How Do Tattoos Work? 


Early records from James Cook's South Pacific expedition mention tattoos, which come from a Tahitian word, meaning "to mark." However, history shows that even mummies back in 2000 B.C. had tattoos on their bodies.

Not long ago, tattoos were associated with bikers, sideshow artists, and sailors. However, they have recently become more popular, and people use various designs to decorate their bodies as well use them as permanent makeup to emphasize eyes and lips. Let us look into how tattoos work and examine safety issues about it.

What Is the Process of Creating a Tattoo?

1. Preparation

Before working, the tattoo artist cleans every item and puts them in a pouch where an indicator strip changes color after sterilization. Artists inspect their hands for abrasions and cuts and wash them carefully. Then, they disinfect their work area and explain to their client the sterilization process, removing equipment from their sterile packages in front of their client. The area to be tattooed is then shaved and disinfected with antiseptic soap and water.

2. Sterilization

Sterilization is important in the tattoo process because of the potential for infection. Aside from sterilizing equipment, they also use disposable materials and practice hand sanitation to protect both the client and themselves. To avoid contamination, single-use gloves, needles, and ink are utilized. The tube system and needle bare are reusable and are sterilized every time they are used.

Sterilization involves the use of an autoclave, which is often found in hospitals. It employs steam, pressure, or heat to kill microorganism on equipment.

3. Making the Tattoo

Tattoo designs are displayed in tattoo shops where clients can choose from or create custom designs. The tattoo artist then makes a stencil of the design on the client’s skin. They determine the depth needles must puncture to avoid causing excessive pain or bleeding if too deep, or uneven tattoo lines if too shallow. The process involves these steps:

  • Outline. First, the artist draws an outline over the stencil using a needle and thin ink. Most artists start drawing at the bottom and work upward to avoid smearing the stencil while cleaning excess dye from the outline.
  • Shade. After making an outline, the artist cleans the area with water and soap, and then uses thick ink and various needles to create even, solid lines. Proper techniques during this stage are important to avoid making shadowed lines, excess pain, and delay in healing.
  • Color. Next, the artist again cleans the area and overlaps the lines to ensure solid and even hues. This will avoid uneven areas of color during healing.
  • Clean and Bandage. The tattooed area is cleaned of any blood using a disposable towel and then covered with sterile bandage. A little bleeding occurs naturally during the tattoo process, but this should stop in a short time.

Watch a video for the complete tattoo process so that you understand better how tattoos work:

How to Care for New Tattoos

Understanding how tattoos work is not enough. Proper aftercare of new tattoos can help protect you from health problems and preserve the quality of your tattoos. Artists usually provide their clients with pamphlets with instructions:

  • Remove bandage 1-2 hours after the procedure.
  • Wash with cool water and a mild antiseptic soap.
  • Pat dry, taking care not to rub.
  • Apply thin layer of antibacterial ointment. Avoid putting too much ointment because this can pull out tattoo color.
  • Avoid soaking in water or letting water from the shower pour directly on it.
  • Avoid exposure to sun, swimming pool, or seawater until it is healed.
  • Avoid picking scabs. They fall off naturally while healing within 1-3 weeks.
  • Apply ice packs if swollen or red.
  • Call the doctor if you signs of infection.

How to Find a Safe Tattoo Parlor

Before getting a tattoo in a tattoo parlor, one must be aware that although these parlors are required to get a license for operation, they are not inspected by any governing body. It is therefore important to know how to choose a safe tattoo parlor using these steps:

  • Look around the parlor to check for cleanliness and professionalism.
  • Ask the operator if they use an autoclave for sterilization. Make sure that they use disposable needles, gloves, EPA-approved disinfectants, and other single-use materials.
  • Observe the artist, paying attention to the practice of safety precautions.
  • Pay attention as the artist opens the needles before work.
  • Ask about the artist’s qualifications and professional memberships. Although not required, those who participate may be more informed about current trends, and safety issues.

What Are the Health Risks of Creating a Tattoo?

  • The most common risks include hepatitis (a liver disease), tuberculosis (a lung disease), or Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. However, risks for these diseases are low as long as sanitation and sterilization procedures are followed.
  • New tattoos may become infected, especially when aftercare is inadequate. Some clients may experience allergic reactions to the inks used. Although tattoo pigments may have FDA approval for some other purposes, the tattoo inks are not regulated.
  • Finally, tattoo pigments may have some metallic components, which may cause burning or pain during MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) examinations. Some doctors report distorted MRI results and interference due to permanent tattoo pigments.

Many states restrict blood donations from people who have tattoos. The American Red Cross does not accept blood donations from anyone who has been tattooed in the previous year unless they had it from a state-regulated tattoo parlor. However, most states do not have tattoo parlor regulations.