A tattoo is a form of
body modification Body modification (or body alteration) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy The human body is the structure of a human being. It is composed of many different types of cells that together create tissues and subsequently organ sy ...

body modification
made by inserting ink, dyes, and/or
pigments A pigment is a colored material that is completely or nearly insoluble in water. In contrast, dyes are typically soluble, at least at some stage in their use. Generally dyes are often organic compound , CH4; is among the simplest organic compou ...

, either indelible or temporary, into the
dermis The dermis or corium is a layer of skin Skin is the layer of usually soft, flexible outer tissue covering the body of a vertebrate animal, with three main functions: protection, regulation, and sensation. Other cuticle, animal coverings, such a ...
layer of the
skin Skin is the layer of usually soft, flexible outer tissue covering the body of a vertebrate Vertebrates () comprise all species of animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biolo ...

to form a design. The art of making tattoos is tattooing. Tattoos fall into three broad categories: purely decorative (with no specific meaning); symbolic (with a specific meaning pertinent to the wearer); and pictorial (a depiction of a specific person or item). In addition, tattoos can be used for identification such as ear tattoos on
livestock Livestock are the domesticated Domestication is a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another group to secure a more predictabl ...
as a form of
branding Branding may refer to: Physical markings * Making a mark, typically by charring: ** Wood branding, permanently marking, by way of heat, typically of wood (also applied to plastic, cork, leather, etc.) ** Livestock branding, the marking of animals t ...


The word ''tattoo'', or ''tattow'' in the 18th century, is a
loanword A loanword (also loan word or loan-word) is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (lin ...
from the
Samoan Samoan may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the Samoan Islands, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean ** Something of, from, or related to Samoa, a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands ** Something of, from, o ...
word ''tatau'', meaning "to strike". The ''
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the principal of the , published by (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as desc ...
'' gives the
etymology Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English ''The'' () is a grammatical article Article often refers to: * Article (grammar) An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases to mark the identif ...
of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From
Polynesian Polynesian is the adjectival form of Polynesia. It may refer to: * Polynesians, an ethnic group * Polynesian culture, the culture of the indigenous peoples of Polynesia * Polynesian mythology, the oral traditions of the people of Polynesia * Polyne ...

(Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In
Marquesan The Marquesas Islands (; french: Îles Marquises or ' or '; Marquesan language, Marquesan: ' (North Marquesan language, North Marquesan) and ' (South Marquesan language, South Marquesan), both meaning "the land of men") are a group of volcano, ...
, tatu." Before the importation of the Polynesian word, the practice of tattooing had been described in the West as painting, scarring or staining. , edition=Credo Reference. Web. The etymology of the body modification term is not to be confused with the origins of the word for the military drumbeat or performance — see ''
military tattoo A military tattoo is a performance of music or display of armed forces in general. The term comes from the early 17th-century Dutch phrase ''doe den tap toe'' ("turn off the tap"), a signal sounded by drummers or trumpeters to instruct innkeepers ...
''. In this case, the English word ''tattoo'' is derived from the Dutch word ''taptoe''. It is called Tisheret and Washem in the Amazigh (
Berber Berber or Berbers may refer to: Culture * Berbers Berbers or ''Imazighen'' ( ber, translit=Imaziɣen, ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ, ⵎⵣⵗⵏ; singular: , ) are an ethnic group mostly concentrated in North Africa, specifically Morocco ) , ...

) culture. Copyrighted tattoo designs that are mass-produced and sent to tattoo artists are known as "
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", a notable instance of
industrial design Industrial design is a process of design A design is a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity or process, or the result of that plan or specification in the form of a prototype ...

industrial design
. Flash sheets are prominently displayed in many tattoo parlors for the purpose of providing both inspiration and ready-made tattoo images to customers. The Japanese word ''
irezumi (also spelled or sometimes ) is the Japanese word for tattoo A tattoo is a form of body modification where a design is made by inserting ink, dyes, and/or pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin Sk ...
'' means "insertion of ink" and can mean tattoos using ''tebori'', the traditional Japanese hand method, a Western-style machine or any method of tattooing using insertion of ink. The most common word used for traditional Japanese tattoo designs is ''
horimono Image:Wakizashi horimono.jpg, 100px, Antique Japanese wakizashi sword blade showing the ''horimono'', of a chrysanthemum. ''Horimono'' (, , literally carving, engraving), also known as ''chōkoku'' (, "sculpture"), are the engraved images in the bl ...

''. Japanese may use the word ''tattoo'' to mean non-Japanese styles of tattooing. British anthropologist Ling Roth in 1900 described four methods of skin marking and suggested they be differentiated under the names "tatu", "
moko In the mythology Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfictional ( memoir, biography, news report, documentary, Travel literatur ...
", " cicatrix" and "
keloid Keloid, also known as keloid disorder and keloidal scar, is the formation of a type of scar which, depending on its maturity, is composed mainly of either type III (early) or type I (late) collagen. It is a result of an overgrowth of granulation ti ...

". The first is by pricking that leaves the skin smooth, as found in places including the Pacific Islands, the second a tattoo combined with chiselling to leave furrows in the skin, as found in places including New Zealand, the third is scarification using a knife or chisel, as found in places including West Africa, and the fourth is scarification by irritating and re-opening a preexisting wound, rescarification, to form a raised scar, as found in places including Tasmania, Australia, Melanesia, and Central Africa.McDougall, Russell and Davidson, Iain; eds. (2016).
The Roth Family, Anthropology, and Colonial Administration
', p.97. Routledge. .
"Impicit in the classification was an evolutionary development from the most primitive form of body modification he lastto the most sophisticated he first"


American Academy of Dermatology The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is one of the largest organizations of dermatologists in the world. It was founded in 1938 and represents more than 20,500 dermatologists in the United States The United States of America (USA), com ...
distinguishes five types of tattoos: traumatic tattoos, also called "natural tattoos", that result from injuries, especially asphalt from road injuries or pencil lead; amateur tattoos; professional tattoos, both via traditional methods and modern tattoo machines; cosmetic tattoos, also known as "
permanent makeup Permanent makeup is a cosmetic technique which employs tattoo A tattoo is a form of body modification where a design is made by inserting ink, dyes, and/or pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin Sk ...

permanent makeup
"; and
medical tattoos Medicine is the science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanations ...

Traumatic tattoos

A traumatic tattoo occurs when a substance such as asphalt or gunpowder is rubbed into a
wound A wound is a type of which happens relatively quickly in which is torn, cut, or punctured (an ''open'' wound), or where blunt force causes a (a ''closed'' wound). In , it specifically refers to a sharp injury which damages the of the skin. ...

as the result of some kind of accident or trauma.
Coal miners People have worked as coal miners for centuries, but they became increasingly important during the Industrial revolution when coal was burnt on a large scale to fuel stationary and locomotive engines and heat buildings. Owing to coal's strategic rol ...

Coal miners
could develop characteristic tattoos owing to
coal dustCoal dust is a fine powdered form of coal Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as stratum, rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other Chemical element, elements; chief ...
getting into wounds. These are particularly difficult to remove as they tend to be spread across several layers of skin, and scarring or permanent discoloration is almost unavoidable depending on the location. An amalgam tattoo is when amalgam particles are implanted in to the soft tissues of the mouth, usually the gums, during dental filling placement or removal. Another example of such accidental tattoos is the result of a deliberate or accidental stabbing with a pencil or pen, leaving graphite or ink beneath the skin.

Subcultural connotations

Many tattoos serve as
rites of passage A rite of passage is a ceremony A ceremony (, ) is a unified ritual A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gesture A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication or non-vocal communication Communication (from Latin ''com ...
, marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, sexual lures and marks of
fertility Fertility is the capability to produce offspring through reproduction following the onset of sexual maturity. The fertility rate is the average number of children born by a female during her lifetime and is quantified Demography, demographicall ...
, pledges of love,
amulet An amulet, also known as a , is an object believed to confer protection upon its possessor. The word "amulet" comes from the Latin word amuletum, which Pliny's ''Natural History'' describes as "an object that protects a person from trouble". Anyt ...

s and talismans, protection, and as punishment, like the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts. The symbolism and impact of tattoos varies in different places and cultures. Tattoos may show how a person feels about a relative (commonly mother/father or daughter/son) or about an unrelated person. Today, people choose to be tattooed for artistic, cosmetic, sentimental/
memorial A memorial is an object which serves as a focus for the memory or the commemoration of something, usually an influential, deceased person or a historical, tragic event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or works of art such a ...

religious Religion is a - of designated and practices, , s, s, , , , , or , that relates humanity to , , and elements; however, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion. Different religions may or may not contain v ...

, and spiritual reasons, and to symbolize their belonging to or identification with particular groups, including criminal gangs (see criminal tattoos) or a particular ethnic group or law-abiding subculture. Popular texts include the Biblical verses John 3:16, Philippians 4:13, and
Psalm 23 Psalm 23 is the 23rd psalm of the Book of Psalms, beginning in English in the King James Version: "The Lord is my shepherd". In Latin, it is known by the incipit, "". The Book of Psalms is part of the Ketuvim, third section of the Tanakh, Hebrew ...

Psalm 23
. Next to English, Latin is the most commonly used tattoo language in the Anglophone world. Extensive decorative tattooing is common among members of traditional
freak show and its popular ongoing freak show in August 2008. A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to in popular culture as "freaks of nature". Typical features would be physically unusual Human#Anatomy and physiology, humans, suc ...
s and by performance artists who follow in their tradition.


People throughout history have also been forcibly tattooed for means of identification. A well-known example is the
Nazi Nazism ( ), officially National Socialism (german: Nationalsozialismus, ), is the ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about th ...

practice of forcibly tattooing
concentration camp Internment is the imprisonment of people, commonly in large groups, without charges or intent to file charges. The term is especially used for the confinement "of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism Terrorism is, in the broadest ...
inmates with identification numbers during
the Holocaust The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was the genocide Genocide is the attempted destruction of a people, usually defined as an ethnic An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who identity (social science), identify wi ...
as part of , beginning in fall 1941. The introduced the practice at
Auschwitz concentration camp The Auschwitz concentration camp () was a complex of over 40 Nazi concentration camps, concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany, occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaus ...

Auschwitz concentration camp
in order to identify the bodies of registered prisoners in the concentration camps. During registration, guards would pierce the outlines of the serial-number digits onto the prisoners' arms. Of the Nazi concentration camps, only Auschwitz put tattoos on inmates. The tattoo was the prisoner's camp number, sometimes with a special symbol added: some
Jew Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2ISO The International Organization for Standardization (ISO; ) is an international standard are technical standards developed by international organizations (intergovernmental organizations), suc ...

s had a triangle, and
Romani Romani may refer to: Ethnicities *Romani people The Romani (), also known as the Roma, are an Indo-Aryan people, traditionally nomadic itinerants living mostly in Europe Europe is a continent A continent is one of several ...

had the letter "Z" (from
German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * German language The German la ...

''Zigeuner'' for "Gypsy"). In May 1944, Jewish men received the letters "A" or "B" to indicate a particular series of numbers. Tattoos have also been used for identification in other ways. As early as the
ZhouZhou may refer to: Chinese history * King Zhou of Shang () (1105 BC–1046 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty * Predynastic Zhou (), 11th-century BC precursor to the Zhou dynasty * Zhou dynasty () (1046 BC–256 BC), a dynasty of China ** Weste ...
, Chinese authorities would employ facial tattoos as a punishment for certain crimes or to mark prisoners or slaves. During the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of governme ...

Roman Empire
, gladiators and slaves were tattooed: exported slaves were tattooed with the words "tax paid", and it was a common practice to tattoo "fugitive" (denoted by the letters "FUG") on the foreheads of runaway slaves. Owing to the
Biblical The Bible (from Koine Greek Koine Greek (, , Greek approximately ;. , , , lit. "Common Greek"), also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, Hellenistic or Biblical Greek, was the koiné language, common supra-regional form of Greek ...

strictures against the practice, Emperor
Constantine I Constantine I ( la, Flavius Valerius Constantinus; ; 27 February 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). Th ...

Constantine I
banned tattooing the face around AD 330, and the
Second Council of Nicaea The second (symbol: s, also abbreviated: sec) is the base unit of time Time is the continued sequence of existence and event (philosophy), events that occurs in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past, th ...
banned all body markings as a
pagan Paganism (from classical Latin Classical Latin is the form of Latin, Latin language recognized as a Literary language, literary standard language, standard by writers of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. It was used from 75 BC ...
practice in AD 787. In the period of early contact between the Māori and Europeans, the Māori people hunted and decapitated each other for their moko tattoos, which they traded for European items including axes and firearms. Moko tattoos were facial designs worn to indicate lineage, social position, and status within the tribe. The tattoo art was a sacred marker of identity among the Māori and also referred to as a vehicle for storing one's tapu, or spiritual being, in the afterlife. Tattoos are sometimes used by
forensic pathologist Forensic pathology is pathology Pathology is the study of the causes and effects of disease A disease is a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function of all or part of an organism, and that is ...
s to help them identify burned, putrefied, or mutilated bodies. As tattoo pigment lies encapsulated deep in the skin, tattoos are not easily destroyed even when the skin is burned. Tattoos are also placed on animals, though rarely for decorative reasons. Pets, show animals,
thoroughbred The Thoroughbred is a list of horse breeds, horse breed best known for its use in Thoroughbred horse race, horse racing. Although the word ''thoroughbred'' is sometimes used to refer to any breed of purebred horse, it technically refers only t ...

horses, and livestock are sometimes tattooed with identification and other marks. Tattooing with a 'slap mark' on the shoulder or on the ear is the standard identification method in commercial pig farming.
Branding Branding may refer to: Physical markings * Making a mark, typically by charring: ** Wood branding, permanently marking, by way of heat, typically of wood (also applied to plastic, cork, leather, etc.) ** Livestock branding, the marking of animals t ...
is used for similar reasons and is often performed without anesthesia, but is different from tattooing as no ink or dye is inserted during the process, the mark instead being caused by permanent scarring of the skin. Pet dogs and cats are sometimes tattooed with a serial number (usually in the ear, or on the inner thigh) via which their owners can be identified. However, the use of a microchip has become an increasingly popular choice and since 2016 is a legal requirement for all 8.5 million pet dogs in the UK.


Permanent makeup is the use of tattoos to enhance eyebrows, lips (liner and/or lipstick), eyes (liner), and even
mole Mole (or Molé) may refer to: Animals * Mole (animal) or "true mole", mammals in the family Talpidae, found in Eurasia and North America * Golden moles, southern African mammals in the family Chrysochloridae, similar to but unrelated to Talpidae ...
s, usually with natural colors, as the designs are intended to resemble makeup. A growing trend in the US and UK is to place artistic
tattoos A tattoo is a form of body modification where a design is made by inserting ink, dyes, and/or pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis The dermis or corium is a layer of skin Skin is the layer of usually soft, flexible o ...

over the surgical scars of a
mastectomy Mastectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of one or both breast The breast is one of two prominences located on the upper ventral Standard anatomical terms of location deal unambiguously with the anatomy of animals, includin ...
. "More women are choosing not to reconstruct after a mastectomy and tattoo over the scar tissue instead... The mastectomy tattoo will become just another option for post cancer patients and a truly personal way of regaining control over post cancer bodies..." However, the tattooing of nipples on reconstructed breasts remains in high demand.


Functional tattoos are used primarily for a purpose other than aesthetics. One such use is to tattoo
Alzheimer Alzheimer's disease (AD), also referred to simply as Alzheimer's, is a neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and progressively worsens. It is the cause of 60–70% of cases of dementia Dementia occurs as a Syndrome, set ...

patients with their names, so they may be easily identified if they go missing.


Medical tattoos are used to ensure instruments are properly located for repeated application of radiotherapy and for the areola in . Tattooing has also been used to convey medical information about the wearer (e.g., blood group, medical condition, etc.). Additionally, tattoos are used in skin tones to cover
vitiligo Vitiligo is a long-term skin Skin is the layer of usually soft, flexible outer tissue covering the body of a vertebrate Vertebrates () comprise all species of animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic org ...

, a skin pigmentation disorder. SS blood group tattoos (german: Blutgruppentätowierung) were worn by members of the
Waffen-SS The ''Waffen-SS'' (, "Armed SS") was the combat branch of the Nazi Party The Nazi Party, officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party (german: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP), was a political party ...

in Nazi Germany during World War II to identify the individual's
blood type A blood type (also known as a blood group) is a classification of , based on the presence and absence of and ic substances on the surface of s (RBCs). These antigens may be s, s, s, or s, depending on the blood group system. Some of these anti ...
. After the war, the tattoo was taken to be
prima facie ''Prima facie'' (; ) is a Latin expression meaning ''at first sight'' or ''based on first impression''. The literal translation would be 'at first face' or 'at first appearance', from the feminine forms of ''primus'' ('first') and ''facies'' ('f ...
, if not perfect, evidence of being part of the Waffen-SS, leading to potential arrest and prosecution. This led a number of ex-Waffen-SS to shoot themselves through the arm with a gun, removing the tattoo and leaving scars like the ones resulting from pox inoculation, making the removal less obvious. Tattoos were probably also used in ancient medicine as part of the treatment of the patient. In 1898, Daniel Fouquet, a medical doctor, wrote an article on "medical tattooing" practices in
Ancient Egypt Ancient Egypt was a civilization  A civilization (or civilisation) is a that is characterized by , , a form of government, and systems of communication (such as ). Civilizations are intimately associated with additional char ...

Ancient Egypt
, in which he describes the tattooed markings on the female mummies found at the
Deir el-Bahari Deir el-Bahari or Dayr al-Bahri)( ar, الدير البحري, al-Dayr al-Baḥrī, the Monastery of the North) is a complex of mortuary temple 300px, Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut Mortuary temples (or funerary temples) were temples A temple (f ...

Deir el-Bahari
site. He speculated that the tattoos and other
scarification Scarifying (also scarification modification) involves scratching, etching , who is believed to have been the first to apply the technique to printmaking. '', an etching by Rembrandt Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (, also , ; 15 July 1606&nb ...

s observed on the bodies may have served a medicinal or therapeutic purpose: "The examination of these scars, some white, others blue, leaves in no doubt that they are not, in essence, ornament, but an established treatment for a condition of the pelvis, very probably chronic pelvic peritonitis."
Ötzi the iceman ) , known_for = Oldest natural mummy A mummy is a dead human or an animal whose soft tissues and Organ (anatomy), organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to Chemical substance, chemicals, extreme cold, v ...
had a total of 61 tattoos, which may have been a form of
acupuncture Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine Alternative medicine is any practice that aims to achieve the healing effects of medicine Medicine is the Art (skill), art, science, and Praxis (process) , practice of caring for a patient a ...
used to relieve pain.
Radiological File:Radioactive.svg, upThe international symbol for types and levels of ionizing radiation (radioactivity) that are unsafe for Radiation shield, unshielded humans. Radiation, in general, exists throughout nature, such as in light and sound. ...
examination of Ötzi's bones showed "age-conditioned or strain-induced degeneration" corresponding to many tattooed areas, including
osteochondrosis Osteochondrosis is a family of orthopedic Orthopaedic surgery or orthopaedics, is the branch of surgery Surgery ''cheirourgikē'' (composed of χείρ, "hand", and ἔργον, "work"), via la, chirurgiae, meaning "hand work". is a medica ...
and slight
spondylosis Spondylosis is the degeneration of the vertebral column The vertebral column, also known as the backbone or spine, is part of the axial skeleton. The vertebral column is the defining characteristic of a vertebrate in which the notochord (a ...
in the lumbar spine and wear-and-tear degeneration in the knee and especially in the ankle joints. If so, this is at least 2,000 years before acupuncture's previously known earliest use in
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

(c. 100 BCE).


Preserved tattoos on ancient
mummified A mummy is a dead human or an animal whose soft tissues and Organ (anatomy), organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to Chemical substance, chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air, so that the r ...
human remains reveal that tattooing has been practiced throughout the world for thousands of years. In 2015, scientific re-assessment of the age of the two oldest known tattooed mummies identified
Ötzi Ötzi, also called the Iceman, is the natural mummy A mummy is a dead human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living orga ...
as the oldest example then known. This body, with 61 tattoos, was found embedded in glacial ice in the
Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest and most extensive mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt ...

, and was dated to 3250 BCE. In 2018, the oldest figurative tattoos in the world were discovered on two mummies from Egypt which are dated between 3351 and 3017 BCE. Ancient tattooing was most widely practiced among the
Austronesian people The Austronesian peoples, also sometimes referred to as the Austronesian-speaking peoples, are a large group of various peoples in Taiwan (collectively known as Taiwanese indigenous peoples), Maritime Southeast Asia, Oceania and Madagascar that ...
. It was one of the early technologies developed by the Proto-Austronesians in
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

and coastal
South China South China () is a geographical and cultural region that covers the southernmost part of China. Its precise meaning varies with context. A notable feature of South China in comparison to the rest of China is that most of its citizens are not ...
prior to at least 1500 BCE, before the Austronesian expansion into the islands of the
Indo-Pacific The Indo-Pacific, sometimes known as the Indo–West Pacific or Indo–Pacific Asia, is a biogeographic region of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. About 29% of Earth's su ...
. It may have originally been associated with
headhunting Headhunting is the practice of human hunting, hunting a human and human trophy collecting, collecting the decapitation, severed human head, head after killing the victim, although sometimes more portable body parts (such as ear, nose or scalp) a ...
. Tattooing traditions, including facial tattooing, can be found among all Austronesian subgroups, including
Taiwanese Aborigines Taiwanese may refer to: * Taiwanese language Taiwanese, also known as Taigi, Taiwanese Hokkien (), Taiwanese Minnan, Hoklo and Holo, is a variety of the Hokkien Hokkien () is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may ...
Islander Southeast Asians The Austronesian peoples, also sometimes referred to as the Austronesian-speaking peoples, are a large group of various peoples in Taiwan Taiwan (), officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. Neighbouring countries ...
, Micronesians,
Polynesians Polynesians form an ethnolinguistic group An ethnolinguistic group (or ethno-linguistic group) is a group that is unified by both a common ethnicity An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who identify with each other on the basis ...
, and the
Malagasy people The Malagasy (french: Malgache) are an Austronesian Austronesian may refer to: *The Austronesian languages *The historical Austronesian peoples who carried Austronesian languages on their migrations {{disambiguation ...-Bantu Bantu may refer ...
. Austronesians used the characteristic hafted skin-puncturing technique, using a small mallet and a piercing implement made from ''
Citrus ''Citrus'' is a of trees and s in the family, . Plants in the genus produce citrus fruits, including important crops such as , , s, s, and . The genus ''Citrus'' is native to , , , , and . Various citrus species have been used and domesticat ...

'' thorns, fish bone, bone, and oyster shells. Ancient tattooing traditions have also been documented among
Papuans The indigenous peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, are culturally distinct ethnic groups who are native to a particular place. The term ''indigenous'' was fir ...

Melanesians Melanesians are the predominant and Indigenous peoples of Oceania, indigenous inhabitants of Melanesia, in a wide area from the Maluku Islands, East Nusa Tenggara and New Guinea to as far east as the islands of Vanuatu and Fiji. Most speak eithe ...

, with their use of distinctive
obsidian Obsidian (; ) is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed when lava extrusive rock, extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth. It is an igneous rock. Obsidian is produced from felsic lava, rich in the lighter element ...

skin piercers. Some archeological sites with these implements are associated with the Austronesian migration into
Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea (PNG; , ; tpi, Papua Niugini; ho, Papua Niu Gini), officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea ( tpi, Independen Stet bilong Papua Niugini; ho, Independen Stet bilong Papua Niu Gini), is a country in Oceania th ...

Papua New Guinea
Melanesia Melanesia (, ) is a subregion A subregion is a part of a larger region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabi ...

. But other sites are older than the Austronesian expansion, being dated to around 1650 to 2000 BCE, suggesting that there was a preexisting tattooing tradition in the region. Among other ethnolinguistic groups, tattooing was also practiced among the
Ainu people The Ainu or the Aynu ( ain, アィヌ, , ; ja, アイヌ, ; russian: Áйны, ), also known as the in historical Japanese texts, are an East Asian people, East Asian ethnic group Indigenous peoples, indigenous to Japan, northern Japan, the o ...
of Japan; some Austroasians of
Indochina Mainland Southeast Asia, also known as the Indochinese Peninsula or Indochina, is the continental portion of Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia or SEA, is t ...
Berber Berber or Berbers may refer to: Culture * Berbers Berbers or ''Imazighen'' ( ber, translit=Imaziɣen, ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ, ⵎⵣⵗⵏ; singular: , ) are an ethnic group mostly concentrated in North Africa, specifically Morocco ) , ...
women of
Tamazgha Tamazgha ( Berber: Tamazɣa ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵖⴰ) is a toponym Toponymy, also toponymics or toponomastics (from grc, τόπος / , 'place', and / , 'name') is the study of '' toponyms'' (proper names of places, also known as ''place name ...

(North Africa); the
Yoruba Yoruba may refer to: * Yoruba people The Yoruba people () are a Sub-Saharan Africa Sub-Saharan Africa (commonly called Black Africa) is, geographically, the area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara. According to the U ...
Fulani The Fula, Fulani, or Fulɓe people ( ff, Fulɓe, ; french: Peul, links=no; ha, Fulani or Hilani; pt, Fula, links=no; wo, Pël; bm, Fulaw) are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Sahel The Sahel (; ar, ساحل ' , "coast, shore") is ...
Hausa Hausa may refer to: * Hausa people, an ethnic group of West Africa * Hausa language, spoken in West Africa * Hausa Kingdoms, a historical collection of Hausa city-states * Hausa (horse) or Dongola horse, an African breed of riding horse See also

people of
Nigeria Nigeria (), officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a country in West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of . The defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and as we ...

Native Americans Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native Americans in the United States * Indigenous peoples in Canada, the indigenous p ...
of the Pre-Columbian Americas;Evans, Susan, Toby. 2013. Ancient Mexico and Central America: Archaeology and Culture History. 3rd Edition. and
Picts The Picts were a group of peoples who lived in what is now northern and eastern Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba Alba (Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig or Scots Gaelic, sometimes referred to simply ...
Iron Age Britain The British Iron Age is a conventional name used in the archaeology of Great Britain, referring to the prehistoric and protohistoric phases of the Iron Age culture of the main island and the smaller islands, typically excluding prehistoric Ireland ...


In 1566, French sailors abducted an Inuit woman and her child in modern-day
Labrador , nickname = "The Big Land" , etymology = , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name = Canada , subdivision_type1 = Province A province is al ...

and brought her to the city of
Antwerp Antwerp (; nl, Antwerpen ; french: Anvers ) is a city in Belgium and the capital of Antwerp (province), Antwerp province in the Flemish Region. With a population of 520,504,
in the
Dutch Republic The United Provinces of the Netherlands, or United Provinces (officially the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands), commonly referred to in historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was ...
. The mother was tattooed while the child was unmarked. In Antwerp, the two were put on display at a local tavern at least until 1567, with handbills promoting the event being distributed in the city. In 1577, English
privateer A privateer is a private person or ship that engages in maritime warfare under a commission of war. Since robbery under arms was a common aspect of seaborne trade, until the early 19th century all merchant ships carried arms. A sovereign or deleg ...
Martin Frobisher Sir Martin Frobisher (; c. 1535 – 22 November 1594) was an England, English sailor, seaman and privateer who made three voyages to the New World looking for the North-west Passage. He probably sighted Resolution Island (Nunavut), Resolution ...

Martin Frobisher
captured two Inuit and brought them back to England for display. One of the Inuit was a tattooed woman from
Baffin Island Baffin Island ( iu, ᕿᑭᖅᑖᓗᒃ, , french: Île de Baffin, Terre de Baffin, formerly Baffin Land), in the Provinces and territories of Canada, Canadian territory of Nunavut, is the list of Canadian islands by area, largest island in Cana ...

Baffin Island
, who was illustrated by the English cartographer John White. Perhaps the most famous tattooed foreigner in Europe prior to the voyages of
James Cook Captain Captain is a title for the commander of a military unit, the commander of a ship, aeroplane, spacecraft, or other vessel, or the commander of a port, fire department or police department, election precinct, etc. The captain is a milit ...

James Cook
was the "Painted Prince" - a slave named "
Jeoly A tattoo is a form of body modification Body modification (or body alteration) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy or human physical appearance. It is often done for aesthetics, sexual enhancement, rites of passage, religious s ...
" from Mindanao in the History of the Philippines (900–1565), Philippines. He was initially bought with his mother (who died of illness shortly afterwards) from a Mindanaoan slave trader in Mindanao in 1690 by a "Mister Moody", who passed Jeoly on to the English explorer William Dampier. Dampier described Jeoly's intricate tattoos in his journals: Jeoly told Dampier that he was the son of a ''rajah'' in Mindanao, and told him that gold (''bullawan'') was very easy to find in his island. Jeoly also mentioned that the men and women of Mindanao were also tattooed similarly, and that his tattoos were done by one of his Polygamy, five wives. Some authors believe him to be a Visayans, Visayan ''pintados, pintado'', if he indeed came from Mindanao as he claimed. Other authors have also identified him as Palauan people, Palauan due to the pattern of his tattoos and his account that he was tattooed by women (Visayan tattooists were male from the few surviving records; while Palauan tattooists were female), although this would conflict with his own admission that he originally came from Mindanao. Dampier brought Jeoly with him to London, intending to recoup the money he lost while at sea by displaying Jeoly to curious crowds. Dampier invented a fictional backstory for him, renaming him "Prince Giolo" and claiming that he was the son and heir of the "King of Gilolo." Instead of being from Mindanao, Dampier now claimed that he was only shipwrecked in Mindanao with his mother and sister, whereupon he was captured and sold into slavery. Dampier also claimed that Jeoly's tattoos were created from an "herbal paint" that rendered him invulnerable to snake venom, and that the tattooing process was done naked in a room of venomous snakes. Dampier initially toured around with Jeoly, showing his tattoos to large crowds. Eventually, Dampier sold Jeoly to the Blue Boar Inn in Fleet Street. Jeoly was displayed as a sideshow by the inn, with his likeness printed on playbills and flyers advertising his "exquisitely painted" body. By this time, Jeoly had contracted smallpox and was very ill. He was later brought to the University of Oxford for examination, but he died shortly afterwards of smallpox at around thirty years of age in the summer of 1692. His tattooed skin was preserved and was displayed in the Anatomy School of Oxford for a time, although it was lost prior to the 20th century. It is commonly held that the modern popularity of tattooing stems from Captain
James Cook Captain Captain is a title for the commander of a military unit, the commander of a ship, aeroplane, spacecraft, or other vessel, or the commander of a port, fire department or police department, election precinct, etc. The captain is a milit ...

James Cook
's three voyages to the South Pacific in the late 18th century. Certainly, Cook's voyages and the dissemination of the texts and images from them brought more awareness about tattooing (and, as noted above, imported the word "tattow" into Western languages). On Cook's first voyage in 1768, his science officer and expedition botanist, Joseph Banks, Sir Joseph Banks, as well as artist Sydney Parkinson and many others of the crew, returned to England with a keen interest in tattoos with Banks writing about them extensively and Parkinson is believed to have gotten a tattoo himself in Tahiti. Banks was a highly regarded member of the English aristocracy who had acquired his position with Cook by co-financing the expedition with ten thousand pounds, a very large sum at the time. In turn, Cook brought back with him a tattooed Raiatean man, Omai, whom he presented to King George and the English Court. On subsequent voyages other crew members, from officers, such as American John Ledyard, to ordinary seamen, were tattooed. The first documented professional tattooist in Britain was Sutherland Macdonald, who operated out of a salon in London beginning in 1894. In Britain, tattooing was still largely associated with sailors and the lower or even criminal class, but by the 1870s had become fashionable among some members of the upper classes, including royalty, and in its upmarket form it could be an expensive and sometimes painful process. A marked class division on the acceptability of the practice continued for some time in Britain. Recently, a trend has arisen marketed as 'Stick and Poke' tattooing; simple designs are tattooed either on oneself or by another person using 'DIY' kits that usually contain needles, ink, and often sample designs. Tattooing of Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Catholic women in Bosnia and Herzegovina became widespread during the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman rule and continued to the mid 20th century. Among the Catholic population, there was a widespread tradition of tattooing both crosses and pagan motifs on the hands, arms, chest, and forehead of girls between the ages of 6 to 16. This was done in order to prevent kidnapping by the Ottoman Turks and conversion to Islam. Ethnographers believe that its origins predate both the Slavic migration to the Balkans and spread of Christianity, with evidence pointing far back to the prehistoric Illyrian tribes.


As most tattoos in the United States were done by Polynesian and Japanese amateurs, tattoo artists were in great demand in port cities all over the world, especially by European and American sailors. The first recorded professional tattoo artist in the US was a German immigrant, Martin Hildebrandt. He opened a shop in New York City in 1846 and quickly became popular during the American Civil War among soldiers and sailors of both Union (American Civil War), Union and Confederate States of America, Confederate militaries. Hildebrandt began traveling from camp to camp to tattoo soldiers, increasing his popularity and also giving birth to the tradition of getting tattoos while being an American serviceman. Soon after the Civil War, tattoos became fashionable among upper-class young adults. This trend lasted until the beginning of World War I. The invention of the electric tattoo machine caused popularity of tattoos among the wealthy to drop off. The machine made the tattooing procedure both much easier and cheaper, thus, eliminating the status symbol tattoos previously held, as they were now affordable for all socioeconomic classes. The status symbol of a tattoo shifted from a representation of wealth to a mark typically seen on rebels and criminals. Despite this change, tattoos remained popular among military servicemen, a tradition that continues today. In 1975, there were only 40 tattoo artists in the country; in 1980, there were more than 5,000 self-proclaimed tattoo artists, appearing in response to booming popularity in the skin mural trade. Many studies have been done of the tattooed population and society's view of tattoos. In June 2006, the ''American Academy of Dermatology, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology'' published the results of a telephone survey of 2004. It found that 36% of Americans ages 18–29, 24% of those 30–40, and 15% of those 41–51 had a tattoo. In September 2006, the Pew Research Center conducted a telephone survey that found that 36% of Americans ages 18–25, 40% of those 26–40 and 10% of those 41–64 had a tattoo. They concluded that Generation X and Millennials express themselves through their appearance, and tattoos are a popular form of self-expression. In January 2008, a survey conducted online by Harris Insights & Analytics, Harris Interactive estimated that 14% of all adults in the United States have a tattoo, slightly down from 2003, when 16% had a tattoo. Among age groups, 9% of those ages 18–24, 32% of those 25–29, 25% of those 30–39 and 12% of those 40–49 have tattoos, as do 8% of those 50–64. Men are slightly more likely to have a tattoo than women. Richmond, Virginia has been cited as one of the most tattooed cities in the United States. That distinction led the Valentine Richmond History Center to create an online exhibit titled
History, Ink: The Tattoo Archive Project
" The introduction to the exhibit notes, "In the past, western culture associated tattoos with those individuals who lived on the edge of society; however, today they are recognized as a legitimate art form and widely accepted in mainstream culture." Since the 1970s, tattoos have become a mainstream part of Western fashion, common between all genders, among all economic classes and to age groups from the later teen years to middle age. For many young Americans, the tattoo has taken on a decidedly different meaning than for previous generations. The tattoo has undergone "dramatic redefinition" and has shifted from a form of deviance to an acceptable form of expression. As of 1 November 2006, Oklahoma became the last state to legalize tattooing, having banned it since 1963.

Protection papers

Protection papers were used by American sailors to prevent themselves from being taken off American ships and impressed into the Royal Navy. These were simple documents that described the sailor as being an American sailor. Many of the protection certificates were so general, and it was so easy to abuse the system, that many impressment officers of the Royal Navy paid no attention to them. In applying for a duplicate Seaman's Protection Certificate in 1817, James Francis stated that he 'had a protection granted him by the Collector of this Port on or about 12 March 1806 which was torn up and destroyed by a British Captain when at sea.' One way of making them more specific was to describe a tattoo, which is highly personal, and thus use that description to identify the seaman. As a result, many of the later certificates carried information about tattoos and scars, as well as other specific information. This also perhaps led to an increase and proliferation of tattoos among American seamen. Frequently their 'protection papers' made reference to tattoos, clear evidence that individual was a seafaring man; rarely did members of the general public adorn themselves with tattoos. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, tattoos were as much about self-expression as they were about having a unique way to identify a sailor's body should he be lost at sea or impressed by the British navy. The best source for early American tattoos is the protection papers issued following a 1796 congressional act to safeguard American seamen from impressment. These proto-passports catalogued tattoos alongside birthmarks, scars, race, and height. Using simple techniques and tools, tattoo artists in the early republic typically worked on board ships using anything available as pigments, even gunpowder and urine. Men marked their arms and hands with initials of themselves and loved ones, significant dates, symbols of the seafaring life, liberty poles, crucifixes, and other symbols."

Freedom papers

Because these protection papers were used to define freemen and citizenship, many black sailors and other men also used them to show that they were freemen if they were stopped by officials or slave catchers. They also called them "free papers" because they certified their non-slave status. Many of the freed blacks used descriptions of tattoos for identification purposes on their freedom papers.


Branding was used by European authorities for marking criminals throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The practice was also used by British authorities to mark army deserters and military personnel court-martialed in Australia. In nineteenth century Australia tattoos were generally the result of personal rather than official decisions but British authorities started to record tattoos along with scars and other bodily markings to describe and manage convicts assigned for transportation.Maxwell-Stewart, Hamish, in Caplan, J. (2000). Written on the body: The tattoo in European and American history / edited by Jane Caplan. London: Reaktion. The practice of tattooing appears to have been a largely non-commercial enterprise during the convict period in Australia. For example, James Ross in the Hobart Almanac of 1833 describes how the convicts on board ship commonly spent time tattooing themselves with gunpowder. Out of a study of 10,180 convict records that were transported to then Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) between 1823 and 1853 about 37% of all men and about 15% of all women arrived with tattoos, making Australia at the time the most heavily tattooed English-speaking country. By the beginning of the twentieth century, there were tattoo studios in Australia but they do not appear to have been numerous. For example, the Sydney tattoo studio of Fred Harris was touted as being the only tattoo studio in Sydney between 1916 and 1943. Tattoo designs often reflected the culture of the day and in 1923 Harris's small parlour experienced an increase in the number of women getting tattoos. Another popular trend was for women to have their legs tattooed so the designs could be seen through their stockings. By 1937 Harris was one of Sydney's best-known tattoo artists and was inking around 2000 tattoos a year in his shop. Sailors provided most of the canvases for his work but among the more popular tattoos in 1938 were Australian flags and kangaroos for sailors of the visiting American Fleet. In modern day Australia a popular tattoo design is the Southern Cross motif, or variations of it. There are currently over 2000 official tattoo practitioners in Australia and over 100 registered parlours and clinics, with the number of unregistered parlours and clinics are estimated to be double that amount. The demand over the last decade for tattoos in Australia has risen over 440%, making it an in demand profession in the country.


Tattooing involves the placement of pigment into the skin's dermis, the layer of dermal tissue underlying the epidermis (skin), epidermis. After initial injection, pigment is dispersed throughout a Homogenization (biology), homogenized damaged layer down through the epidermis and upper dermis, in both of which the presence of foreign material activates the immune system's phagocytes to engulf the pigment particles. As healing proceeds, the damaged epidermis flakes away (eliminating surface pigment) while deeper in the skin granulation tissue forms, which is later converted to connective tissue by collagen growth. This mends the upper dermis, where pigment remains trapped within successive generations of macrophages, ultimately concentrating in a layer just below the dermis/epidermis boundary. Its presence there is stable, but in the long term (decades) the pigment tends to migrate deeper into the dermis, accounting for the degraded detail of old tattoos.


Some tribal cultures traditionally created tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents; some cultures continue this practice, which may be an adjunct to
scarification Scarifying (also scarification modification) involves scratching, etching , who is believed to have been the first to apply the technique to printmaking. '', an etching by Rembrandt Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (, also , ; 15 July 1606&nb ...

. Some cultures create tattooed marks by hand-tapping the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones (made into needles) with clay formed disks or, in modern times, actual needles. The most common method of tattooing in modern times is the electric tattoo machine, which inserts ink into the skin via a single needle or a group of needles that are soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 80 to 150 times a second. The needles are single-use needles that come packaged individually. In modern tattooing, an artist may use a thermal stencil paper or hectograph to first place the design print on the skin before working with the machine and needle on skin. This process has enabled artists to create very detailed artworks on the skin.

Practice regulation and health risk certification

Tattooing is regulated in many countries because of the associated health risks to client and practitioner, specifically local infections and virus transmission. Disposable plastic aprons and eye protection can be worn depending on the risk of blood or other secretions splashing into the eyes or clothing of the tattooist. Hand hygiene, assessment of risks and appropriate disposal of all sharp objects and materials contaminated with blood are crucial areas. The tattoo artist must wash his or her hands and must also wash the area that will be tattooed. Gloves must be worn at all times and the wound must be wiped frequently with a wet disposable towel of some kind. All equipment must be sterilized in a certified autoclave before and after every use. It is good practice to provide clients with a printed consent form that outlines risks and complications as well as instructions for after care.


Historical associations

Among Austronesian peoples, Austronesian societies, tattoos had various functions. Among men, they were strongly linked to the widespread practice of head-hunting raids. In head-hunting societies, like the Ifugao people, Ifugao and Dayak people, tattoos were records of how many heads the warriors had taken in battle, and were part of the initiation rites into adulthood. The number, design, and location of tattoos, therefore, were indicative of a warrior's status and prowess. They were also regarded as magical wards against various dangers like evil spirits and illnesses. Among the Visayans of the pre-colonial Philippines, tattoos were worn by the ''maginoo, tumao'' nobility and the ''timawa'' warrior class as permanent records of their participation and conduct in maritime raids known as ''mangayaw''. In Austronesian women, like the facial tattoos among the women of the Tayal people, Tayal and Māori people, they were indicators of status, skill, and beauty. The Government of Meiji Japan had outlawed tattoos in the 19th century, a prohibition that stood for 70 years before being repealed in 1948. As of 6 June 2012, all new tattoos are forbidden for employees of the city of Osaka. Existing tattoos are required to be covered with proper clothing. The regulations were added to Osaka's ethical codes, and employees with tattoos were encouraged to have them removed. This was done because of the strong connection of tattoos with the yakuza, or Japanese organized crime, after an Osaka official in February 2012 threatened a schoolchild by showing his tattoo. Tattoos had negative connotations in historical China, where criminals often had been marked by tattooing. The association of tattoos with criminals was transmitted from China to influence Japan. Today, tattoos have remained a taboo in Chinese society. The Ancient Rome, Romans tattooed criminals and slaves, and in the 19th century released U.S. convicts, Australian convicts and British army deserters were identified by tattoos. Prisoners in Nazi concentration camps were tattooed with an identification number. Today, many prison inmates still tattoo themselves as an indication of time spent in prison.
Native Americans Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native Americans in the United States * Indigenous peoples in Canada, the indigenous p ...
also used tattoos to represent their tribe.Catholic Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croats of Bosnia used religious Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian tattooing, especially of children and women, for protection against conversion to Islam during the Ottoman rule in the Balkans.

Modern associations

Tattoos are strongly Empiricism, empirically associated with Deviance (sociology), deviance, personality disorders and criminality. Although the general acceptance of tattoos is on the rise in Western society, they still carry a heavy stigma among certain social groups. Tattoos are generally considered an important part of the culture of the Russian criminal tattoos, Russian mafia. Current cultural understandings of tattoos in Europe and North America have been greatly influenced by long-standing stereotypes based on deviant social groups in the 19th and 20th centuries. Particularly in North America, tattoos have been associated with stereotypes, folklore and racism. Not until the 1960s and 1970s did people associate tattoos with such societal outcasts as Outlaw motorcycle club, bikers and prisoners. Today, in the United States many prisoners and criminal gangs use distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior, prison tattooing, prison sentences and organizational affiliation. A teardrop tattoo, for example, can be symbolic of murder, or each tear represents the death of a friend. At the same time, members of the United States Armed Forces, U.S. military have an equally well-established and longstanding history of tattooing to indicate military units, battles, kills, etc., an association that remains widespread among older Americans. In Japan, tattoos are associated with yakuza criminal groups, but there are non-yakuza groups such as Fukushi Masaichi, Fukushi Masaichi's tattoo association that sought to preserve the skins of dead Japanese who have extensive tattoos. Tattooing is also common in the British Armed Forces. Depending on vocation, tattoos are accepted in a number of professions in America. Companies across many fields are increasingly focused on diversity and inclusion. Mainstream art galleries hold exhibitions of both conventional and custom tattoo designs, such as ''Beyond Skin'', at the Museum of Croydon. In Britain, there is evidence of women with tattoos, concealed by their clothing, throughout the 20th century, and records of women tattooists such as Jessie Knight (tattoo artist), Jessie Knight from the 1920s. A study of "at-risk" (as defined by school absenteeism and truancy) adolescent girls showed a positive correlation between body modification and negative feelings towards the body and low self-esteem; however, the study also demonstrated that a strong motive for body modification is the search for "self and attempts to attain mastery and control over the body in an age of increasing alienation". The prevalence of women in the tattoo industry in the 21st century, along with larger numbers of women bearing tattoos, appears to be changing negative perceptions. In ''Covered in Ink'' by Beverly Yuen Thompson, she interviews heavily tattooed women in Washington, Miami, Orlando, Houston, Long Beach, and Seattle from 2007 to 2010 using participant observation and in-depth interviews of 70 women. Younger generations are typically more unbothered by heavily tattooed women, while older generation including the participants parents are more likely to look down on them, some even go to the extreme of disowning their children for getting tattoos. Typically how the family reacts is an indicator of their relationship in general. Family members who weren't accepting of tattoos often wanted to scrub the images off, pour holy water on them or have them surgically removed. Families who were emotionally accepting of their family members were able to maintain close bonds after tattooing.

Advertising and marketing

Former sailor Rowland Hussey Macy, who formed Macy's department stores, used a red star tattoo that he had on his hand for the store's logo. Tattoos have also been used in marketing and advertising with companies paying people to have logos of brands like HBO, Red Bull, ASOS.com and Sailor Jerry, Sailor Jerry's rum tattooed in their bodies. This practice is known as "skinvertising". B.T.'s Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant located in Massachusetts, offered customers free meals for life if they had the logo of the establishment tattooed on a visible part of their bodies. Nine people took the business up on the offer.

Health risks

The pain of tattooing can range from uncomfortable to excruciating depending on the location of the tattooing the body. The pain can cause fainting. Because it requires breaking the immunologic barrier formed by the skin, tattooing carries health risks including infection and allergic reactions. Modern tattooists reduce health risks by following universal precautions working with single-use items and sterilizing their equipment after each use. Many jurisdictions require that tattooists have Blood-borne disease, blood-borne pathogen training such as that provided through the Red Cross and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA. As of 2009 (in the United States) there have been no reported cases of HIV contracted from tattoos. In amateur tattooing, such as the practice in prisons, there is an elevated risk of infection. Infections that can theoretically be transmitted by the use of unsterilized tattoo equipment or contaminated ink include surface infections of the skin, fungal infections, some forms of hepatitis, herpes simplex virus, HIV, staph, tetanus, and tuberculosis. Tattoo inks have been described as "remarkably nonreactive histologically". However, cases of allergic reactions to tattoo inks, particularly certain colors, have been medically documented. This is sometimes due to the presence of nickel in an ink pigment, which triggers a common metal allergy. Occasionally, when a blood vessel is punctured during the tattooing procedure, a bruise/hematoma may appear. At the same time, a number of tattoo inks may contain hazardous substances, and a proposal has been submitted by the European Chemicals Agency, European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to restrict the intentional use or concentration limit of approximately 4 000 substances when contained in tattoo inks. According to a study by th
European Union Observatory for Nanomaterials (EUON
, a number of modern-day tattoo inks contain nanomaterials. These engender significant Nanotoxicology, nanotoxicological concerns. Certain colours - red or similar colours such as purple, pink, and orange - tend to cause more problems and damage compared to other colours. Red ink has even caused
skin Skin is the layer of usually soft, flexible outer tissue covering the body of a vertebrate Vertebrates () comprise all species of animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biolo ...

and flesh damages so severe that the amputation of a leg or an arm has been necessary. If part of a tattoo (especially if red) begins to cause even minor troubles, like becoming itchy or worse, lumpy, then Danish experts strongly suggest to remove the red parts. In 2017, researchers from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France say the chemicals in tattoo ink can travel in the bloodstream and accumulate in the lymph nodes, obstructing their ability to fight infections. However, the authors noted in their paper that most tattooed individuals including the donors analyzed do not suffer from chronic inflammation. Tattoo artists frequently recommend sun protection of skin to prevent tattoos from fading and to preserve skin integrity to make future tattooing easier.


While tattoos are considered permanent, it is sometimes possible to remove them, fully or partially, with laser treatments. Typically, black and some colored inks can be removed more completely than inks of other colors. The expense and pain associated with removing tattoos are typically greater than the expense and pain associated with applying them. Pre-laser tattoo removal methods include dermabrasion, salabrasion (scrubbing the skin with salt), cryosurgery and wiktionary:excision, excision—which is sometimes still used along with skin grafts for larger tattoos. These older methods, however, have been nearly completely replaced by laser removal treatment options.

Temporary tattoos

A temporary tattoo is a non-permanent image on the skin resembling a permanent tattoo. As a form of body painting, temporary tattoos can be drawn, painted, airbrushed, or needled in the same way as permanent tattoos, but with an ink which dissolves in the blood within 6 months.


Decal-style temporary tattoos

Decal (press-on) temporary tattoos are used to decorate any part of the body. They may last for a day or for more than a week.

Metallic jewelry tattoos

Foil temporary tattoos are a variation of decal-style temporary tattoos, printed using a foil stamping technique instead of using ink. The foil design is printed as a mirror image in order to be viewed in the right direction once it is applied to the skin. Each metallic tattoo is protected by a transparent protective film.

Airbrush temporary tattoos

Although they have become more popular and usually require a greater investment, airbrush temporary tattoos are less likely to achieve the look of a permanent tattoo, and may not last as long as press-on temporary tattoos. An artist sprays on airbrush tattoos using a stencil with alcohol-based cosmetic inks. Like decal tattoos, airbrush temporary tattoos also are easily removed with rubbing alcohol or baby oil.

Henna temporary tattoos

Another tattoo alternative is henna-based tattoos, which generally contain no additives. Henna is a plant-derived substance which is painted on the skin, staining it a reddish-orange-to-brown color. Because of the semi-permanent nature of henna, they lack the realistic colors typical of decal temporary tattoos. Due to the time-consuming application process, it is a relatively poor option for children. Dermatological publications report that allergic reactions to natural henna are very rare and the product is generally considered safe for skin application. Serious problems can occur, however, from the use of henna with certain additives. The FDA and medical journals report that painted black henna temporary tattoos are especially dangerous.


Decal-style temporary tattoo safety

Decal temporary tattoos, when legally sold in the United States, have had their color additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as cosmetics – the FDA has determined these colorants are safe for "direct dermal contact". While the FDA has received some accounts of minor skin irritation, including redness and swelling, from this type of temporary tattoo, the agency has found these symptoms to be "child specific" and not significant enough to support warnings to the public. Unapproved pigments, however, which are sometimes used by non-US manufacturers, can provoke allergic reactions in anyone.

Airbrush tattoo safety

The types of airbrush paints manufactured for crafting, creating art or decorating clothing should never be used for tattooing. These paints can be allergenic or toxic.

Henna tattoo safety

The FDA regularly issues warnings to consumers about avoiding any temporary tattoos labeled as black henna or pre-mixed henna as these may contain potentially harmful ingredients including silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye and chromium. Black henna gets its color from paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a textile dye approved by the FDA for human use only in hair coloring. In Canada, the use of PPD on the skin, including hair dye, is banned. Research has linked these and other ingredients to a range of health problems including allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, and late-onset allergic reactions to related clothing and hairdressing dyes. They can cause these reactions long after application. Neither black henna nor pre-mixed henna are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA.

Religious views

Egyptians originally used tattoos to show dedication to a god, and the tattoos were believed to convey divine protection. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Neopaganism, tattoos are accepted. Southeast Asia has a tradition of protective tattoos variously known as ''sak yant'' or Yantra tattooing, yantra tattoos that include Buddhist images, prayers, and symbols. Images of the Buddha or other religious figures have caused controversy in some Buddhist countries when incorporated into tattoos by Westerners who do not follow traditional customs regarding respectful display of images of Buddhas or deities. Judaism generally prohibits tattoos among its adherents based on the commandments in Leviticus 19. Jews tend to believe this commandment only applies to Jews and not to gentiles. However, an increasing number of young Jews are getting tattoos either for fashion, or an expression of their faith. There is no specific teaching in the New Testament prohibiting tattoos. Most Christianity, Christian denominations believe that the Old Covenant ceremonial laws in Leviticus were Abrogation of Old Covenant laws, abrogated with the coming of the New Covenant; that the prohibition of various cultural practices, including tattooing, was intended to distinguish the Israelites from neighbouring peoples for a limited period of time, and was not intended as a universal law to apply to the gentiles for all time. Many Coptic Christians in Egypt have a cross tattoo on their right wrist to differentiate themselves from Muslims. However, some Evangelical and Christian fundamentalism, fundamentalist Protestant denominations believe the commandment applies today for Christians and believe it is a sin to get a tattoo. In catholic teaching, what is said in Leviticus (19:28) is taught not binding upon Christians for the same reason that the verse “nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff” (Lev. 19:19) is not binding upon Christians. It is a matter of what the tattoo depicts. The catholic church says the images should not be immoral, such as sexually explicit, Satanic, or in anyway opposed to the truths and teachings of Christianity. Tattoos are considered to be haram for many Sunni Muslims, based on rulings from scholars and passages in the Sunni Hadith. Shia Islam does not prohibit tattooing, and many Shia Muslims (Lebanese, Iraqis, Yemenis, Iranians) have tattoos, specifically with religious themes.

In popular culture

* Inked (magazine), ''Inked'' (magazine), a tattoo lifestyle digital media company that bills itself as the outsiders' insider media *See List of tattoo TV shows

See also


* Black-and-gray * Borneo traditional tattooing * Chinese calligraphy tattoos * Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina * Criminal tattoo * Deq (tattoo) * Irezumi, traditional Japanese tattoo * Marquesan tattoo * New school (tattoo) * Old school (tattoo) * Pe'a * Prison tattooing * Sailor tattoos * Scarification * Sleeve tattoo * Soot tattoo * SS blood group tattoo * Swallow tattoo


* Body suit (tattoo) * Genital tattooing * Lower back tattoo * Scleral tattooing


*Biomechanical art *Body art **Body painting **Mehndi (also called henna) *Foreign body granuloma *Fusen gum *Legal status of tattooing in the United States *List of tattoo artists *Lucky Diamond Rich, world's most tattooed person. *Religious perspectives on tattooing *Tattoo convention *Tattooed Lady




; Anthropological * Buckland, A. W. (1887) "On Tattooing", in ''Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland'', 1887/12, p. 318–328 * Caplan, Jane (ed.) (2000): ''Written on the Body: the Tattoo in European and American History'', Princeton University Press * DeMello, Margo (2000) ''Bodies of Inscription: a Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community'', California. Durham NC: Duke University Press * * Gell, Alfred (1993) ''Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia'', Oxford: Clarendon Press * Gilbert, Stephen G. (2001) ''Tattoo History: a Source Book'', New York: Juno Books * Gustafson, Mark (1997) "''Inscripta in fronte'': Penal Tattooing in Late Antiquity", in ''Classical Antiquity'', April 1997, Vol. 16/No. 1, pp. 79–105 * Hambly, Wilfrid Dyson (1925) ''The History of Tattooing and Its Significance: With Some Account of Other Forms of Corporal Marking'', London: H. F. & G. Witherby (reissued: Detroit 1974) * Hesselt van Dinter, Maarten (2005) ''The World of Tattoo; An Illustrated History''. Amsterdam, KIT Publishers * Jones, C. P. (1987) "Stigma: Tattooing and Branding in Graeco–Roman Antiquity", in ''Journal of Roman Studies'', 77/1987, pp. 139–155 * Juno, Andrea. ''Modern Primitives''. ''Re/Search'' #12 (October 1989) * Kächelen, Wolf-Peter (2004): ''Tatau und Tattoo – Eine Epigraphik der Identitätskonstruktion.'' Shaker Verlag, Aachen, . * Kächelen, Wolf-Peter (2020): "Tatau und Tattoo Revisited: Tattoo pandemic: A forerunner of globel economic and social collapse." In
Wolf-Peter Kächelen - Tatau und Tattoo
* Lombroso, Cesare (1896) "The Savage Origin of Tattooing", in ''Popular Science Monthly'', ''Popular Science'' Vol. IV., 1896
Pang, Joey (2008) "Tattoo Art Expressions"
* Raviv, Shaun (2006) "Marked for Life: Jews and Tattoos" (''Moment Magazine''; June 2006)
"Comparative study about Ötzi's therapeutic tattoos" (L. Renaut, 2004, French and English abstract)
* Robley, Horatio (1896) ''Moko, or, Maori tattooing''. London: Chapman and Hall * Roth, H. Ling (1901) "Maori tatu and moko". In: ''Journal of the Anthropological Institute'' vol. 31, January–June 1901 * Rubin, Arnold (ed.) (1988) ''Marks of Civilization: Artistic Transformations of the Human Body'', Los Angeles: UCLA Museum of Cultural History * Sanders, Clinton R. (1989) ''Customizing the Body: the Art and Culture of Tattooing''. Philadelphia: Temple University Press * Sinclair, A. T. (1909) "Tattooing of the North American Indians", in ''American Anthropologist'' 1909/11, No. 3, p. 362–400 * Thompson, Beverly Yuen (2015)
Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women and the Politics of the Body
', New York University Press. * Wianecki, Shannon (2011
''Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine''. ; Popular and artistic * Green, Terisa. ''Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo'' New York: New American Library * Green, Terisa. ''The Tattoo Encyclopedia: A Guide to Choosing Your Tattoo'' New York: New American Library * Kraków, Amy. ''Total Tattoo Book'' New York: Warner Books ; Medical * * * * * Paola Piccinini, Laura Contor, Ivana Bianchi, Chiara Senaldi, Sazan Pakalin: ''Safety of tattoos and permanent make-up'', Joint Research Centre, 2016, , doi:10.2788/011817.

Further reading


External links

* * *
Jesu Tattoo Studio

Tattoos, The Permanent Art
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