Tattoos: Body Art or Body Intruder?

Written by Amra Lear, licensed massage therapist and aesthetician

Tattoos are becoming more of a cultural mainstay among people of varying ages. No matter the choice of tattoo, every type of skin – whether it is skin type I or skin type IV on the Fitzpatrick scale – will experience the same reaction.

When receiving a tattoo, the needle repeatedly penetrates the skin, depositing ink.

The moment the ink is first deposited within the skin, the body reacts with tiny macrophages. These tiny macrophages are the body’s white blood cells – very important cells that are produced by stem cells in the body’s bone marrow that fight against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. These macrophages register the tattoo ink as a danger to the system, a foreign particle that it needs to battle. Immediately responding to the new threat to the skin, the macrophages begin to attack back, chomping away at the foreign substance. The macrophages continuously defend the largest organ of the body, chomping away to remove the tattoo. Because of this consistent attack on the ink by the macrophages, they remove particles of the ink from the skin, causing the ink to fade its color on the skin.

Besides the macrophages internally defending the body from its new inked threat, the sun outwardly attacks the ink. Sun exposure on a tattoo will also assist in fading. The sun’s rays damage the exterior skin by the melanocytes reacting to its ultraviolet rays. The melanocytes protect the skin by increasing its melanin production. When the melanin production is increased to protect the skin from burning and damaging the epidermis of the skin, the pigment from the tattoo will begin to be absorbed by the breakdown of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Not only does the ink from the tattoo fade over time, the shape of the tattoo will shift. What once may have been a nicely shaped tattoo, throughout time, the tattoo will stretch. The lengthening and widening of the tattoo changes as the skin ages. When the skin begins to break down its collagen production and the structure of the skin begins collapsing, wrinkles and saggy skin develop. This natural degradation of the skin’s integrity will not be able to keep the tattoo’s original shape intact.

The skin is the body’s largest organ. It is creatively designed to attack any foreign substances and it changes its (once taut) structure over time. When a tattoo is placed on the skin, the wearer of that tattoo needs to know that, no matter how much care they personally put into taking care of their tattoo, there exists elements beyond their control fighting to get rid of it.


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