Does the ink flow through your body?


What happens when tattoo ink is injected into your skin? Most of it remains firmly lodged there, but some pigment travels to the lymph nodes or even to more distant destinations in your body. All the while, you sport a new tattoo.

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The body stores tattoo ink in cells and between collagen bundles in the dermis. But some pigment particles take a longer trip.

From elaborate designs and badges of sports teams to the names of loved ones, tattoos come in all shapes and sizes. Their popularity has grown over the past 20 years, with 29 percent of the population of the United States reporting having at least one tattoo.

But the inks used in tattoos are actually not developed for use in humans.

They are mainly intended for other applications, such as automotive painting or printing. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has, in fact, not approved all pigments for tattoos and skin reactions to tattoos are not uncommon.

Although some tattoo inks are known to contain carcinogensthere is no concrete evidence that the chemicals in tattoo ink can cause cancer.

Strong needles are used to deposit ink into the deep layer of the skin. The body recognizes tattoo pigments as foreign particles and tries to remove them from the skin, but the chemistry of the ink used in tattoos makes this process quite difficult for the body. Therefore, most of the color remains in the skin.

But why is it necessary to inject the ink so deeply?

the tattoo needle punctures your skin approximately 100 times per second, aiming to deposit ink in an area 1.5 to 2 millimeters below the skin’s surface. The reason for this deep penetration is to bypass the outer layer of skin, or epidermis.

This part of the skin is constantly renewing itself. Every day thousands of epidermal cells are shed from your skin and replaced with new cells. The ink injected into the superficial layer of the skin would simply peel off within 3 weeks.

In order to give the ink a permanent place in your body, the tattoo needle must pass through the epidermis to the deeper layer, or dermis. Nerves and blood vessels are located here, which is why getting a tattoo hurts and your skin tends to bleed.

Bleeding is part of the skin’s natural defense against injury. The result is an influx of immune cells to the site of injury.

Macrophages are specialized immune cells, whose job is to engulf foreign particles and remove them from the tissues. But this process is only partially successful when it comes to tattoo ink.

Some ink particle-laden macrophages remain in the dermis, while other pigment particles are taken up by major dermal residents, called fibroblasts. Clumps of pigment particles were also found to stick on between the dense collagen fibers of the dermis.

Although each new tattoo will show some loss of pigment, the majority of the ink will remain in the skin. A study in mice reported that 42 days after tattooing, 68% of the dye was still localized at the injection site.

But where is the rest of the ink?

In most cases, macrophages transport ink particles to the lymph nodes closest to the tattoo site. Because the cells cannot break down the particles, they lodge in them. The side effect is that the lymph nodes take on the same color as your tattoo.

There is also evidence to suggest that tattoo ink particles can travel through the bloodstream and lodge in the liver.

So, the next time you opt for a tattoo, remember that it might not just beautify your skin; it can also give your internal organs a unique color display.


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