The following is an excerpt of my most recent blog for Serpents of Bienville, for the full article click here.
Tattoos are a living, breathing thing, existing symbiotically with us. They can change rapidly, making them one of the most impermanent arts. The maximum life span for most tattoos is 70 years or so, aside from cases like Otzi the Iceman, whose lifetime was around 3300 BCE. Most people will not end up being preserved in ice, the perfect storm of conditions, preserved via the wintery storm that took their life. For most people, when their time comes and they move on to their next journey, their tattoos are left behind, quickly dissipating back into the air around them. In essence, tattoos are just like our life spans, gone within the blink of an eye, and also fluidly moving, ever changing, and becoming something new.
As tattooists, we get to take part in a sacred act, opening up the skin that guards people, now making them vulnerable. We then get to put something back into that wound, something either positive or negative. We have the ability to give people something, during that time of vulnerability, that their body will heal over, and the skin that guarded them will wear for their journeys to come. Scientifically, our tattoos are always changing. Tattoo needles, made in various groupings, are pushed through the skin by small, precise machines, pushing through the epidermis at some 50 to 3000 times per minute, and distributing ink into the dermis, the deeper layer of skin housing our nerves and blood cells. Our nerves produce triggers, declaring that a break has occurred. These triggers tell our immune system to get to work, and attempt to fix break has occurred on our protective skin, creating inflammation. In essence, the pain is a signal of something being fixed. Job specific cells called macrophages come to triggered area, guided by following the inflammation, and they begin to consume the ink that has been pushed through the puncture wounds. What ink that is left is then soaked up by skin cells called fibroblasts. Much of the macrophages and fibroblasts are then trapped there, suspended in the dermis, in perpetuity. This suspension of the ink in the cells are why we see tattoos as they are, but the slow dispersant back into the body is why they appear to fade over time. Perpetuity can only be so long. There’s that impermanence thing again. Change is all around.
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