Why Are Tattoos Permanent? – The Reasons Tattoos Last Forever

As we all know, once tattooed, it is quite difficult if not impossible to get rid of it. Tattoos are permanent body art, which will last you a lifetime. Unless you opt for a laser tattoo removal procedure, the ink you get is here to stay with you forever.

Now, as amazing as that sounds in itself, one can’t help but wonder why tattoos are permanent. What makes the look indestructible in the skin and how does something like the color of ink manage to last for decades?

These are the kinds of questions that pop into your mind out of nowhere. And, once the questions are there, you can’t stop thinking about something so obvious yet easily overlooked. Therefore, if you want to know what permanent tattoos are, you have come to the right place. In the following paragraphs, we will explore the reasons why tattoos last forever and hopefully provide you with a satisfying answer. So let’s get started!

What makes the tattoo permanent? – Explain

What makes the tattoo permanent - explained
Credit: Instagram

Tattoo request

Let’s start with the obvious: tattoo machines. Tattoo machines, tattoo guns and tattoo needles are used to inject ink into your skin at very high speeds. At its fastest, a tattoo needle will puncture your skin over 3000 times per minute, which is an incredibly high number. Of course, some tattoos or tattoo placements don’t allow for such a high number of punctures, so they run at 50 punctures per minute.

Tattoo needles carry the ink into the skin. When puncturing, the needle creates a vacuum environment where the ink is transferred and retained. Then the needle punctures the skin again and repeats the process. Some inks require repeated needle punching, such as lighter ink tones (white, yellow, light blue, light green, etc.).

Once the ink is transferred to the skin, due to the vacuum environment, it stays there. However, this is only one of the factors that contributes to the ink remaining permanently in the skin.

tattoo ink and skin

As we mentioned, the ink is transferred into the skin via a tattoo needle, at a fairly high speed. However, the vacuum created by the needle is not sufficient to hold the ink on its own.

First, the ink is placed in the layer of skin called the dermis. Now, the outer layer of the skin is known as the epidermis. The needle passes through the epidermis, where it reaches the inner layer or dermis. This is the perfect placement for the ink because, if placed in the epidermis, it would leak out. Now, because the vacuum environment is created inside the skin, the ink will stay there and have a very hard time escaping.

Now, we also have to mention that because of this, a tattoo looks less vibrant once it heals. There is basically a layer of epidermis over the tattoo which makes it look less fresh and vibrant which is totally fine. But we have to mention it, especially when we talk about the permanence of tattoos and how they look as we age.

Tattoos and bodily reaction

Now, while you are getting a tattoo, the tattoo needle basically creates small wounds inside the skin. The puncture damages the skin, which is why a newly made tattoo is considered a fresh wound.

Now your body doesn’t like damage. He must then transfer all his attention to the damaged area in order to promote its healing as quickly as possible and to prevent infection. Because of this, the body sends white blood cells or macrophages to the injured area.

Macrophages (Greek for “big eater”) are a type of white blood cells that are responsible for removing dead cells and foreign bodies. Because ink is considered a foreign body, the WBC attacks the ink, engulfs it, and processes it so that you can get rid of this potentially toxic foreign body, as the body interprets it.

However, WBCs can’t get rid of all the ink. Some ink particles are too large for macrophages, so the ink is absorbed by skin cells called fibroblasts. Because of this, the ink remains in suspension in the dermal cells and stays in the dermis of the skin. The ink that ends up in the epidermis of the skin is eliminated by the white blood cells within 7 to 14 days.

Now, the initial macrophages, which engulfed the ink, eventually die. Thus, new macrophages are formed and move to the “wounded area”. However, instead of ink, the new macrophages must “clean up” the dead macrophages. This cycle continues, so the ink stays intact and stays in place like a permanent tattoo.

Tattoo Side Effects and Tattoo Aftercare

Many are unaware that tattoo aftercare plays an important role in tattoo permanence, but it is probably the most important aspect of tattoo permanence. Proper tattoo healing allows the body to treat the “wound” and help it heal quickly and healthily.

Without proper tattoo aftercare, the tattoo can become inflamed and infected. This can lead to tattoo damage, ink shifting, or even leaking. In some cases, the tattoo infection becomes so severe that people develop high fevers and need immediate medical attention and drug treatment. Moreover, in such cases, the tattoo is completely damaged and without ink.

Other tattoo side effects can also mess up the ink placement and the healing process of the tattoo. For example, an ink allergy, tattoo irritation, tattoo lifting, rash, or ink leaking can all mess up the tattoo or even leak ink. This is why it is essential to get a tattoo from a professional and experienced tattoo artist, and to take care of the tattoo while it heals.

But what happens with tattoos as we get older?

Well, as you can see, the permanence of the tattoo depends on many factors; the execution of the tattooing process, the proper placement of the ink in the dermis, the proper healing of the tattoo and the natural immune response of the body. All of this helps ensure that the ink stays put for years to come. But what happens to the tattoo with age?

Indeed, tattoos last a lifetime. But, as skin ages and after years of UV exposure, tattoos fade. Fading of tattoos is completely normal and to be expected, especially with colored tattoos.

Due to skin aging, the skin loses its elasticity and begins to stretch. As the skin stretches, it also stretches the ink, making it less saturated and prone to fading faster.

Additionally, unprotected exposure of the tattoo to UV rays also promotes faster fading. Good sun protection is essential if you want the tattoo to look as fresh and saturated as it did when you first received it.

Small butterfly tattoo on female hand
Credit: Instagram

How to get rid of a tattoo?

Now, even though tattoos fade with age, they never completely disappear. The only way to remove a tattoo and make it go away is to get a laser tattoo removal procedure. The laser used in this procedure is known as a Q-switch laser. It targets the ink using infrared waves, which heat the ink and ensure its dispersion in the body.

However, this cannot be done in one session. It can take up to 20 laser removal sessions to get rid of a tattoo, especially if it is colored. Ink colors like yellow, light green, light blue, light red, or white are much more difficult to remove because infrared waves have a hard time detecting these colors. Tattoos made with darker ink colors, such as black, dark blue, dark purple, or brown, are removed faster and easier.

Other removal methods include surgical tattoo removal, where a surgeon cuts out the tattooed skin and then stitches the rest of the skin back on. There is also dermabrasion, where, using a sanding device, the layer of tattooed skin is “removed”.

However, this is an incredibly invasive removal method and is far from recommended. Dermabrasion can cause severe skin irritation, inflammation and scarring. Also, it does not guarantee that the tattoo will be removed as it is placed inside the skin and not on the surface.

Final Thoughts

Getting a tattoo is a big deal, although many consider it a trivial thing. Tattoos are here to stay, so it’s essential to really think about the consequences of a tattoo and how a tattoo can affect your life. Unless you have hundreds of dollars to spare for laser removal, be sure to think about where you get your tattoo, what design will still be meaningful to you even 20 years from now, and where where you want your tattoo placed.

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