Tag Archives: tattoo healing

Getting the Tattoo

What’s happening to your skin when you’re getting a tattoo?

Getting a tattoo is like getting multiple injections of ink in a concentrated location on the skin – of course usually in a meaningful pattern according to the tattoo design. Tattoo needles take the ink through the epidermis (outer layer) into the dermis (second layer).

  • The epidermis is responsible for new skin cell production. Think about your skin peeling after a sunburn and scabs forming when you get a cut. This layer of the skin also produces melanin, dictating what color your skin is. Additionally, protective immune cells live in the epidermis. Think about how much nasty stuff your skin is exposed to on a regular basis. These immune cells are hard at work 24/7. First-degree burns are those that affect the epidermis.
  • The dermis has its own set of duties, including sweat production, sensation, hair growing, oil-making, and ferrying blood to and from the epidermis. Second-degree burns are those that affect the epidermis and part of the dermis.

The immune cells living in the epidermis don’t know that the needle piercing the skin is something you’ve voluntarily agreed to do (actually paying someone to do). They react as if the body is under attack, triggering the inflammatory response. You’re familiar with the immune response if you’ve ever cut yourself, scratched a bug bite, or gotten a sunburn. I’m going to go out on a not-to-flimsy limb here and say you’ve definitely experienced the inflammatory response during your lifetime.

When immune cells in the epidermis trigger the inflammatory response, the immune system goes on high alert, sending troops of specialized immune cells to the wound site. This is also why you feel pain during a tattoo (and other wounds) – your body is telling you that you’re under attack and you need to GTFO.

The ink delivered by the tattoo is taken up by immune cells called macrophages, which specialize in engulfing particles and digesting them to “clean up debris” at a wound site. Skin cells called fibroblasts also take up ink. Whichever way the ink goes, those cells stay in the dermis permanently, providing the “a tattoo is forever” quality that makes grandmothers everywhere furrow the brows and purse their lips in disapproval.

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Let’s Talk About Tattoos

Well folks… #ScienceKara got a tattoo and (obviously) was very intrigued about the process of getting a tattoo and how it heals afterward (I’m a low-level hypochondriac) and thus, a blog post was born. I started writing this and realized that there’s a lot of interesting stuff in the realm of tattoo science, so I’m splitting it into a series of couple of articles.

The Art (and Science) of…

Tattooing

Tattoo Healing

Tattoo Removal

Plus…

What Can Go Seriously Wrong if You Get a Low-quality Tattoo

 

To begin, I want to take a few paragraphs to talk about why I got a tattoo and the social implications of having a tattoo in 2018. I’ve thought about getting a tattoo for a long time, as I am very passionate about self-expression and constant reminders of strength and meaning. But as someone who, realistically, also has to consider what my tattoo will say about me in the workplace, I did some thinking and some serious research on more than just the tattoo healing process before getting my ink.

Social Implications of Getting a Tattoo: How Things Have Changed

There are plenty of Business Insider, Forbes, and Huffington Post articles discussing tattoos and changing social norms, but I scored an even better source: a peer-reviewed journal article from a journal called Human Relations. Let’s chat about the highlights.

The main question: is it still true that people with tattoos are less “employable” than people without tattoos?

Researchers say that discrimination based on an individual having tattoos is a form of “lookism,” which also includes discrimination based on clothing, attractiveness, and body weight. Authors of the 2018 study cited other studies from 1995, 2006, and 2011 that suggested employers are less likely to hire applicants with tattoos. This of course excludes a few specific occupations, like a tattoo artist.

However, the authors also mention a 2016 study that showed that “the prevailing view that body art is associated with both employment and earnings discrimination was challenged by a recent study finding that having a tattoo is not significantly related to employment conditional on labor force participation, nor with earnings conditional on employment.”

The author from the 2018 Human Resources study build a more robust study design as a follow-up to the referenced 2016 study, factoring in a more diverse set of metrics like:

  • Tattoo prevalence and characteristics
  • Labor force participation
  • Labor supply and earnings
  • Socio-demographics
  • Risky behaviors
  • Health status

Ultimately, their study confirmed that they could find “no evidence that tattoos are significantly associated with employment or earnings discrimination.”

I’m not an expert on the evolution of social norms in American culture so I can’t say for sure why tattoos are becoming increasingly accepted in the working world. I’d like to think that Americans are becoming increasingly accepting of all forms of self-expression – in addition to tattoos, things like gender and sexuality. What do you think?

A Sign of Self-expression

Transitioning into talking about why I decided to get my tattoo, I think the easiest way to explain to people why I got my tattoo (a cat looking into a mirror and seeing a lion as his reflection) is to talk about self-expression.

The older I get, the more I feel this gravitational pull of monotony, the transition into the habitual activities of the working world: Wake up, get ready. Eat breakfast, take the dog out. Go to work, do my job. Come home, make dinner. Watch TV or read a book. Go to bed. Repeat.

Add in a few weekends, a few doctor’s appointments, and some fun outings with friends. Nonetheless, I was only a few months in at my new job (my first “real” job working 8-5), and I was feeling apprehensive about falling into the rhythm and waking up in 20 years wondering where the time had gone.

Now, I’m not saying that getting a tattoo is going to solve all my existential philosophical issues, but this single act of permanent self-expression definitely helped me stake my claim that I would not be giving into the monotony. You have to work for a living – I understand that this is how the world works – but I can also devote as much time as I can to bettering myself, learning about the world and about its people, and enjoying all the aspects of life. This is (partly) what my tattoo means to me, reminds me of.

Bettering Myself

As much as I talk (and write) about health, nutrition, exercise, etc., I’m really not as healthy as I can be in my own life. The second part of what my tattoo means to me is that promise to myself that I will devote myself to staying healthy – mind and body – with eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and building my strength, and taking care of my anxiety.

I hope that when I look at my tattoo and see the cat and the lion, I can gain inspiration from either character based on what situation I’m in. When I feel like the cat, I’m looking for strength from the lion to be strong or make a hard choice. And when I feel like the lion, I need the cat to help me stay grounded and remember how far I’ve come. I hope that if you’re reading this and you’ve been considering getting a tattoo or some other form of self-expression, that you’ll follow through with it despite any nay-sayers discouraging you. You know what you want and what you need, and life’s too short not to do the things that bring you joy, purpose, and strength.

Stay tuned for the next episode in this series about tattoos.