Picking, Caring for, and Removing Tattoos
Tattooing is accomplished by injecting ink into small, deep holes made in the skin. Most tattoo artists use an electrically powered, vertical, vibrating instrument to inject the tattoo pigment. The instrument injects pigment at 50 to 30,000 times per minute into the second layer of skin (the dermis), at a depth of 1/64 to 1/16 of an inch.
A single needle outlines the tattoo and the design is then filled in with five to seven different needles in a needle bar.
Caring for Your Tattoo
Caring for the area of skin where you got a tattoo is similar to caring for a burn. The area should be kept clean and moisturized until the tattoo has healed.
Important Tips to Keep in Mind:
- Do not touch the new tattoo.
- Keep the tattoo covered overnight (for at least 12 hours).
- Remove the bandage by first wetting the gauze in the shower. Wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with a soft towel.
- Do not use alcohol or peroxide, as they will dry out the tattoo. With clean hands, apply a light coat of antibiotic ointment at least three times a day. Rub it into the tattoo like lotion.
- The scab should stay soft and not get hard or crack. Do not apply Vaseline or petroleum jelly.
- If there is some scabbing and itching, do not pick or scratch at the tattoo!
- Within seven to 10 days, your tattoo should stop feeling tender and you can stop applying the antibiotic ointment.
- For another two weeks, apply a gentle lotion that has no perfumes or additives.
- Avoid direct sunlight for four weeks. A strong waterproof sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) is recommended forever.
- Always wear a bandage over a tattoo in a tanning bed.
- Avoid soaking in a hot tub, swimming, or taking hot baths while the tattoo is still healing because it can ruin the tattoo.
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There are several methods for tattoo removal, all of which can be very expensive and may cause permanent skin discoloration. The effectiveness of the removal depends on:
- The size and location
- Your own healing process
- How the tattoo was applied
- Colors of the pigment
- How long it has been on the skin
Removal Methods Include:
Laser: This is considered one of the best methods for tattoo removal, and produces the least amount of scarring. If necessary, a cream to numb the skin is applied and then pulses of light from the laser are directed onto the tattoo to break up the tattoo pigment. Then, over several weeks' time, the body's scavenger cells remove the treated pigmented areas. This usually requires several treatments in order to completely remove the tattoo.
Excision (Surgery): This technique is best for a small tattoo and includes minimal bleeding. Excision involves an injection of a local anesthetic to numb the area, after which the tattoo is removed surgically. The edges of the skin are then brought together and sutured.
Dermabrasion ("Sanding"): This method includes spraying the tattoo with a solution that freezes the area. The tattoo is then "sanded" with an abrasive instrument that causes the skin to peel. Some bleeding is likely and the area requires immediate dressing.
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What About Temporary Tattoos?
Temporary tattoos can be either decals or designs painted on the skin using a colored pigment, usually henna. The painted-on designs are often called "mehndi."
Decals: Decal-type tattoos are sponged on with water and usually wear off within a few days. Most contain FDA-approved colors, but there are some that contain coloring chemicals that are not approved by the FDA.
The FDA has received some reports of allergic reactions to the coloring ingredients in temporary tattoos. Be sure to read the label on any temporary tattoo product you buy, to make sure that it contains ingredients that are approved by the FDA for cosmetic use.
Mehndi: Mehndi involves the application of a henna-based paste directly to the skin. Although pure henna stains the skin a brown or reddish-brown color, some mehndi products include additional additives to produce different colors.
Not all of these color additives are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA. Be sure to read the label of any product you buy or allow to be used on your skin.
Which Ingredients are Safe?
The FDA has the authority to regulate color additives in cosmetics. The manufacturer and distributor of the product are responsible for determining the safety of the ingredients in the product.
If the safety of an ingredient is not proven, the product label must state: "Warning: The safety of this product has not been determined."
Visit the FDA website on cosmetic labeling for current information about labeling laws, regulation and testing of ingredients, and approved and certified color additives.
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Written By: Madison Brown-Moffitt,
high school student writer
Updated By: Calvin Lui,
college student writer
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Permanent Makeup (Micropigmentation), American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Unwanted Tattoos, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
Tattoos, Nemours Foundation.
For More Information:
Visit our list of Body Art References.
See our Getting It Done Safely article.