The Science of Tattoos

Some people don’t even stop to think before getting tattooed, let alone think about the science behind them. Interestingly enough its not as simple as many imagine and dives much deeper into the human body and it’s processes than you’d ever expect.

Tattoo collectors sort of understand the concept of tattoos- the consensus believing the ink goes beneath the upper layers of the skin so it becomes some what trapped and can never wash off. Although in simple terms this is true, it’s actually linked to your body’s autoimmune response. It turns out that your body treats the ink forced in the subcutaneous levels of the skin as if it is an infection, creating a complex inflammatory response that causes the invading ink to remain at a distinct layer instead of sinking into the blood stream.

Tattoo needles create puncture wounds through the epidermis and into the dermis, the deeper layer where nerves and blood vessels can be found. Every time the needle penetrates, the body is alerted of a wound and immune cells called macrophages rush to the injured area, or in the case of a tattoo, the multiple injured areas. The macrophages eat up the dye in an attempt to reduce inflammation and the rest is soaked up by the skin cells and other cells not strong enough to destroy the ink. These stained cells remain suspended in the dermis, creating that dragon tattoo you’ve wanted forever.

To see a greater explanation with some cool animation check out this video hosted by the infamous TED Talks: