Tattoos – Introduction

tatoosTattoos – A form of body art in which decorative inks injected into the dermis permanently stain the skin.

Though the needles are solid, they create puncture wounds that then fill with ink.

The cells and intracellular spaces of the dermis absorb the ink. The health implications of tattoos are twofold: potential complications at the time of tattooing and the challenges of tattoo removal.

Adverse Reactions and Tatoos

Commercial tattoo artists use mechanical needles that rapidly inject inks. The needles and the ink packets are sterile and for one-time use. Though inks are generally of natural origins, some people have adverse reactions to them that can cause swelling, inflammation, and scarring.

Though many tattoo artists follow appropriate antiseptic procedures, many others do not. Most US states do not have regulations or procedures to establish health standards or confirm their practice.

Risks, Infections and HIV/AIDS

The most common risk arising from improper skin and equipment cleansing is bacterial infection of the tattooed site, which may require treatment with antibiotic medications. A less common though far more serious infection risk is that of hepatitis and hiv/aids, both of which are bloodborne viral infections.

Reusing needles and inks passes any virus present to subsequent clients. Improperly cleaning the tattooing equipment also allows viruses to linger, with the potential of passing them on.

Tattoo Removal

Tattoo removal is far less certain than tattooing. Most methods cause significant scarring. A form of laser therapy called Q-switched laser offers the least destructive means for removing tattoos. Lasers can destroy the structure of some inks without damaging the surrounding cells.

The body’s normal processes then remove the ink fragments as cellular debris. However, this process is most effective with black and blue inks, and least effective with yellow, red, and orange.

Different wavelengths of laser are necessary for the various colors, so tattoo removal may involve several sessions. Seldom can the laser remove all color, though it often can remove enough color for the tattoo to appear only as a slight discoloration of the skin.

It is possible for the pigment to darken in the skin surface surrounding the tattoo, in response to the laser. Scarring and infection also remain slight risks. Other methods of tattoo removal, such as dermabrasion and excision, may more successfully remove the full tattoo though leave considerable scarring. With these methods, skin grafts are sometimes necessary.


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