How Do Tattoos Work & What’s the Process? | Painful Pleasures Community

How Do Tattoos Work & What’s the Process?

If you love the artistry of tattooing and want to know more about the science & process of how tattoos work, this article is for you.
by Painful Pleasures Last Updated: November 10, 2021

Tattoos are one of the world’s oldest and most popular forms of body modification. But even though most people know what tattoos are, many don’t fully understand how tattoos and tattooing works. If you’re one of those folks who loves and appreciates the artistry of tattooing but wants to know more about the science of how tattoos work, this article is for you.

How do tattoos work?

On the most basic level, you likely understand that tattooing involves inserting ink into the skin to create a design. This basic understanding is a good place to start, but there are a few important details to know. 

First, tattoo needles insert ink into the skin, but not in the same way as hypodermic needles administer vaccines or draw blood. Those medical-use needles are hollow, and liquid passes through them to enter or exit the body. 

In contrast, what we commonly refer to as a “tattoo needle” is a group of needles that are not hollow. Instead of ink passing through them, tattoo needles use a principle called capillary action to carry the ink into the tiny spaces between each needle within the group. As the needle group punctures the skin, it deposits the ink that is left behind beneath the skin surface. Tattoo machines create thousands of these tiny punctures every minute, allowing tattoo artists to create complex, detailed designs.

Why are tattoos permanent?

Understanding the skin structure is important in understanding both how tattoos work and why they are permanent. The skin is divided into three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer. During tattooing, tattoo needles pierce through the epidermis – the outermost layer – and deposit tattoo ink into the dermis, which contains hair follicles, sweat glands, and blood vessels. Unlike the cells in the epidermis, which replace themselves frequently, skin cells in the dermis take far longer for the body to replace. This is part of the reason why tattoos are permanent. 

Another reason has to do with the way the body responds to tattooing. Because the process of tattooing creates thousands of tiny wounds, the body’s immune system responds by sending special cells to help heal the area. Some of these cells try to remove the ink particles, but most of the particles are too large. Instead, the body’s response traps them within the dermis. While the particles will deteriorate and fade over time, they’ll remain mostly visible through the epidermis.

The process of getting a tattoo

Now that you know how tattoos work, you can start thinking about your own body art. The first step of the tattooing process should be to develop some ideas about where and what you would like to have tattooed. Depending on where and how large you want your design to be, what that design is, and how much money you’re willing to spend, a professional tattoo artist can help you decide on the final size, location, and design. 

When choosing a tattoo artist, make sure they’re reputable and observe all the necessary health and safety practices for tattooing. If your tattoo artist doesn’t have good hygiene standards, your beautiful body art could turn out to be a dangerous, infected mess. Your artist will provide you with detailed instructions on how to prepare for your tattooing appointment, and they’ll also send you home with a complete set of aftercare instructions and tattoo aftercare supplies that will help your skin heal fully and quickly. The aftercare process is critical in ensuring your tattoo’s health, appearance, and longevity, so be sure to follow your artist’s instructions carefully.

For more information on tattoos, tattooing, and tattoo equipment, as well as artist and shop features, check out our PainfulPleasures blog.

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