10 Little-Known Facts About Tattoos

6 min read

Think you already know everything there is to know about tattoos? Think again. Here are ten little-known tattoo facts you most likely aren’t even aware of.

10. Tattooing is Old

Ancient Egyptian Tattoos
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

The earliest evidence of tattoos dates back to around 5,300 years old. That’s the age at which the “Iceman” — a mummy from the area of the Italy-Austria border that was discovered in September 1991– was carbon-dated. Prior to this discovery, the earliest evidence of tattoos dated back to 2,000 B.C. — the carbon date for several female mummies with tattoos present on their bodies.

-Tattooing was an exclusively female practice in ancient Egypt.
-Most of the tattoos on the ancient Egyptians consisted of largely dotted patterns of lines and diamond patterns, and they were usually dark in color.
-The first tattooing machine was patented by Samuel F. O’Reilley in 1891.

9. Tattoos Can be Medicinal

Source: Pixabay

According to anthropologist Lars Krutak, the second oldest evidence we have of tattoos is medicinal (the first is cosmetic). Krutak noted that the 5,300-year-old mummified “Iceman” had 57 tattoos on his body. “Incredibly, approximately 80 percent of these tattoos overlap with classical Chinese acupuncture points utilized to treat rheumatism, a medical condition that plagued the Iceman. Other tattoos were found to be located on or near acupuncture meridians that may have had the purpose of relieving other ailments, like gastrointestinal problems,” Krutak wrote in his book, Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification.

Meanwhile, Danish tattoo artist Colin Dale tried medicinal tattooing some years ago on a client who suffered from asthma, headaches, tinnitus in the ear, rheumatism in several joints, and a loud snoring habit. So, Dale enlisted the help of an acupuncturist to locate certain acupuncture points. After three months, the patient reported that just about all of his pain and symptoms had either significantly decreased or disappeared entirely. By a year, some of the pain and symptoms had returned, but his condition wasn’t nearly as severe.

In another story, Krutak found two groups that practice therapeutic joint tattooing. When asked about the tattoos, they told Krutak they would get them whenever they sprained a joint. Full mobility typically returned within a week.

FUN FACT: Getting tattooed releases endorphins — your body’s natural pain relievers — in your brain. “After you get a tattoo, pay attention to how you feel emotionally,” Lisa Barretta, author of Conscious Ink: The Hidden Meaning of Tattoos, told Bustle. “Tattoos can trigger buried feelings that rise to the surface for release. It either happens right away, or the effects of the shifting energy kick in weeks later.”

8. Tattoos Can Be Irritating

Skin Irritation
Source: Pixabay

Skin reactions aren’t all that common with tattoos, but they do occur. Not only that, but they can be difficult to treat. That’s why it’s best to consult a dermatologist before you get a tattoo. But, there are ways you can tell for yourself if you might have a higher risk of developing a reaction or infection from a tattoo. For example, if you’ve previously had allergic reactions to hair dye, cheap fragrances and/or costume jewelry, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have an allergic reaction to a tattoo as well.

-Avoid colored inks, especially red. “Of all the tattoo inks, red seems to be the most mischievous,” Dr. Arisa Oritz, a board-certified dermatologist and director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at UC San Diego Health, told Men’s Journal. “These allergic reactions can reoccur even after the tattoo is healed,” Caitlin Hoff, a Health & Safety Investigator at ConsumerSafety.org, told Bustle.
-Avoid your pets as much as possible while your tattoo is healing. Pet hair and saliva can cause you to develop an infection.

In extreme cases, it’s possible to get a blood-borne disease (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, etc.) from a tattoo if the equipment used is infected with contaminated blood.

7. Tattoos and Alcohol Don’t Mix

Drinking Alcohol
Source: Pixabay

You may be tempted to down a few glasses of your favorite alcoholic beverage right before getting a tattoo in order to ease the pain a bit, but that can be the worst thing to do. In fact, it’s downright dangerous. That’s because alcohol is a blood thinner and will make you bleed more when getting your tattoo. Plus, all that excess blood can thin the ink and cause your tattoo not to look exactly the way you were hoping.

6. Tattoos Can Fade

Fading Tattoo
Source: Pixabay

Even though tattoos are permanent, they may actually require a few touch-ups here and there. This is especially true if the design didn’t heal correctly. It’s also true if you get them in certain places, like your hands and feet. That’s because your skin exfoliates and regenerates the fastest on your hands and feet. That being the case, tattoos in those locations can start to fade within a few years.

Not only that, but “there are cells that are part of the immune system that come in and engulf the pigment,” Ortiz told Men’s Journal. “Not all the pigment will necessarily stay where you put it. It can end up in the lymphatic system and your lymph nodes,” where it remains indefinitely, she added.

5. Tattoo Ink Has Been Made in a Variety of Ways

Tattoo Ink
Source: Wikimedia Commons By The Dame [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

According to Smithsonian magazine, English writer William Lane (1801-1876) observed gypsy women making tattoo ink from a mixture of smoke black (of wood or oil) and breast milk. And, according to Fox News, prison tattoo artists use materials such as CD player motors, springs, pens, soot and just about anything else they can find to create tools and ink for tattooing fellow inmates. Meanwhile, some Russian inmates make tattoo ink by mixing melted boot heels with either urine or blood.

4. Large Tattoos Can be Trouble

Large Tattoo
Source: Pixabay

Large tattoos can be trouble for two reasons: 1) the larger and more intricate the design, the longer it will take. In fact, you may need to set up multiple appointments in order for the design to be finished. That’s because most tattoo artists work in two-hour sessions; and 2) large tattoos, especially full-arm sleeves, make it hard for dermatologists to detect skin color changes in moles, thereby making it more difficult to detect skin cancer. Before heading out to get a large tattoo, “ask your board-certified dermatologist if you are at high risk for skin cancer,” Dr. Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn told Bustle. If you are then you need to discuss with your dermatologist whether getting a large tattoo would be a good idea.

3. Tattoo Removal is Painful

Source: Pixabay

In fact, tattoo removal hurts worse than getting tattooed. Thankfully, your dermatologist can use a topical or injectable numbing medication to get rid of some of the pain. Unfortunately, you can’t remove your tattoo in one sitting. You’ll have to have multiple removal treatments over several months. Which brings me to the next point: tattoo removal is also expensive. It can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 per treatment. In the meantime, you can always cover your tattoo with clothing or a waterproof concealer. Some people even opt for covering their unwanted tattoo with a new tattoo!

2. Tattooed People Produce Less Sweat

Source: Pixabay

At least they do on the areas that are tattooed anyway. Not only that but the sodium concentration of sweat on tattooed skin is significantly high. That’s according to a study conducted by the Department of Integrative Physiology and Health Science at Alma College in Alma, MI. Although it’s not exactly clear why this is, scarring of the sweat glands may be to blame. “The process of that needle going in and out of the skin multiple times to deliver the ink oftentimes causes scarring to the skin. Scarring can be camouflaged with ink, so you don’t notice it as much,” Ortiz told Men’s Journal.

1. Tattoos Can Interfere with Medical Testing

Source: Wikimedia Commons By Jan Ainali [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

The ink from a tattoo can interfere with medical tests such as MRIs. For one, it can affect the test results because tattoo pigment in the lymph nodes can look like potential metastatic melanoma. That being the case, you may have to undergo an unnecessary biopsy. Another issue with tattoos is that they can cause swelling and a burning sensation when getting an MRI test.

NOTE: Permanent makeup, which is itself a type of tattoo, can interfere with these types of tests as well.


So, there you have it. Those are just some lesser-known facts about tattoos. Feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!