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A design or marking made by the insertion of a pigment into punctures or cuts in the skin

A tattoo is a design or marking made by the insertion of a pigment into punctures or cuts in the skin. In technical terms, tattooing is micro-pigment implantation. Tattoos are a type of body modification.

Most tattoo enthusiasts refer to tattoos as "tats", "ink", "art" or "work", and to tattooists as artists. This usage is gaining support, with mainstream art galleries holding exhibitions of tattoo designs and photographs of tattoos.

Tattoo designs that are mass produced and sold to tattoo artists and studios and displayed in shop are known as flash.

Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent decades in many parts of the world, particularly in North America, Japan, and Europe. The growth in tattoo culture has seen the influx of new artists into the industry, many of whom have technical and fine art training, and that coupled with advancements in tattoo pigments and the ongoing refinement of the equipment used for tattooing has led to a marked improvement in the quality of tattoos being produced. Movie stars, models, popular musicians and sports figures are just some of the people in the public eye who are commonly tattooed, which in turn has fueled the acceptance of tattoos within mainstream popular culture.

An August, 2005 telephone poll conducted by Zogby International asked 1,042 U.S. residents to give their opinions of tattoos as an art form. A majority of the respondents—54 percent—said tattoos were a form of art, while 40 percent said they were not.

In many traditional cultures tattooing has enjoyed a resurgence, partially in deference to their cultural heritage. Historically, a decline in traditional tribal tattooing in Europe occurred with the spread of Christianity. A decline often occurred in other cultures following European efforts to convert aboriginal and indigenous people to Western religious and cultural practices that held tattooing to be a "pagan" or "heathen" activity. Within some traditional indigenous cultures, tattooing takes place within the context of a rite of passage between adolescence and adulthood.

The electric tattoo machine
The modern electric tattoo machine is far removed from the machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891. O'Reilly's machine was based on the rotary technology of the electric engraving device invented by Thomas Edison. Modern tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils. The first coil machine was patented by Thomas Riley in London, 1891 using a single coil. The first twin coil machine, the predecessor of the modern configuration, was invented by another Englishman, Alfred Charles South of London, in 1899.

Popular and youth culture
Tattoos are more popular now than at any time. Current estimates suggest one in seven or over 39 million people in North America have at least one tattoo.

A recent Harris Poll finds that 16% of all adults in the United States have at least one tattoo. The highest incidence of tattoos was found among the gay, lesbian and bisexual population (31%) and among Americans ages 25 to 29 years (36%) and 30 to 39 years (28%). Regionally, people living in the West (20%) are more likely to have tattoos.

Democrats are more likely to have tattoos (18%) than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%) while approximately equal percentages of males (16%) and females (15%) have tattoos.

This survey was conducted online between July 14 and 20, 2003 by Harris Interactive(R) among a nationwide sample of 2,215 adults.


Human history shows that tattoos have served in many diverse cultures 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, punishment, amulets and talismans, protection, and as the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts.

Today, people choose to be tattooed for cosmetic, religious and magical reasons, as well as a symbol of belonging to or identification with particular groups (see Criminal tattoos). Some Māori still choose to wear intricate moko on their faces. People have also been forcibly tattooed for a variety of reasons. The best known is the ka-tzetnik identification system for Jews in part of the concentration camps during the Holocaust.

European sailors were known to tattoo the crucifixion on their backs to prevent flogging as a punishment as at that time it was a crime to deface an image of Christ.

Tattoos are also placed on animals, though very rarely for decorative reasons. Pets, show animals, thoroughbred horses and livestock are sometimes tattooed with identification marks, and certain of their body parts (for example, noses) have also been tattooed to prevent sunburn. Such tattoos are performed by veterinarians and the animals are anaesthetized to prevent pain. (Branding would not be considered a tattoo since no ink or dye is inserted).


Some tribal cultures still create tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents. This may be an adjunct to scarification. Some cultures create tattooed marks by "tapping" the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones. Traditional Japanese tattoos (irezumi) are still "hand-poked," that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel.

The most common method of tattooing in modern times is the electric tattoo machine. Ink is inserted into the skin via 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 50 to 3,000 times a minute.

Permanent cosmetics

Permanent cosmetics are tattoos that enhance eyebrows, lips (liner or lipstick), eyes (shadow, mascara), and even moles, usually with natural colors as the designs are intended to resemble makeup.

"Natural" tattoos
According to George Orwell, workers in coal mines would wind up with 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 different layers of skin, and scarring or permanent discoloration is almost unavoidable depending on the location. In addition, tattooing of the gingiva from implantation of amalgam particles during dental filling placement and removal is possible and not uncommon.

Temporary tattoos
Temporary tattoos are a type of body sticker, like a decal. They are generally applied to the skin using water to transfer the design to the surface of the skin. Temporary tattoos are easily removed with soap and water or oil-based creams, and are intended to last a few days.

Other forms of temporary "tattoos" are henna tattoos, also known as Mehndi, and the marks made by the stains of silver nitrate on the skin when exposed to ultraviolet light. Both methods, silver nitrate and henna, can take up to two weeks to fade from the skin.

Tattoo removal
Tattoos can be wholly or partially removed by cosmetic surgical techniques, most commonly through the use of lasers. The laser reacts with the ink in the tattoo, and breaks it down. After this, the patient's body then absorbs the broken-down ink and the skin heals once more. The procedure can be expensive, and very painful (some say more so than the original tattoo) and often requires many repeated visits to remove a small tattoo. It also may not be entirely effective in leaving unblemished skin, due to the fact that tattoos also scar the skin to varying degrees, depending on how the tattoo was applied, the way the skin healed, and the area that was tattooed.

Overall, green-based ink is the most difficult to remove. Black ink is most readily broken down by the laser, and unprofessional tattoos done at home are the easiest ones to remove, due to the low quality of ink used, as well as the ineffective manner in which they were applied.
Before the advent of laser removal, tattoos could be (at least partially) removed by (1) loading hydrogen peroxide into a tattoo machine and then retracing the tattoo with the chemical (2) dermabrasion (3) surgically cutting the tattoo out of the skin. However, this method often resulted in a scar that was just as unsightly as the original tattoo.

A newer method of removal is by tattooing glycolic acid into the skin with a tattoo machine, the acid pushes the ink to the surface of the skin in the scab, the scab is later removed. This method supposedly scars less than lasering. Glycolic acid is also used for facial peels; when used for tattoo removal, a lower percentage mix is used.

Permanent tattooing of any form carries small risks, including of infection, allergy, disease, and stress or phobic reactions. Risk reduction in the body arts requires single use items including gloves and needles.

In most prisons there is a significant risk of illness due to tattooing being done without following universal precautions, including such blood-borne diseases as HIV and hepatitis. However there is a program underway in Canada as of the summer of 2005 that opens legitimized tattoo parlors in prison, this is intended to reduce the risk of infections and may also provide the inmates with a marketable talent. Inmates will be trained to staff and operate the tattoo parlors once six of them open successfully.

In addition, it is important that cross contamination not occur, this is why many counties require that tattooists have bloodborne pathogen training as is provided through the Red Cross.

Since tattoo instruments come in contact with blood and bodily fluids, diseases may be transmitted if the instruments are used on more than one person without being sterilized.

Most reputable tattoo shops use fresh disposable needles for each client and sterilize reusable instruments between clients using an autoclave as well as employing universal precautions, such as washing the hands, wearing latex, nitrile or vinyl gloves and the thorough cleaning of counters and other work surfaces, and elimination of cross contamination.

Source: Wikipedia

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