Tattoos and Skin Health

By Lisa Young – Salon Director


picture of a girl with tattoosTattooing is even more popular today than it’s ever been, but it has been around far longer than you think !

The ancient art of tattooing has been used to decorate bodies for many centuries.

Evidence of tattooing has been found as far back as the ancient cavemen and Egyptian mummies as well as spanning across a multitude of cultures across the world.

When we think of tattoos we tend to think of wonderful inked pieces or body artwork (or in some cases not so artistic!).

However, tattooing has also been used throughout history in a practical way to mark and indicate ownership on slaves and prisoners such as in WW2 German concentration camps or even on soldiers to indicate blood groups for when they are in combat.

Traditional tattooing entailed primitive and manual techniques. These involved scratching or creating a superficial incision and introducing pigments and dyes into the skin, and then Thomas Edison’s engraving machine inspired the first electrical modern tattooing machine.

The modern twin-coil electromagnetic tattoo needle was patented in 1891 by one Samuel O’Riley an Irish-American tattooist working out of a barber’s shop in New York. The best way to describe a tattoo machine is it’s a bit like a micro hole punching machine.

Once frowned upon amongst some social classes and reserved for the likes of sailors, bikers and deviants, today tattoos are no longer taboo. The Brits have an avid fascination with tattoos and it’s estimated that today, one in five people in the UK have had or have tattoos at some point in life.

So if this appeals to you, or you have already been painted, before you consider your next ink creation stop and consider what the impact is on your skin health. Here is a guide to tattoos and skin health so that you can care for your skin and enjoy your tattoos for years to come … as bright as the day that they were created.



How do tattoos work ?

Today’s tattoos inject dye into the skin using small needles that puncture the skin at a frequency of 50-3000 times per minute. They use a variety of 3, 9 and 15 fine needles depending on the technique that is creating the outlining, shading or detail.

The parts of the skin associated with the technique of tattooing in board terms, comprises of the outer protective layer (epidermis) and the dermis (the deeper layer of the skin).

The needles penetrate past the epidermis into the underlying dermis leaving behind pigment in the entire area.

The dermis is composed of:

  • Collagen fibres.
  • Nerves.
  • Sweat glands.
  • Sebaceous glands.
  • Blood vessels.
  • Everything that keeps the skin connected to the rest of the body.


When the skin is tattooed and the needle penetrates the skin, it causes a wound in the skin. In response to this wound, the body begins the inflammatory process, which is effectively the skin’s method of dealing with danger.

Our immune systems are clever and are able to send specialised cells (macrophages) to the area of the wound, which then begin to repair the skin. These cells are the reason tattoos are permanent. Read on to understand why !

These specialised cells virtually ‘eat’ the tattoo ink because it’s seen as an invading material. As they attempt to clean up the wounded area, these cells are unable to dissolve and dispose of the pigment so the ink remains in the skin (dermis), where it is visible through the skin.

The ink is distributed through the epidermis (outer layer) and (dermis deeper layer) as these cells travel through the blood vessels, because some of them are carried back with a belly full of dye into the lymph nodes, while others remain in the dermis.

As your skin heals, the damaged epidermal cells naturally shed and are replaced by new, dye-free cells. This is why the colour may look less deep and vibrant as the tattoo heals.



Always remember that your freshly tattooed skin is wounded skin, no different to a cut or graze and needs caring for to prevent infection as well as to ensure that it heals well. During the healing period and as part of the healing process, expect your skin to be:

  • Itchy.
  • Red.
  • Inflamed.
  • Sensitive.
  • Have a high risk of infection.



Because tattooing causes trauma to the skin, some individuals may want to think twice before going under the needle as it can often trigger or worsen certain conditions such as:

  • Psoriasis.
  • Autoimmune disorders or if taking immunosuppressive medication.


Some people therefore find that their skin may take longer to heal. Healing time can range depending on the individual, from weeks to months and in some cases such as autoimmune disorders, the results may not be as good as someone who has a normal immune system because of the way that the body deals with the invading ink.



Some other very important considerations are:

Pigment type

Some pigments, especially red, can result in skin irritation as they become phototoxic in some people when exposed to sunlight. Always consult a Doctor if you experience any abnormal reactions to a tattoo.


Equipment sterility

Choose your tattoo artist carefully and ensue that they are compliant with hygiene procedures as equipment that is not sterile can cause life changing blood born viruses such as HIV, Hep A, B and C. The room and couch should be spotlessly clean. Disposable needles should be used and the equipment sterilised following the correct procedure. If the tattoo studio doesn’t look clean … walk away, it’s not worth it !




Preparing to have a tattoo ?

Caring for tattooed skin doesn’t need to be complicated.

1. Keep your skin healthy – keep it hydrated and exfoliate regularly – This keeps the skin’s natural protection (barrier) intact and invaders out!

2. Protect from Sun exposure – protect your tattooed skin before and after tattooing from UV damage by using a broad-spectrum UV protection to protect from both UVA and UVA rays. Good protection prevents sun damage, which degrades collagen and increases elastin (Solar elastosis). Sun damage makes the skin dry, wrinkled and thickened.

3. Prevent tattoo fade by regularly caring for your skin – it is inevitable that your newly inked colours will fade naturally as the cells renew themselves. By caring for your skin you will prevent your skin from becoming dry and dull. Keep your skin smooth and clear to help reveal the bright pigments in the skin and your investment will remain bright and intact. Look for products that contain: 

1. Enzymes.

2. AHAs.

3. Hydrating serums.

4. Moisturisers.



If you would like to know more about skincare products Studio 8 stocks a full range of Dermalogica Skin and Body Products that are kind and effective on the skin. Find out more about our Dermalogica Body Mapping Service by calling the salon on 023 92 380 692.


Quote of the Day

” Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow. “

Helen Keller

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