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Tattoos & Skin Care

A tattoo is a serious investment, both financially and of valuable real estate on your skin. Making sure that it lasts, and that you avoid any complications or skin conditions, is important. If you have a tattoo or are considering one, it is worthwhile to understand tattooing and permanent makeup from a skin care perspective, as well as problems that can arise with tattooed skin. New Tattoos

Tattoos are becoming widely accepted in society. Approximately 21 percent of the population has at least one, with that figure increasing to 38 percent among 30-39 year olds. Tattoo artists use a machine with small needles that penetrate the skin at a frequency of 50-3,000 times per minute. The needles inject pigment to a depth of one-eighth to one-sixty-fourth of an inch, which can reach the reticular dermis (lower layer of the dermis). Permanent makeup works on the same principle, but may only reach the papillary dermis (upper layer or the dermis) or even the basal layer (lower layer of the epidermis). A new tattoo takes time to heal, ranging anywhere from a week to a couple of months. Through the healing process, there is often skin flaking, itching, and redness. There is a high risk of infection at this time, as well as during the actual tattooing process. Skin care services should not be performed on the tattooed area until it is fully healed. Until then, consider it an open wound. An older tattoo that was recently touched up or recolored should also be treated as a new tattoo for safety purposes Skin Care Issues Since tattoo needles break the skin, many complications are possible, including allergic reactions, skin infections, bloodborne diseases, and more. In addition, there are some long-term risks to be aware of when dealing with tattooed skin. Some pigments used in tattoos are phototoxic: when exposed to light, they can cause a reaction and irritation in some people. This seems to be more common with certain pigment colors, especially red. Plain black ink, on the other hand, generally does not cause problems. If you seem to have an allergic reaction to sunlight, ask a doctor about tattoo phototoxicity as a possible cause. Watch, too, for swelling, burning, bruising, inflammation, and increased cell production. These reactions can sometimes occur after the initial healing period is over, for both tattoos and permanent makeup. These reactions are also more frequent in cases where colored pigment was used. Consult an Esthetician An esthetician can be a valuable asset, both before and after the tattooing process. A series of pretreatments on any area where new artwork is planned is recommended because healthy, well-hydrated skin takes ink better and will prolong the life of the tattoo. Also consider a series of hydrating and exfoliating body treatments to prepare the skin for the best possible results. If you have older tattoos, a brightening treatment might be in order. This could consist of an enzyme peel, mild acid exfoliation, hyaluronic- or algae-based serum, or a hydrating mask (a shea butter base would be perfect) for 15 minutes. More Tips The American Academy of Dermatology recommends waiting to get a tattoo if you are pregnant, and also choosing an area of skin that is free of moles for your tattoo. It also offers the following tips on caring for skin with a tattoo at Apply sunscreen every day before going outdoors. Choose broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Pay attention to rashes and sunburn-like reactions. Skin can be extra sensitive during this time, and may need to be covered. Stay out of tanning beds and away from sunlamps. UV light can irritate or fade tattoos. If your tattooed skin feels dry, apply a water-based lotion or cream. The risk of fading a tattoo is higher with petroleum-based products. If you have a skin reaction or see your skin change in any way, see a dermatologist. Don't take a chance if you suspect that something is wrong. If you no longer want a tattoo, see a dermatologist. Before turning to an over-the-counter removal kit, consult a professional for the best course of action. Tattoo Removal It is a misconception that any tattoo can easily be removed with a laser. Some inks, especially those containing titanium dioxide, are not affected by lasers at all. Inks containing iron oxides will blur and turn black when laser removal is attempted. For tattoos that can be removed, a series of treatments is needed. The laser ruptures the dermal cells to redistribute the ink. Exactly what happens to the ink particles after that is unknown, but it is believed the body processes them. Susanne Schmaling is a licensed master esthetician with over 25 years experience, author, and president of the Esthetics Council. You can reach her at or

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