Tattoo Ink: Does it travel through your body?

Do you know what actually happens during the tattooing process? And what happens to the ink after? I’m going to break down the entire process for you today. So, sit tight, read and enjoy your ink-filled ride!

What happens during a tattooing session?

Well, obviously, you’ll be sitting down in your tattooist’s chair. And you’ll see him preparing the tools of his trade – tattoo machine, needles, and ink. (Make sure everything’s sterilized! The last thing you want is to get an infected tattoo because of unsanitary practices in the studio.)

So, the artist starts wiping down and disinfecting your skin. Then he’ll get to work. The first few needles piercing your skin will be painful, but once you get the hang of it, you may end up enjoying the rhythmic vibrations from the tattoo machine. That said, while you’re enjoying the process – or at least trying not to squirm in your seat – the ink is dripping down from the needles into the dermis layer of your skin.

The tattooist will aim to get the needles down into the second layer of skin – the dermis. It takes experience to get the correct depth. If the ink only reaches the top layer (the epidermis), then it’s going to vanish in a few weeks. This is because the epidermis layer of skin gets renewed every month or so. The dermis doesn’t get renewed like the epidermis, so ink is more likely to stay there.

Now, there’s a third layer of skin called the hypodermis. Tattooists need to avoid sinking the needles into this layer because if ink gets deposited here, then it causes an effect known as a “tattoo blowout.” This makes the ink spread around which makes tattoos look washed and faded even though it’s still brand-new. Lines won’t look as sharp because the ink underneath would have spread to areas it shouldn’t be in.

That said, ink particles are usually big enough to not get absorbed by the body right away. But over time, this gets broken down either by the immune system or by sunlight. Yes, this is why tattoos – both old and new – should be kept out of direct sunlight. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can reach into the dermis and break down the ink causing it to get carried away as waste by the body. This is why older tattoos and sun-exposed tattoos look faded than those kept under wraps.

So, where does the ink go?

Well, most of the ink stays right where it’s supposed to – in the dermis. This is why tattoos can literally last for years and years.

But it’s also important to mention here that once the ink gets broken down, some of the particles may get carried away into the lymph nodes. This is why some doctors mistakenly assume patients’ cancer cells have spread to their lymph nodes, only for them to realize later that it’s just the tattoo ink and not malignant cells! This is also the reason why you shouldn’t get a tattoo just yet if you’re pregnant and/or breastfeeding – the ink can travel to the milk and potentially harm your baby.

So, it also helps to know what type of materials are used in the ink. You don’t want to have ink that uses heavy metals inserted in your skin, right? Before you get inked, speak to your tattooist about the type of ink they’ll be using. You’ll then be able to make the right call – to proceed with the tattoo or not.


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