Pimp My Hide…… or shoot it with lasers

PC: Pixabay


Does getting stabbed by a needle 3,000 times in 60 seconds sound like a whole lot of painful to you? How about if this stabbing lasted up to an hour? Or how about 5 hours? Or even longer?

For some people just thought of a single needle makes them faint, for others voluntarily taking these 3000 needles for hours at a time is totally common (and completely worth it).

The art of tattooing has been around since the beginning of civilisation. With the word tattoo roughly translating to, ‘to mark something’. The oldest tattooed human skin that has been found to date belongs to Otzi the Iceman and dates back to between 3370 and 310 BC.

s-INK-ing in?

Tattooing uses a mechanised needle that punctures the skin, pushing ink deep into the tissue. To ensure the tattoo is permanent and that the ink won’t fall out during normal skin shedding, the ink must be pushed into the second layer of the skin called the dermis. This layer is too deep to be shed, and so the ink remains, and you have a permanent piece of body art.

Did you know: humans shed almost 40,00 dead skin cells every hour!

May the INK be with you…

This process of pushing the ink this deep, damages the skin causing an inflammatory response which is initiated by the body’s immune system. The immune system sends white blood cells, such as macrophages, to the site of damage to try and fight off the invading ink. Just like it would do in the initial stages of fighting off an infection. These cells attempt to eat the ink to clear it away however they are unable to consume all of it, particularly the large ink particles. Any left over dye gets soaked up by surrounding skin cells, such as fibroblasts, and gets ‘stuck’ there. Your tattoo will now remain visible forever!

Macrophage PC:Wikimedia commons


Ink Again?

Fortunately, there are now options to remove tattoos if you decide that perhaps your ink choice as a 19 year old is not to your current tastes.

Tattoo ink is most commonly made up of heavy meals like copper and lead, these help add to its permanence but are also why it can be hard to remove. To remove the dye it needs to be broken up by lasers. These lasers emit rapid and extremely hot pulses of light that are capable of splitting individual tattoo ink particles. When an ink particle is hit by one of the laser pulses half of the particle heats up and expands while the other half stays cool. This difference in heat causes the particle to break apart.

The final step of the ink removal process goes back to those white blood cells and macrophages that were mentioned earlier. Once again the body sends these cells to the tattoo site in response to the damage caused by the laser. These cells eat up these smaller broken up particles and clear the ink away.

FACT: it is these little macrophage armies that also contribute to tattoo fading, they slowly nibble at the ink taking, away smaller pieces that may have broken off. Over time the tattoo appears to fade.

Laser Removal PC: Wikimedia Commons

Back in Black

As lasers work on light to remove the tattoo ink, black ink tatts are far easier to remove than those made up of many colours. This is because black ink absorbs all types (wavelengths) of light so most lasers work on them. Coloured ink however requires different types (wavelengths) of light depending on the colour used making the removal process longer.

In general the removal process can take any where between two and ten sessions to reach the desired result. It can be far more costly and generally more painful to have a tattoo removed than it is to get one done. It can also leave behind scars.


Take home messages. Think before you ink and always go black if you might go back.