Scientific Stuff: When You Get A Tattoo and After

So I was watching a Youtube video, researching the scientific bits of what happens to your skin when you get a tattoo, and afterwards I see so many negative comments focused on people who like or wear tattoos.  Statements like: Why would anyone get a permanent tattoo when they have no idea who they're going to be in 20 years?  Or, why can't people be happy with the natural skin they have?  Negative flavored comments come from those who don't know the history behind tattoos, don't necessarily appreciate the arts, and are probably sheltered from the culture.  Despite some negative people, this got me thinking - a good blog post, and topic we really haven't got in depth about would be the known science of the skin receiving/reacting to a tattoo, and of course why aftercare matters.


The Skin Like Earth's Crust

There's layers to the skin.  Scientifically, the epidermis and the dermis are the two top layers of the skin.  When tattooing, the needle penetrates these two layers: first the epidermis and then the dermis further down.  The dermis is deeper and goes down to the fatty layer.


Unlike in my doodle here, the dermis keeps going down to the fatty layer.  Inside these skin layers, there's nerves, cells, glands, hair follicles, and other things.

Unlike in my doodle here, the dermis keeps going down to the fatty layer.  Inside these skin layers, there's nerves, cells, glands, hair follicles, and other things.



When getting tattooed, the needle reaches just enough to get to the dermis layer, if it doesn't, then you're tattoo will fade away.  There are cells within the dermis layer that hold ink, they're called fibroblast.  These cells hold ink pretty much forever, even after other younger dermal cells take them over (that's whats happening when your skin sheds and your tattoo stays).  There are other dermal cells with specific roles and take action when your body goes through it's natural phase while getting tattooed.


Your Body Taking Over

Image fat little blobs floating in the layers of your skin - no?  Well, image your skin layers that eat unfamiliar things to protect you.  Your body sends these dudes to the site of intrusion, in this case, the needle from a tattoo machine opening a wound in your skin.  This is an immune process that is inflammation (when your tattoo turns red, this is normal).  The immune cells that are protecting you are called macrophages, and they eat the ink.  Some of those cells go to your lymph nodes to get rid of the ink, and others stay in your dermis layer.

All of the ink from a tattoo is either inside of a cell, or suspended in gel-like substance and can be seen through the skin.  The rest is shed off during the first few weeks of the healing process.


The Healing Process

There's ink on the very top layer of the skin, some through the epidermis and then in the dermis.  The ink that stays is in the dermis layer.  The ink in the epidermis, and sitting on top, is shed like a scab.  It takes 2-4 weeks for the epidermis to shed and make a full recovery.  That's why tattoo artists say they can touch-up or add more to a tattoo after it's fully healed, which is usually 2 weeks.  That's also why we recommend no swimming, soaking in bath tubs, or sun tanning, because your epidermis is recovering and rebuilding new skin cells.


All ink that's not in the dermis layer is shed.  Dermis ink stays and can be seen through the transparent skin cells of the epidermis.

All ink that's not in the dermis layer is shed.  Dermis ink stays and can be seen through the transparent skin cells of the epidermis.



Over time, everyones tattoos fade.  That's just a natural part of the body's immune system.  Slowly, the body's macrophages are eating away at the ink and filtering it through the lymph nodes.  But there are some things that we recommend to help your tattoo keep it's appearance during healing and after. 


Tattoo Aftercare!

Every shop's aftercare recommendation varies.  But at the heart of it all, every person getting a tattoo is told to keep it moisturized during the healing process, and given a whole list of things not to do.  Here at DORK Tattoo Parlor, we like to do a little research on the things we care about.  Once we learn about the things that are weird or wrong with what others typically recommend, we tend to re-create it ourselves, paying attention to quality and customer experiences.  For example, many people do not know that A&D ointment has an irritant in it that can cause itching and dryness of a tattoo.  In some cases, moisturizers such as Vaseline can do the opposite of moisturize when used too frequently. 

The reasoning for aftercare is to keep the tattoo moisturized during the healing process.  Good aftercare helps water remain in the skin and prevents you from itching or scratching the tattoo as it peels away from the epidermis, it also helps shelter the skin from tiny foreign objects, allowing the tattoo ink to be absorbed by cells in the dermis layer.

But what you choose to put on your tattoo is very important!  Never use anything that can irritate the skin as it's healing, this can affect how well your cells absorb the ink.  Never use things with artificial scents or additives, because these can cause your skin to be irritated.  We recommend using something safe and natural, made from scratch just for tattooing.



We provide DORK+ (formally known as Collectors Care), as an aftercare for tattoos.  It's an all natural moisturizer made with non-irritating, anti-inflammatory, and skin repairing ingredients, such as hempseed oil, shea butter, beeswax and calendula.  



For the holiday season, we're offering kits including aftercare liquid soap and moisturizer.  In every kit you'll find a DORK pin!  Represent your favorite tattoo shop :)




More information on tattoo aftercare can be found on our website (link).  Most of the scientific language about the skin was found on the internet: Here and Here.  Other research came from just general life experience ;)  Stay tuned for more scientific/historic posts on tattoos and the body.

* For now, DORK+ aftercare kits can only be purchased at the shop: 423 West Chestnut Street and are starting at $15 for one kit that includes: DORK+ moisturizer, DORK+ Liquid Soap, and a free small DORK lapel pin.

Have any questions about your tattoo or future tattoo?  Shoot us an email:

Hope you find the beauty in tattoos like we do :)

With Love,
Doree x DORK