How the Tattooing Process Works
Understanding how tattooing works is pretty simple. Perfecting that process is another matter entirely. A basic working definition of tattooing is the art form of marking the skin with indelible images, marks or patterns by inserting pigment into the second layer of skin (the Dermis) through puncturing, cutting, or injecting. A person has three layers of skin the Epidermis, the Dermis and the Subctis a.k.a. the Hypodermis.
Modern tattooing is achieved by the use of electromagnetic tattooing machines. They work very much like a tiny jackhammer. A needle bar is attached to the machine and runs through a handheld tube. The complete set up is known as a tattoo machine or tattoo gun. The tip of the tube is dipped into tattooing ink similar to a fountain pen and is then run across the skin. If done properly the needle pierces the first layer of skin (the Epidermis) and pushes ink into the second layer of skin (the Dermis). This process causes slight trauma to the Epidermis layer, which creates a wound similar to a light rug burn. Afterwards the first layer regenerates itself; thereby, trapping the tattooing ink in the Dermis layer. Most tattooing inks consist of water, alcohol, glycerin and pigments. These pigments are often made from natural materials such as finely ground carbon, stone, etc.
Sandwiched in between the Epidermis and the Dermis layers of skin is where one's skin pigment or melanin is found. The lighter one's skin pigment is, in turn, determines how bright or detailed a tattoo will appear. During the first couple of days after being tattooed the tattoo will appear very bright and sharp. The tattooing needle pushes ink through both the Epidermis and Dermis layers of skin; as a result, leaving both layers inked. After a few days of the initial tattooing, the Epidermis layer visibly starts to regenerate itself. Once the old Epidermis layer sloughs off, at about four or five days after getting tattooed, the ink that was present in that layer also go with it. Now only the Dermis layer has tattooing ink present. When two full weeks have passed the tattoo is pretty much healed and what one sees is the trapped pigment through the somewhat transparent, newly regenerated Epidermis layer. If your skin has darker melanin then it will compete with the tattooing ink trapped beneath it in the Dermis layer.
Why is it important that a new tattoo not dry out during the first two weeks after being tattooed?
Scabs can start developing as early as the following day of having the tattoo applied. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to keep the new tattoo moist at all times during the first two weeks. If a new tattoo was allowed to dry up it would develop hard scabs. These hard scabs have a tendency to crack and are more prone to being pulled off. When a scab like this cracks it can very easily split right down to the Dermis layer where the ink is and thereby damage the tattoo. When these scabs are pulled off they take with them some of the tattooing ink from the Dermis layer. Both of these situations will leave light areas in the tattoo but they can also remove large sections of ink and possibly scar the area.
This is easily avoided by constantly applying the triple antibiotic ointment for two full weeks. When this is done there will be no hard scabbing; instead, very light slimy scabs will appear and one may notice them slide off when applying the triple antibiotic ointment. This ointment not only helps protect the tattoo but it also helps fight infection as well as speed up the healing process.