Some scientists have said that certain marks on the skin of a mummified human body dating from about 3300BC are tattoos. If that’s true, these markings represent the earliest known evidence of the practice. More widely recognised are tattoos found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies dating from about 2000BC.
Today, tattoos are created by injecting ink into the skin. The tattoo machine as we know it today has remained relatively unchanged since it was invented in the late 1800s and carries ink into your skin through a needle that moves up and down like a sewing machine.
Today’s machines puncture the skin at the rate of 50 to 3,000 times a minute. The sterilized needles are dipped in ink, which is sucked up through the machine’s tube system. Using an up-and-down motion to puncture the top layer of the skin they drive the ink into the skin, to about 3mm deep. What you see when you look at a tattoo is the ink that’s left in the skin after the tattooing. At this depth, cells of the dermis are remarkably stable so the tattoo’s ink will last, with minor fading and dispersion, for your entire life.
The size and type of your tattoo and the skill of the artist help determine the amount of pain involved. Pain also depends on the location of your tattoo: the lower back and ankle are popular places for tattoos, but it’s much less painful to get one on your chest or upper arm. This is because skin right above your bones tends to be more sensitive to needles while there’s extra body mass in the upper arm or chest to cushion the bones.
You should think carefully before getting a tattoo. A tattoo is to all intents and purposes permanent, and what you want when you are younger usually changes as you get older.
Tattoo removal is considerably more painful and expensive than tattooing. The process usually takes several sessions and offers varying results. Highly visible tattoos have been know to hinder career interests and plans. Speak to a friend who has a tattoo and ask him about his experience.
"Being able to blend into the background and remain covert is of paramount importance in our investigations. Any distinguishing features such as tattoos on your face, neck or forearms would make you more recognisable to someone who is under surveillance and would therefore make you unsuitable for this role."
Mobile Surveillance Officers Ref: 98 Job Description | MI5
- Ask your GP if there are any reasons why you shouldn’t have a tattoo (other than his/her personal thoughts on the matter)
- If you need more than one visit to choose what you want, check over the clinic and discuss your needs with the studio – do so
- Believe it or not there is no uniform standard in the UK. However, studios have to be registered in London with their London Borough; elsewhere they are usually registered with the local council (where they have to have a licence) or the health authority
- Set sufficient time aside, it’s not a particularly intelligent idea to have a tattoo or piercing on your way to work!
- Make sure the studio is covered by the appropriate health certification
- The studio should be scrupulously clean with separate waiting, tattooing/ piercing and sterilisation areas
- Ask the studio to explain in advance the procedures involved, and answer any questions that you may have
- After the tattoo/piercing, the studio should provide you with a written after care sheet
- If you have any doubts – follow you gut instinct – and leave
Tattoo after care
- Remove any dressing after two hours
- Wash with warm soap and water and pat dry with a clean towel
- Do not recover the tattoo
- Do not get the tattoo contaminated with grease, dirt, paint etc
- Do not expose the tattoo to the sun
- Apply small amounts of Savlon cream to the tattoo for the first two days
- Do not pick or scratch the tattoo
- Wash the tattoo twice daily
How tattoos became fashionable in Victorian England | The Conversation | 12 Dec 2019
London police now allowed visible tattoos – so is body art still rebellious? | The Conversation | 2 Dec 2018
The rise and rise of the tattoo | The Guardian | 20 Jul 2010