From Free net encyclopedia

A tattoo is a design or marking made by the insertion of a pigment into punctures or cuts in the skin. In technical terms, tattooing is micro-pigment implantation. Tattoos are a type of body modification.

The word is traced to the Tahitian tatu or tatau, meaning to mark or strike (the latter referring to traditional methods of applying the designs). In Japanese the word used for traditional designs or those that are applied using traditional methods is irezumi ("insertion of ink"), while "tattoo" is used for non-Japanese designs. Template:TOCleft Most tattoo enthusiasts refer to tattoos as tats, ink, art or work, and to tattooists as artists. This usage is gaining support, with mainstream art galleries holding exhibitions of tattoo designs and photographs of tattoos.

Tattoo designs that are mass produced and sold to tattoo artists and studios and displayed in shop are known as flash.



Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent decades in many parts of the world, particularly in North America, Japan, and Europe. The growth in tattoo culture has seen the influx of new artists into the industry, many of whom have technical and fine art training, and that coupled with advancements in tattoo pigments and the ongoing refinement of the equipment used for tattooing has led to a marked improvement in the quality of tattoos being produced. Movie stars, models, popular musicians and sports figures are just some of the people in the public eye who are commonly tattooed, which in turn has fueled the acceptance of tattoos within mainstream popular culture.

In many traditional cultures tattooing has enjoyed a resurgence, partially in deference to their cultural heritage. Historically, a decline in traditional tribal tattooing in Europe occurred with the spread of Christianity. A decline often occurred in other cultures following European efforts to convert aboriginal and indigenous people to Western religious and cultural practices that held tattooing to be a "pagan" or "heathen" activity. Within some traditional indigenous cultures, tattooing takes place within the context of a rite of passage between adolescence and adulthood.



Tattooing has been a nearly ubiquitous human practice. The Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, wore facial tattoos. Tattooing was widespread among Polynesian peoples, and in the Philippines, Borneo, Africa, North America, South America, Mesoamerica, Europe, Japan, and China.

Tattooing in prehistoric times

Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice since Neolithic times. "Ötzi the Iceman", dated circa 3300 BC, exhibits possible therapeutic tattoos (small parallel dashes along lumbar and on the legs). Tarim Basin (West China, Xinjiang) revealed several tattooed mummies of a Western (Western Asian/European) physical type. Still relatively unknown (the only current publications in Western languages are those of J P. Mallory and V H. Mair, The Tarim Mummies, London, 2000), some of them could date from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE.

Three tattooed mummies (c. 300 BCE) were extracted from the permafrost of Altaï in the second half of the 20th century (the Man of Payzyrk, during the 1940s; one female mummy and one male in Ukok plateau, during the 1990s). Their tattooing involved animal designs carried out in a curvilinear style. The Man of Pazyryk was also tattooed with dots that lined up along the spinal column (lumbar region) and around the right ankle.

Tattooing in the ancient world


Tattooing has also been featured prominently in one of the Four Classic Novels in Chinese literature, Water Margin, in which at least two of the 108 characters, 史進 Shi Jin and 燕青 Yan Qing, are described as having tattoos covering nearly the whole of their bodies. In addition, Chinese legend has it that the mother of Yue Fei, the most famous general of the Song Dynasty, tattooed the words 精忠報國 (pinyin: jin zhong bao guo) on his back with her sewing needle before he left to join the army, reminding him to "repay his country with pure loyalty".


Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other central and northern European tribes were often heavily tattooed, according to surviving accounts. The Picts were famously tattooed (or scarified) with elaborate dark blue woad (or possibly copper for the blue tone) designs. Julius Caesar described these tattoos in Book V of his Gallic Wars (54 BCE).

Ahmad ibn Fadlan also wrote of his encounter with the Scandinavian Rus' tribe in the early 10th century, describing them as tattooed from "fingernails to neck" with dark blue "tree patterns" and other "figures." During the gradual process of Christianization in Europe, tattoos were often considered remaining elements of paganism and generally legally prohibited.

According to Robert Graves in his book The Greek Myths, tattooing was common amongst certain religious groups in the ancient Mediterranean world, which may have contributed to the prohibition of tattooing in Leviticus.


Template:Main Tattooing for spiritual and decorative purposes in Japan is thought to extend back to at least the Jomon or paleolithic period (approximately 10,000 BCE) and was widespread during various periods for both the Japanese and the native Ainu. Chinese visitors observed and remarked on the tattoos in Japan (300 BCE).

Middle East

An archaic practice in the Middle East involved people cutting themselves and rubbing in ash during a period of mourning after an individual had died. It was a sign of respect for the dead and a symbol of reverence and a sense of the profound loss for the newly departed; and it is surmised that the ash that was rubbed into the self-inflicted wounds came from the actual funeral pyres that were used to cremate bodies. In essence, people were literally carrying with them a reminder of the recently deceased in the form of tattoos created by ash being rubbed into shallow wounds cut or slashed into the body, usually the forearms.

Reintroduction in the Western world

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Between 1766 and 1779, Captain James Cook made three voyages to the South Pacific, the last trip ending with Cook's death in Hawaii in February, 1779. When Cook and his men returned home to Europe from their voyages to Polynesia, the salons of Paris and London were soon abuzz with tales of the 'tattooed savages' that Cook and his men had seen on their travels and discovered in previously unknown lands. Crew members of those voyages returned with more than just fabulous tales of what they had seen, many of the sailors returned with tattoos.

Cook's Science Officer and Expedition Botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, returned to England with a tattoo. Banks was a highly regarded member of the English aristocracy and had acquired his position with Cook by putting up what was at the time the princely sum of some ten thousand pounds in the expedition. In turn, Cook brought back with him a tattooed Tahitian chief, whom he presented to King George and the English Court. Many of Cook's men, ordinary seamen and sailors, came back with tattoos, a tradition that would soon become associated with men of the sea in the public's mind and the press of the day. In the process sailors and seamen re-introduced the practice of tattooing in Europe and it spread rapidly to seaports around the globe.

It was in Tahiti aboard the Endeavour, in July of 1769, that Cook first noted his observations about the indigenous body modification and is the first recorded use of the word tattoo. In the Ship's Log Cook recorded this entry : "Both sexes paint their Bodys, Tattow, as it is called in their Language. This is done by inlaying the Colour of Black under their skins, in such a manner as to be indelible."

Cook went on to write, "This method of Tattowing I shall now describe...As this is a painful operation, especially the Tattowing of their Buttocks, it is performed but once in their Lifetimes."

The British Royal Court must have been fascinated with the Tahitian chief's tattoos, because the future King George V had himself inked with the 'Cross of Jerusalem' when he traveled to the Middle East in 1892. He also received a dragon on the forearm from the needles of an acclaimed tattoo master during a visit to Japan. George's sons, The Duke of Clarence and The Duke of York were also tattooed in Japan while serving in the British Admiralty, solidifying what would become a family tradition.

Taking their sartorial lead from the British Court, where Edward VII followed George V's lead in getting tattooed; King Frederick IX of Denmark, the King of Romania, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Alexander of Yugoslavia and even Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, all sported tattoos, many of them elaborate and ornate renditions of the Royal Coat of Arms or the Royal Family Crest. King Alfonso of modern Spain also had a tattoo.

Tattooing spread among the upper classes all over Europe in the nineteenth century, but particularly in Britain where it was estimated in Harmsworth Magazine in 1898 that as many as one in five members of the gentry were tattooed. There, it was not uncommon for members of the social elite to gather in the drawing rooms and libraries of the great country estate homes after dinner and partially disrobe in order to show off their tattoos. Aside from her consort Prince Albert, there are persistent rumours that Queen Victoria had a small tattoo in an undisclosed 'intimate' location; Denmark's king Frederick was filmed showing his tattoos taken as a young sailor. Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, not only had a tattoo of a snake around her wrist, which she covered when the need arose with a specially crafted diamond bracelet, but had her nipples pierced as well. Carrying on the family tradition, Winston Churchill was himself tattooed. In most western countries tattooing remains a subculture identifier, and is usually performed on less-often exposed parts of the body.

The electric tattoo machine

The modern electric tattoo machine is far removed from the machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891. O'Reilly's machine was based on the rotary technology of the electric engraving device invented by Thomas Edison. Modern tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils. The first coil machine was patented by Thomas Riley in London, 1891 using a single coil. The first twin coil machine, the predecessor of the modern configuration, was invented by another Englishman, Alfred Charles South of London, in 1899.

Negative associations

Secular attitudes

Some employers, especially in professional fields, still look down on tattoos or regard them as contributing to an unprofessional appearance. Tattoos can therefore impair a wearer's career prospects, particularly when inked on places not typically covered by clothing, such as hands or neck.

In some cultures, tattoos still have negative associations, despite their increasing popularity and are generally associated with criminality in the public's mind; therefore those who choose to be tattooed in such countries usually keep their tattoos covered for fear of reprisal. For example, many businesses such as gyms, hot springs and recreational facilities in Japan still ban people with visible tattoos. Tattoos, particularly full traditional body suits, are still popularly associated with the yakuza (mafia) in Japan. In Western cultures as well, some dress codes specify that tattoos must be covered.[1] At least according to popular belief, most triad members in Hong Kong have a tattoo of a black dragon on the left biceps and one of a white tiger on the right; in fact, many people in Hong Kong use "left a black dragon, right a white tiger" as a euphemism for a triad member. It is widely believed that one of the initiation rites in becoming a triad member is silently withstanding the pain of receiving a large tattoo in one sitting, usually performed in the traditional "hand-poked" style.

In the USA many prisoners and criminal gangs use distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior, prison sentences, and organizational affiliation. This cultural use of tattoos predates the widespread popularity of tattoos in the general population, so older people may still associate tattoos with criminality. At the same time, members of the US military have an equally established and longstanding history of tattooing to indicate military units, battles, etc., and this association is also widespread among older Americans. Tattooing is also widespread in the British Armed Forces.

Tattoos can have additional negative associations for women; "tramp stamp" and other similarly derogatory slang phrases are sometimes used to describe a tattoo on a woman's lower back.

Religious prohibitions


Some Christians and Jews believe Leviticus 19:28 prohibits believers from getting tattoos: Do not make gashes in your skin for the dead. Do not make any marks on your skin. I am God. One reading of Leviticus is to apply it only to the specific ancient practice of rubbing the ashes of the dead into wounds; but modern tattooing is included in other religious interpretations. Many Christians believe that the religious doctrines of Leviticus are superceded by the New Testament.


Traditional Jews, in strict following of Halakha (Jewish Law), also point to Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 180:1, that elucidates the biblical passage above as a prohibition against markings beyond the ancient practice, including tattoos. Maimonides concluded that regardless of intent, the act of tattooing is prohibited (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 12:11). Conservative/Masorti Jews point to the next verse of the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 180:2), "If it [the tattoo] was done in the flesh of another, the one to whom it was done is blameless" – this is used by they to say that tattooing yourself is different from obtaining a tattoo, and that the latter may be acceptable. Traditional Jews interpret this as only forcible tattooing, as was the case during the Holocaust. Surgery and tattoos needed for surgery (eg: to mark the lines of an excision) are permitted by the next line (180:3). According to the major Jewish denominations, having a tattoo does not prohibit participation, and one may be buried in a Jewish cemetery and participate fully in all synagogue ritual. In stricter, more traditional approaches, though, a community may have a psak (ruling or responsa with the weight of Halakha) that may counter one's acceptance in regards to burial. Many of these communities, most notably the Modern Orthodox, accept laser removal of the tattoo as teshuvah (repentence), even if removed post-mortem (see Tahara).


Following the Sharia (or Islamic Law), the majority of Muslims hold that tattooing is religiously forbidden (along with most other forms of 'permanent' physical modification). This view arises from Qur'anic verses and explicit references in the Prophetic Hadith which denounce those who attempt to change the creation of Allah, in what is seen as excessive attempts to beautify that which was already perfected. The human being is seen as having been ennobled by Allah, the human form viewed as created beautiful, such that the act of tattooing would be a form of self-mutilation.[2] [3] Some Muslims believe that though tattooing is not haraam (prohibited), it is nonetheless makruh (disdained). Muslims who received tattoos prior to conversion to Islam, however, face no special obstacle to religious observance. Henna patterns, however, are used among Muslim women, as distinguished from permanent tattooing.

Popular and youth culture

Current estimates suggest one in seven or over 39 million people in North America have at least one tattoo.

A recent Harris Poll finds that 16% of all adults in the United States have at least one tattoo. The highest incidence of tattoos was found among the gay, lesbian and bisexual population (31%) and among Americans ages 25 to 29 years (36%) and 30 to 39 years (28%). Regionally, people living in the West (20%) are more likely to have tattoos.

Democrats are more likely to have tattoos (18%) than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%) while approximately equal percentages of males (16%) and females (15%) have tattoos.

This survey was conducted online between July 14 and 20, 2003 by Harris Interactive(R) among a nationwide sample of 2,215 adults.


Image:Rapturetattoo.jpg Human history shows that tattoos have served in many diverse cultures as rites of passage, marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, sexual lures and marks of fertility, pledges of love, punishment, amulets and talismans, protection, and as the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts.

Today, people choose to be tattooed for cosmetic, religious and magical reasons, as well as a symbol of belonging to or identification with particular groups (see Criminal tattoos). Some Māori still choose to wear intricate moko on their faces. People have also been forcibly tattooed for a variety of reasons. The best known is the ka-tzetnik identification system for Jews in part of the concentration camps during the Holocaust.

European sailors were known to tattoo the crucifixion on their backs to prevent flogging as a punishment as at that time it was a crime to deface an image of Christ.

Tattoos are also placed on animals, though very rarely for decorative reasons. Pets, show animals, thoroughbred horses and livestock are sometimes tattooed with identification marks, and certain of their body parts (for example, noses) have also been tattooed to prevent sunburn. Such tattoos are performed by veterinarians and the animals are anaesthetized to prevent pain. (Branding would not be considered a tattoo since no ink or dye is inserted).


Image:TattooInProgress.jpg Some tribal cultures still create tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents. This may be an adjunct to scarification. Some cultures create tattooed marks by "tapping" the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones. Traditional Japanese tattoos (irezumi) are still "hand-poked," that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel.

The most common method of tattooing in modern times is the electric tattoo machine. Ink is inserted into the skin via a group of needles that are soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 50 to 3,000 times a minute.

Permanent cosmetics

Template:Main Permanent cosmetics are tattoos that enhance eyebrows, lips (liner or lipstick), eyes (shadow, mascara), and even moles, usually with natural colors as the designs are intended to resemble makeup.

"Natural" tattoos

According to George Orwell, workers in coal mines would wind up with characteristic tattoos owing to coal dust getting into wounds. This can also occur with substances like gunpowder. Similarly, a traumatic tattoo occurs when a substance such as asphalt is rubbed into a wound as the result of some kind of accident or trauma. These are particularly difficult to remove as they tend to be spread across several different layers of skin, and scarring or permanent discoloration is almost unavoidable depending on the location. In addition, tattooing of the gingiva from implantation of amalgam particles during dental filling placement and removal is possible and not uncommon.

Temporary tattoos

Temporary tattoos are a type of body sticker, like a decal. They are generally applied to the skin using water to transfer the design to the surface of the skin. Temporary tattoos are easily removed with soap and water or oil-based creams, and are intended to last a few days.

Other forms of temporary "tattoos" are henna tattoos, also known as Mehndi, and the marks made by the stains of silver nitrate on the skin when exposed to ultraviolet light. Both methods, silver nitrate and henna, can take up to two weeks to fade from the skin.

Dyes and pigments

Image:Color Pigment.png For the tattooing, a wide range of dyes and pigments can be used; from inorganic materials like titanium dioxide and iron oxides to carbon black, azo dyes, and acridine, quinoline, phthalocyanine and naphthol derivates.

Iron oxide pigments are used in greater extent in cosmetic tattooing.

In a survey[4], many pigments were found to be used among professional tattooists:

Recently, a blacklight-reactive tattoo ink using PMMA microcapsules has surfaced. The technical name is BIOMETRIX System-1000, and is marketed under the name "Chameleon Tattoo Ink". This ink is reportedly quite safe for use, and claims to be FDA approved for use on wildlife that may enter the food supply.

Tattoo removal

Tattoos can be wholly or partially removed by cosmetic surgical techniques, most commonly through the use of lasers. The laser reacts with the ink in the tattoo, and breaks it down. After this, the patient's body then absorbs the broken-down ink and the skin heals once more. The procedure can be expensive, and very painful (some say more so than the original tattoo) and often requires many repeated visits to remove a small tattoo. It also may not be entirely effective in leaving unblemished skin, due to the fact that tattoos also scar the skin to varying degrees, depending on how the tattoo was applied, the way the skin healed, and the area that was tattooed.

Overall, green-based ink is the most difficult to remove. Black ink is most readily broken down by the laser, and unprofessional tattoos done at home are the easiest ones to remove, due to the low quality of ink used, as well as the ineffective manner in which they were applied. Before the advent of laser removal, tattoos could be (at least partially) removed by (1) loading hydrogen peroxide into a tattoo machine and then retracing the tattoo with the chemical (2) dermabrasion (3) surgically cutting the tattoo out of the skin. However, this method often resulted in a scar that was just as unsightly as the original tattoo.

A newer method of removal is by tattooing glycolic acid into the skin with a tattoo machine, the acid pushes the ink to the surface of the skin in the scab, the scab is later removed. This method supposedly scars less than lasering. Glycolic acid is also used for facial peels; when used for tattoo removal, a lower percentage mix is used.

Health risks

Permanent tattooing of any form carries small risks, including of infection, allergy, disease, and stress or phobic reactions. Risk reduction in the body arts requires single use items including gloves and needles.

In most prisons there is a significant risk of illness due to tattooing being done without following universal precautions, including such blood-borne diseases as HIV and hepatitis. However there is a program underway in Canada as of the summer of 2005 that opens legitimized tattoo parlors in prison, this is intended to reduce the risk of infections and may also provide the inmates with a marketable talent. Inmates will be trained to staff and operate the tattoo parlors once six of them open successfully. [5]

In addition, it is important that cross contamination not occur, this is why many counties require that tattooists have bloodborne pathogen training as is provided through the Red Cross.


Since tattoo instruments come in contact with blood and bodily fluids, diseases may be transmitted if the instruments are used on more than one person without being sterilized. However, infection from tattooing in clean and modern tattoo studios is rare.

Infections include surface infections of the skin, Staphylococcus aureus, infections that can cause cardiological damage, sexually transmitted diseases, and some forms of hepatitis. People who have a compromised immune system, including those who have no spleen, should consult a physician before getting a tattoo or body piercing.

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions to tattoo pigments are uncommon except for certain brands of red and green. People who are sensitive or allergic to certain metals may react to pigments in the skin by becoming swollen and/or itchy, oozing of clear fluid called sebum is also common. People who are allergic to green soap should let their tattooist know before being tattooed, because the area is cleaned before and during the tattoo with green soap and it will ultimately get into the tattoo. A reaction to the green soap will result in itchy redness that may swell. It should go away with time, but can be very uncomfortable, so one should still consult a doctor. Allergic reactions to latex should also be stated before being tattooed or pierced.

People with allergies should think carefully about getting a tattoo because of the risk of anaphylactic shock (hypersensitive reaction), which can be life threatening. Some tattoo artists do small test patches of pigments to be used allowing a week or two for the client to develop a negative reaction before proceeding with the actual tattoo. This is not necessarily useful, however, because it may take years of exposure before an allergic reaction occurs.

Tattoos and MRI

There has been concern expressed about the interaction between magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures and tattoo inks, some of which contain trace metals. Allegedly, the magnetic fields produced by MRI machines could interact with these metal particles, potentially causing burns or distortions in the image. The television show MythBusters tested the theory, and concluded that there is no risk of interaction between tattoo inks and MRI. In any case, today the majority of professional tattoos do not contain metal particles and therefore raise no concern for MRI or x-ray.

However, research by Shellock and Crues MR Safety and the American College of Radiology White Paper reports adverse reactions to MRI and tattoos in a very small number of cases. They also cite a well documented case Tattoo-Induced Skin Burn During MR Imaging by Wagle and Smith.

Studio hygiene

The properly maintained tattoo studio will use biohazard containers for blood-stained objects, sharps containers for old needles, an autoclave for sterilizing tools (usually required by law). A studio should have accessible facilities with hot water and soap, and tattooists should wash her or his hands between clients as well as wear new latex gloves for each client.

A reputable tattooist will refuse to tattoo minors, intoxicated people, people with contraindicated skin conditions, or those incapable of consent due to mental incapacity, and attempt to ensure that the customer is satisfied with and sure about the design before applying it. Moreover, she or he will open new, sterile needle packages in front of the client, and always use new, sterile or sterile disposable instruments and supplies, and fresh ink for each session (loaded into disposable containers which are discarded after each client). A tattoo studio should provide clear aftercare instructions and products.

Membership in professional organizations, or certificates of appreciation/achievement, generally require that an artist is aware of the latest trends in equipment and sterilization. However, many of the most notable tattooists do not belong to any association. While specific requirements vary between jurisdictions, many mandate formal training in bloodborne pathogens, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and cross contamination. A local department of health regulates tattoo studios in many jurisdictions.


Tattoo artists have had to recommend a variety of products available from local drug stores. These products were intended to prevent cuts, burns, scrapes, and abrasions from becoming infected and not for the healing of new tattoos. The majority of these products contain petroleum or lanolin which, when applied to a new tattoo, can clog skin pores and actually retard the body's healing process. There is also the possibility of allergic reactions to these products, and application to a new tattoo can cause skin reactions leading to loss of ink and permanent damage to a tattoo.

In the last few years, cosmetic and pharmaceutical aftercare products have been developed for the tattoo world. These products are safe, efficient, and dermatologically tested. Most tattoo artists recommend and sell them.

New tattoos are wounds which must be looked after properly. Immediately after completing the tattoo, most tattooists will cover the area to keep out dirt and keep the tattoo from oozing into clothes; sometimes the area is wrapped in clingfilm, paper towel, poultry packs (that come in chicken packs) or gauze. Some tattooists will recommend leaving the covering on for several hours or overnight, and then gently washing the area. Japanese people commonly soak the tattoo in hot water to clean it.

Other uses

Tattooing is also used in managing wildlife and livestock. Animals are marked with symbols or alphanumeric characters for identification. Tattoos may be located anywhere on the animal's body including its ear (common for small mammals) or inner lip (bears).

For example, the symbol (Φ) is tattooed in the ears of pet cats and dogs in Australia to indicate that they have been neutered.

Tattooing is also used as a form of cosmetic surgery, like permanent cosmetics, to hide or neutralize skin discolorations.



Popular and artistic

  • Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo Terisa Green, ISBN 0451215141
  • The Tattoo Encyclopedia: A Guide to Choosing Your Tattoo Terisa Green, ISBN 0743223292
  • Total Tattoo Book Amy Krakow, ISBN 0446670014
  • Tattoo Art Magazine


See also

Tattoo types

ar:وشم br:Tatouadur de:Tätowierung es:Tatuaje eo:Tatuo fr:Tatouage it:Tatuaggio he:קעקע nl:Tatoeage ja:入れ墨 pl:Tatuaż pt:Tatuagem ru:Татуировка fi:Tatuointi sv:Tatuering zh:刺青