Tattooing is a custom that has existed for many millennia it may have been practiced by cave dwellers.
Tattoo derives from the Polynesian (specifically Tahitian) tatau or tatu. Naturalists from the Pacific expeditions of Capt. James Cook (1729-1779) to the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842 described and sketched tattooing in native populations.
Depending on the culture, tattoos have assumed religious or social significance, embellished and empowered warriors, marked the transition of puberty or were purely ornamental. In Europe, a century ago, tattooing was losing its ethnological character and becoming an eccentricity of soldiers and sailors and of ... the lower and often criminal classes of the great cities. Thus, of 800 convicted French soldiers, 40 percent had tattoos. Until 1879, deserters and bad characters in the British Army were tattooed with D and B.C., respectively.
Tattooing or body art is of much higher quality now than then. Beginning several decades ago, it has seen a global resurgence for both sexes, all economic classes and in age groups from late teenagers to middle age (whatever that is). Now, even Barbie dolls have tattoo versions. However, prohibitions against tattooing exist in Judaism, Sunni Islam and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In some darker-skinned people, a form of tattooing is practiced by scarring, often seen in Sudanese men long, parallel lacerations on the cheeks, almost ear to chin. Forming prominent scars, the results are chilling to view and hard to forget. As practiced in other cultures, tattooing involves inserting or injecting indelible ink or dyes through the epidermis and into the underlying dermis (or corium) of the skin. The epidermis is continuously worn off or shed, but dermis is living home to new epidermis, nerve fibers and blood vessels. Tattooing can be minimally painful and bloody.
Intact skin protects us from microorganisms bacteria, viruses, fungi; post-tattooing, skin infections may occur. There is also potential for transmission of infectious diseases, chiefly hepatitis B and HIV, although the latter has apparently not been reported. Its no surprise that Colorados Department of Public Health and Environment regulates body art parlors, appropriately emphasizing hygiene, disinfection and sterilization techniques. Minors need parental or guardian consent, and procedures are prohibited on people noticeably impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Tattoo removal is almost an oxymoron lucky is the person who wants Al, Ben, Pam or Vi removed. These might be excised with an ellipse of skin; longer names and large tattoos are more trouble. In my Navy days, we did salabrasion: a pile of gauzes, granulated salt and 30 minutes plus of grinding the skin down to the dermis until bleeding occurs. Its painful and, for us, boring. Topical solutions and creams (some rather toxic) are available for tattoo removal, as are laser techniques. There are no guarantees, and restoration to normal skin may be unattainable.
Have I ever considered a tat? After a decade of contemplation (and eschewing barbed wire anklets and the like), I have decided on Periplaneta americana, the cockroach. However, choosing where it should go may take another 10 years, possibly more.
www.alanfraserhouston.com. Dr. Fraser Houston is a retired emergency room physician who worked at area hospitals after moving to Southwest Colorado from New Hampshire in 1990.