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Tattoos 101 > View Lessons

Medical Mechanics of Tattooing

Permanent tattooing of any form carries inherent risks, including infection and disease.

by britishinkArtist

November 28, 2005

Germs, they're everywhere...

If you are of a squeamish disposition I suggest that you skip this first part, OK... still here? Good.

Bacteria, viruses, mold spores and protozoa including but not limited to- Influenza, Pneumonia, Streptococcus, Escherichia Coli, HepatitisA,B,C,D,E,F and G, Staphylococcus, HIV and Tuberculosis (I'll use the blanket term-germs) are all around us, indeed all over us. Regardless of how clean you think you are you will never be free of those tiny organisms; we need hundreds of individual kinds in order to survive in this filthy world from those that live in your eyelash follicles to those in your intestine. You can scrub and scrub but it'll do no good.
I'm reminded of an Outer Limits or Twilight Zone movie scene, I don't recall which, where the antagonist is a "clean-freak", lives in a white, sealed apartment and wears gloves and a mask and is constantly cleaning, he sees a cockroach, tries to kill it, does so and then....thousands of roaches swarm into the sealed room through every drain, air vent and electrical outlet. Great scene; "but what does that have to do with tattooing?" I hear you ask. Well our lives are a bit like that, of course on a much, much smaller scale. They are all around, on surfaces and airborne, Consider the fact that one sneeze can project 100,000 droplets of mucus a distance of up to 10 meters at a speed of 99 miles per hour and if that sneeze contains any germs, (it does) they'll be spread too, let alone the amount of possible nastiness carried in our blood. At a microscopic level we are being swarmed by germs, the vast majority are harmless; however some may even be fatal.

As living organisms they do adapt and evolve with their environmental conditions, the continued use of low dose disinfectants may in fact increase their resistance to these chemicals and produce stronger strains so correct sanitation and infection prevention is vital to a safe(er) and healthy environment. The tattoo studio is no exception.

Tattooing saves the day, again...

The study of cross-contamination (the spread of germs from one place to another by human interaction) was first discovered through a survey of tattooing. Yes, one more invaluable contribution that the tattooing culture has passed on into global knowledge.
In 1861 Ernest Berchon, a French Naval surgeon, published a paper on the medical complications of tattooing noting that the spread of syphilis was observed from one soldier to another, the later being a virgin and the tattooer was seen to spit into the drying pigment, several times, during the tattoo process. Berchon guessed that the organic matter contaminating the needles or pigment was responsible for the resulting infection and he wasn't far from the truth.


This was a revelation in medical circles because microorganisms were not known to cause infection at that time.


Surgeons did not wash hands or wear gloves and went from one patient to the other with contaminated clothing and skin spreading whatever disease was living in the fluids. Infection, as we know it, was considered a normal and healthy part of the healing process, pus and mucus secretions were seen as manifestations of the disease being expelled from the body. Excuse me while I pause to shudder........thank you.

As a result of these findings the medical field cleaned up its act, literally, and the cases of serious infections, blood poisoning, gangrene and death were reduced in hospitals and clinics across the world. The sheer number of (continued next page)

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