir el-Bahari site. He speculated that the
tattoos and other scarifications observed on the bodies may have
served a medicinal or therapeutic purpose: "The examination of these
scars, some white, others blue, leaves in no doubt that they are not,
in essence, ornament, but an established treatment for a condition of
the pelvis, very probably chronic pelvic peritonitis."
Main article: History of tattooing
A pe'a is a traditional male tattoo in Samoa. Samoan tattooing was
practiced continuously despite attempts at suppression during the
Preserved tattoos on ancient mummified human remains reveal that
tattooing has been practiced throughout the world for many
centuries. The Ainu, an indigenous people of Japan, traditionally
had facial tattoos, as did the Austroasians. Today, one can find
Atayal, Seediq, Truku, and Saisiyat of Taiwan, Berbers of Tamazgha
(North Africa), Yoruba, Fulani and Hausa people of Nigeria, and Māori
New Zealand with facial tattoos. Tattooing was popular among
certain ethnic groups in southern China, Polynesia, Africa, Borneo,
Cambodia, Europe, Prehistoric Age
Japan (Ainu People), the Mentawai
Islands, Mesoamerica, New Zealand, North America and South America,
the Philippines, Iron Age Britain, and Taiwan. In
2015, scientific re-assessment of the age of the two oldest known
tattooed mummies, identified
Ötzi as the oldest currently known
example. This body, with 61 tattoos, was found embedded in glacial ice
in the Alps, and was dated to 3,250 BC. In 2018, the oldest
figurative tattoos in the world were discovered on two mummies from
Egypt which are dated between 3351 and 3017 BC.
It is a myth that the modern revival of tattooing stems from Captain
James Cook's three voyages to the South Pacific in the late 18th
century. Certainly, Cook's voyages and the dissemination of the
texts and images from them brought more awareness about tattooing
(and, as noted above, imported the word "tattow" into Western
languages), but Europeans have been tattooed throughout
history. On Cook's first voyage in 1768, his science
officer and expedition botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, as well as artist
Sydney Parkinson and many others of the crew, returned to England with
tattoos, although many of these men would have had pre-existing
tattoos. Banks was a highly regarded member of the
English aristocracy that had acquired his position with Cook by
co-financing the expedition with ten thousand pounds, a very large sum
at the time. In turn, Cook brought back with him a tattooed Raiatean
man, Omai, whom he presented to King George and the English Court. On
subsequent voyages other crew members, from officers, such as American
John Ledyard, to ordinary seamen, were tattooed.
The first documented professional tattooist in Britain was established
in the port of
Liverpool in the 1870s. In Britain tattooing was still
largely associated with sailors and the lower or even criminal
class, but by the 1870s had become fashionable among some members
of the upper classes, including royalty, and in its upmarket
form it could be an expensive and sometimes painful process. A
marked class division on the acceptability of the practice continued
for some time in Britain. Recently a trend has arisen marketed as
'Stick and Poke' tattooing; primitive figures are permanently
inscribed by the user himself after he obtains a 'DIY' kit containing
needles, ink and a collection of suggestions.
Tattooed sailor aboard USS New Jersey in 1944
As most tattoos in the U.S. were done by Polynesian and Japanese
amateurs, tattoo artists were in great demand in port cities all over
the world, especially by European and American sailors. The first
recorded professional tattoo artist in the United States was a German
immigrant, Martin Hildebrandt. He opened a shop in New York City in
1846 and quickly became popular during the
American Civil War
American Civil War among
soldiers and sailors of both Union and Confederate militaries.
Hildebrandt began traveling from camp to camp to tattoo soldiers,
making his popularity increase, and also giving birth to the tradition
of getting tattoos while being an American serviceman. Soon after the
Civil War, tattoos became fashionable among upper-class young adults.
This trend lasted until the beginning of World War I. The invention of
the electric tattoo machine caused popularity of tattoos among the
wealthy to drop off. The machine made the tattooing procedure both
much easier and cheaper, thus, eliminating the status symbol tattoos
previously held, as they were now affordable for all socioeconomic
classes. The status symbol of a tattoo shifted from a representation
of wealth, to a mark typically seen on rebels and criminals. Despite
this change, tattoos remained popular among military servicemen, and
the tradition continues today.
Many studies have been done of the tattooed population and society's
view of tattoos. In June 2006, the Journal of the American Academy of
Dermatology published the results of a telephone survey of 2004. 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 that found that 36% of
Americans ages 18–25, 40% of those 26–40 and 10% of those 41–64
had a tattoo. They concluded that
Generation X and
Generation Y are
not afraid to express themselves through their appearance, and tattoos
are the most popular form of self-expression. In January 2008, a
survey conducted online by
Harris Interactive estimated that 14% of
all adults in the United States have a tattoo, 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 slightly more
likely to have a tattoo than women.
Richmond, Virginia, has been cited as one of the most tattooed cities
in the United States. That distinction led the Valentine Richmond
History Center to create an online exhibit titled "History, Ink: The
Tattoo Archive Project." The introduction to the exhibit notes, "In
the past, western culture associated tattoos with those individuals
who lived on the edge of society; however, today they are recognized
as a legitimate art form and widely accepted in mainstream culture."
Since the 1970s, tattoos have become a mainstream part of Western
fashion, common among all genders, to all economic classes,[citation
needed] and to age groups from the later teen years to middle age. For
many young Americans, the tattoo has taken on a decidedly different
meaning than for previous generations. The tattoo has "undergone
dramatic redefinition" and has shifted from a form of deviance to an
acceptable form of expression.
Protection papers were used by American sailors to prevent themselves
from being taken off American ships and impressed into the Royal Navy.
These were simple documents that described the sailor as being an
American sailor. Many of the protection certificates were so general,
and it was so easy to abuse the system, that many impressment officers
Royal Navy paid no attention to them. "In applying for a
duplicate Seaman's Protection Certificate in 1817, James Francis
stated that he 'had a protection granted him by the Collector of this
Port on or about 12 March 1806 which was torn up and destroyed by a
British Captain when at sea.'"  One way of making them more
specific was to describe a tattoo, which is highly personal, and thus
use that description to identify the seaman. As a result, many of the
later certificates carried information about tattoos and scars, as
well as other specific information. This also perhaps led to an
increase and proliferation of tattoos among American seamen.
"Frequently their 'protection papers' made reference to tattoos, clear
evidence that individual was a seafaring man; rarely did members of
the general public adorn themselves with tattoos."
"In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, tattoos were
as much about self-expression as they were about having a unique way
to identify a sailor's body should he be lost at sea or impressed by
the British navy. The best source for early American tattoos is the
protection papers issued following a 1796 congressional act to
safeguard American seamen from impressment. These proto-passports
catalogued tattoos alongside birthmarks, scars, race, and height.
Using simple techniques and tools, tattoo artists in the early
republic typically worked on board ships using anything available as
pigments, even gunpowder and urine. Men marked their arms and hands
with initials of themselves and loved ones, significant dates, symbols
of the seafaring life, liberty poles, crucifixes, and other
Because these protection papers were used to define freemen and
citizenship, many black sailors and other men also used them to show
that they were freemen if they were stopped by officials or slave
catchers. They also called them "free papers" because they certified
their non-slave status. Many of the freed blacks used descriptions of
tattoos for identification purposes on their freedom papers.
Main article: Process of tattooing
Man getting a tattoo
Tattooing involves the placement of pigment into the skin's dermis,
the layer of dermal tissue underlying the epidermis. After initial
injection, pigment is dispersed throughout a homogenized damaged layer
down through the epidermis and upper dermis, in both of which the
presence of foreign material activates the immune system's phagocytes
to engulf the pigment particles. 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 successive generations of
macrophages, 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.
A two coil tattoo machine
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.
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 unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the
needles in and out of the skin, usually 80 to 150 times a second. The
needles are single-use needles that come packaged individually.
Tattooing is regulated in many countries because of the associated
health risks to client and practitioner, specifically local infections
and virus transmission. Disposable plastic aprons and eye protection
can be worn depending on the risk of blood or other secretions
splashing into the eyes or clothing of the tattooist. Hand hygiene,
assessment of risks and appropriate disposal of all sharp objects and
materials contaminated with blood are crucial areas. The tattoo artist
must wash his or her hands and must also wash the area that will be
tattooed. Gloves must be worn at all times and the wound must be wiped
frequently with a wet disposable towel of some kind. All equipment
must be sterilized in a certified autoclave before and after every
use. It is good practice to provide clients with a printed consent
form that outlines risks and complications as well as instructions for
See also: Religious perspectives on tattooing
Mrs. M. Stevens Wagner with arms and chest covered in tattoos.
An 1888 Japanese woodblock print of a prostitute biting her
handkerchief in pain as her arm is tattooed. Based on historical
practice, the tattoo is likely the name of her lover.
The Government of Meiji
Japan had outlawed tattoos in the 19th
century, a prohibition that stood for 70 years before being repealed
in 1948. As of 6 June 2012 all new tattoos are forbidden for
employees of the city of Osaka. Existing tattoos are required to be
covered with proper clothing. The regulations were added to Osaka's
ethical codes, and employees with tattoos were encouraged to have them
removed. This was done because of the strong connection of tattoos
with the yakuza, or Japanese organized crime, after an
in February 2012 threatened a schoolchild by showing his tattoo.
Tattoos had negative connotations in historical China, where criminals
often had been marked by tattooing. The association of tattoos
with criminals was transmitted from
China to influence Japan.
Today, tattoos have remained a taboo in Chinese society.
The Romans tattooed criminals and slaves, and in the 19th century
released US convicts, Australian convicts, and British army deserters
were identified by tattoos. Prisoners in
Nazi concentration camps were
tattooed with an identification number. Today, many prison inmates
still tattoo themselves as an indication of time spent in prison.
Native Americans also used tattoos to represent their tribe. Catholic
Croats of Bosnia used religious
Christian tattooing, especially of
children and women, for protection against conversion to
the Ottoman rule in the Balkans.
Wilfrid Derome Tatto Collection, 1925
Latin Kings gang member showing his gang tattoo
Tattoos are strongly empirically associated with deviance, personality
disorders, and 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
Current cultural understandings of tattoos in
Europe and North America
have been greatly influenced by long-standing stereotypes based on
deviant social groups in the 19th and 20th centuries. Particularly in
North America tattoos have been associated with stereotypes, folklore,
and racism. Not until the 1960s and 1970s did people associate
tattoos with such societal outcasts as bikers and prisoners.
Today, in the United States many prisoners and criminal gangs use
distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior,
prison sentences, and organizational affiliation. A teardrop
tattoo, for example, can be symbolic of murder, or each tear
represents the death of a friend. 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 that remains widespread among older Americans. In Japan
tattoos are associated with yakuza criminal groups but there are
non-yakuza groups such as Fukushi Masaichi's tattoo association that
sought to preserve the skins of dead Japanese who have extensive
tattoos. Tattooing is also common in the British Armed Forces.
Depending on vocation tattoos are accepted in a number of professions
in America. Companies across many fields are increasingly focused on
diversity and inclusion.
In Britain, there is evidence of women with tattoos, concealed by
their clothing, throughout the 20th century, and records of women
tattooists such as
Jessie Knight from the 1920s. A study of
"at-risk" (as defined by school absenteeism and truancy) adolescent
girls showed a positive correlation between body modification and
negative feelings towards the body and low self-esteem; however, the
study also demonstrated that a strong motive for body modification is
the search for "self and attempts to attain mastery and control over
the body in an age of increasing alienation". The prevalence of
women in the tattoo industry in the 21st century, along with larger
numbers of women bearing tattoos, appears to be changing negative
Advertising and marketing
CM Punk is well known for his tattoos.
Former sailor Rowland Hussey Macy, who formed
stores, used a red star tattoo that he had on his hand for the store's
Tattoos have also been used in marketing and advertising with
companies paying people to have logos of brands like HBO, Red Bull,
ASOS.com, and Sailor Jerry's rum tattooed in their bodies. This
practice is known as "skinvertising".
B.T.'s Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant located in Massachusetts,
offered customers free meals for life if they had the logo of the
establishment tattooed on a visible part of their bodies. Nine people
took the business up on the offer.
Tattoo medical issues
Modern tattoo artist's nitrile gloves and sterilized equipment
Because it requires breaking the skin barrier, tattooing carries
health risks including infection and allergic reactions. Tattooing can
be uncomfortable to excruciating depending on the area and can result
in the person fainting. Modern tattooists reduce risks by following
universal precautions working with single-use items and sterilizing
their equipment after each use. Many jurisdictions require that
tattooists have blood-borne pathogen training such as that provided
Red Cross and OSHA. As of 2009 (in the United States)
there have been no reported cases of
HIV contracted from tattoos.
In amateur tattooing, such as that practiced 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,
fungal infections, some forms of hepatitis, herpes simplex virus, HIV,
staph, tetanus, and tuberculosis.
Tattoo inks have been described as "remarkably nonreactive
histologically". However, cases of allergic reactions to tattoo
inks, particularly certain colors, have been medically documented.
This is sometimes due to the presence of nickel in an ink pigment,
which triggers a common metal allergy. Occasionally, when a blood
vessel is punctured during the tattooing procedure, a bruise/hematoma
Certain colours - red or similar colours such as purple, pink, and
orange - tend to cause more problems and damage compared to other
colours. Red ink has even caused skin and flesh damages so severe
that the amputation of a leg or an arm has been necessary. If part of
a tattoo (especially if red) begins to cause even minor troubles, like
becoming itchy or worse, lumpy, then Danish experts strongly suggest
to remove the red parts.
In 2017, researchers from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
in France say the chemicals in tattoo ink can travel in the
bloodstream and accumulate in the lymph nodes, obstructing their
ability to fight infections. However, the authors noted in their paper
that most tattooed individuals including the donors analyzed do not
suffer from chronic inflammation.
While tattoos are considered permanent, it is sometimes possible to
remove them, fully or partially, with laser treatments. Typically,
black and some colored inks can be removed more completely than inks
of other colors. The expense and pain associated with removing tattoos
are typically greater than the expense and pain associated with
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. These older methods, however, have been nearly
completely replaced by laser removal treatment options.
A temporary tattoo being applied.
Mehndi and Ballpoint pen artwork
A temporary tattoo is a non-permanent image on the skin resembling a
permanent tattoo. Temporary tattoos can be drawn, painted, airbrushed
or needled as a permanent[clarification needed] tattoo with an ink
which can be dissolved in blood within 6 months of art as a form of
Types of temporary tattoos
Decal-style temporary tattoos
Decal (press-on) temporary tattoos are used to decorate any part of
the body. They may last for a day or for more than a week.
Metallic jewelry tattoos
Foil temporary tattoos are a variation of decal-style temporary
tattoos, printed using a foil stamping technique instead of using
ink. The foil design is printed as a mirror image in
order to be viewed in the right direction once it is applied to the
skin. Each metallic tattoo is protected by a transparent protective
Airbrush temporary tattoos
Although they have become more popular and usually require a greater
investment, airbrush temporary tattoos are less likely to achieve the
look of a permanent tattoo, and may not last as long as press-on
temporary tattoos. An artist sprays on airbrush tattoos using a
stencil with alcohol-based, FDA-approved cosmetic inks. Like decal
tattoos, airbrush temporary tattoos also are easily removed with
rubbing alcohol or baby oil.
Henna temporary tattoos
Another tattoo alternative is henna-based tattoos, which generally
contain no additives.
Henna is a plant-derived substance which is
painted on the skin, staining it a reddish-orange-to-brown color.
Because of the semi-permanent nature of henna, they lack the realistic
colors typical of decal temporary tattoos. Due to the time-consuming
application process, it is a relatively poor option for children. If
you do choose henna temporary tattoos, ensure that they are pure
henna. Dermatological publications report that allergic reactions to
natural henna are very rare and the product is generally considered
safe for skin application. Serious problems can occur, however, from
the use of henna with certain additives. The FDA and medical journals
report that painted black henna temporary tattoos are especially
Henna or Pre-Mixed
Henna Temporary Tattoos May Be
Harmful - see below for safety information.
Temporary tattoo safety
Decal-style temporary tattoo safety
Decal temporary tattoos, when legally sold in the United States, have
had their color additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) as cosmetics --- the FDA has determined these
colorants are safe for “direct dermal contact.” While the FDA has
received some accounts of minor skin irritation, including redness and
swelling, from this type of temporary tattoo, the agency has found
these symptoms to be “child specific” and not significant enough
to support warnings to the public. Unapproved pigments, however, which
are sometimes used by non-US manufacturers, can provoke allergic
reactions in anyone. Understanding the types of temporary tattoos
available to consumers, knowing where they are manufactured, and
ensuring they come from a reliable source are keys to determining
whether temporary tattoos are safe.
Airbrush tattoo safety
The types of airbrush paints manufactured for crafting, creating art
or decorating clothing should never be used for tattooing. These
paints are not approved for direct contact with skin, and can be
allergenic or toxic. Always ask the airbrush tattoo artist what kind
of ink he or she is using and whether it meets FDA approval.
Henna tattoo safety
Dermatitis due to a temporary tattoo (dolphin) made with black henna.
The FDA regularly issues warnings to consumers about avoiding any
temporary tattoos labeled as black henna or pre-mixed henna as these
may contain potentially harmful ingredients including silver nitrate,
carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye and chromium. Black henna
gets its color from paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a textile dye approved
by the FDA for human use only in hair coloring. In Canada, the use
of PPD on the skin, including hair dye, is banned. Research has linked
these and other ingredients to a range of health problems including
allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, and late-onset
allergic reactions to related clothing and hairdressing dyes. They can
cause these reactions long after application. Neither black henna nor
pre-mixed henna are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA.
Main article: Religious perspectives on tattooing
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Judaism generally prohibits tattoos among its adherents based on the
Leviticus 19. Jews tend to believe this commandment
only applies to Jews and not to gentiles.
Christian couple with matching cross symbol tattoos to associate
with their faith
There is no specific rule in the
New Testament prohibiting tattoos and
Christian denominations believe the laws in
outdated as well as believing the commandment only applied to the
Israelites, not to the gentiles. While most
Christian groups tolerate
Evangelical and fundamentalist
do believe the commandment does apply today for Christians and believe
it is a sin to get one.
Many Coptic Christians in Egypt take a cross tattoo in their right
wrist to differ from the Muslims.
Tattoos are considered to be haram in Sunni Islam, based on rulings
from scholars and passages in the Hadith. Shia
Islam does not entirely
prohibit tattooing, although it may be looked down upon in Shia
Body suit (tattoo)
Borneo traditional tattooing
Chinese calligraphy tattoos
Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Finger moustache tattoo
Irezumi, traditional Japanese tattoo
Lower back tattoo
Mehndi (also called henna)
New school (tattoo)
Old school (tattoo)
SS blood group tattoo
Foreign body granuloma
Legal status of tattooing in the United States
List of cutaneous conditions
List of tattoo artists
Lucky Diamond Rich, world's most tattooed person.
Religious perspectives on tattooing
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Sinclair, A. T. (1909) "Tattooing of the North American Indians", in
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Wianecki, Shannon (2011) "Marked" Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine.
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Green, Terisa. Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo
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Body Art (workplace hazards), National Institute for Occupational
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"Tattoos and Permanent Makeup", CFSAN/Office of
Cosmetics and Colors
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Paola Piccinini, Laura Contor, Ivana Bianchi, Chiara Senaldi, Sazan
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^ "25 Nobel
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after cancer battle: Undergoing a mastectomy is a harrowing
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Guardian. 7 August 2013.
^ "Nipple tattoos and their Michelangelo".
BBC News. 21 December
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^ "Maori Tattoo". Maori.com. Maori Tourism Limited. Retrieved 17 July
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5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies". BBC. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
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Tattoo History Debunked".
^ Some days after a shipwreck divers recovered the bodies. Most were
unrecognisable, but that of a crew member was readily identified by
his tattoos: "The reason why sailors tattoo themselves has often been
asked." The Times (London), 30 January 1873, p. 10
^ The Times (London), 3 April 1879, p. 9: "Crime has a ragged regiment
in its pay so far as the outward ... qualities are concerned ... they
tattoo themselves indelibly ... asserting the man's identity with the
aid of needles and gunpowder. This may be the explanation of the
Mermaids, the Cupid's arrows, the name of MARY, the tragic inscription
to the memory of parents, the unintended pathos of the appeal to
^ Broadwell, Albert H. (27 January 1900). "Sporting pictures on the
human skin". Country Life. Article describing work of society
tattooist Sutherland Macdonald Archived 3 November 2013 at the Wayback
Machine. refers to his clientele including "members of our Royal
Family, among them H.R.H. the Duke of York, H.I.M. the Czarevitch, and
Imperial and Royal members of Russian, German and Spanish courts...."
^ The Times (London), 18 April 1889, p. 12: "A Japanese Professional
Tattooer". Article describes the activities of an unnamed Japanese
tattooist based in Hong Kong. He charged £4 for a dragon, which would
take 5 hours to do. The article ends "The Hong-Kong operator tattooed
the arm of an English Prince, and, in Kioto, was engaged for a whole
month reproducing on the trunk and limbs of an English peer a series
of scenes from Japanese history. For this he was paid about £100. He
has also tattooed ladies.... His income from tattooing in Hong Kong is
about £1,200 per annum."
^ Broadwell, Albert H. (27 January 1900). "Sporting pictures on the
human skin". Country Life. "In especially sensitive cases a mild
solution of cocaine is injected under the skin, ... and no sensation
whatever is felt, while the soothing solution is so mild that it has
no effect ... except locally."
^ In 1969 the House of Lords debated a bill to ban the tattooing of
minors, on grounds it had become "trendy" with the young in recent
years but was associated with crime, 40 per cent of young criminals
having tattoos. Lord Teynham and the Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair
however rose to object that they had been tattooed as youngsters, with
no ill effects. The Times (London), 29 April 1969, p. 4: "Saving young
from embarrassing tattoos".
^ Genis, Daniel. "DIY Tattoos Make Irony Permanent". www.newsweek.com.
Retrieved 3 May 2015.
^ Kirby, David (2012). Inked Well. Patterns for College Writing: A
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^ "A Portrait of "Generation Next"". The
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People and the Press. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
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^ Danish TV programme "Min krop til andres forfærdelse" or "My body
to the dismay of others" aired on DR 3 1.July 9pm CEST. A man who at a
younger age had competed with his older brother to obtain the largest
tattoos, experienced an infection years later originating in the red
portions of the tattoos, resulting in his left leg being amputated
piece by piece. Also, a woman with incipient problems at her two
formerly red roses was followed as her skin was removed.
Tattoo Ink Nanoparticles Persist in Lymph Nodes". The
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Tattoo removal procedure, retrieved 12 January 2011
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Tattoos and Tattooing
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