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Tattoo Molecules




Hello Everyone, let's keep the ball rolling with this next blog post, I'm excited to discuss this topic because it really falls in line with my background a little more than my last post. That post was about processes of tattoo machine use, in addition to some basic immune system functions that react to the tattooing process and the ink/pigment.  This post will be based on molecular structures and reactions that take place on a microscopic level in regard to body chemistry.  So far feedback has been great! I love to elicit responses and create discourse between people that may have never met each other. It’s great because now the Internet gives so many of us the opportunity to have an opinion! Before the world wide web, you'd have to be published in a journal, book, or magazine to carry any regard in your field, now we're all on Instagram and can communicate freely. Got to love new tech and the ability to share quality information with the masses. On the other hand, I understand that most of the info on the Internet is misleading, so I'm going to do my best to give you guys the most accurate and quality info that is readable and digestible without too much scientific jargon.  Thanks for reading, so let's get started!!!!!!!

I’m excited about this one as my background covers quite a bit of organic chemistry, which is based on carbon-based compounds.  I’m sure we’ve all heard of organic food products, which are grown naturally without preservatives or pesticides etc. But when I hear organic my first thought goes to carbon-based molecules, essentially the basis for our component parts on the molecular level.  The human body is 99% comprised (by mass) of the elements oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous in order from largest to smallest in quantity.  That’s your fun fact for the day!

Carbon plays a huge role in organic molecules because of an interesting atomic trait it possesses.  Carbon has four electrons in its valence shell.  Explained briefly, a valence shell is the outermost layer of electrons.  Theoretically, electrons reside in orbitals or shells around the nucleus of an atom.  Depending on the number of electrons in the outermost shell, this will dictate which type of bonds the element can make when undergoing chemical reaction. The goal valence shell’s want to reach is to have a full octet, or eight electrons in that orbital.  This makes most molecules happy! The number of electrons in the shell will generally determine what reactions and what types of bonds will form. In carbon’s case, it forms covalent bonds with surrounding elements, which means it shares the electrons rather than donating or taking them (ionic bonding).  The advantage of carbon’s bonding process is that it can generate double and triple bonds with other elements (which are stronger and shorter bonds than a single bond).  This gives carbon the ability to form many different shapes and structures when bonded to various atoms, ultimately taking on many different properties.  For example, diamonds are crystal clear, very shiny and one of the hardest materials on Earth, on the other hand, graphite is dark colored, brittle and used as pencil lead.  If you would like to dive deeper into any of these concepts I would be happy to discuss further but I think this is a solid introduction to the diversity of carbon and its potential uses. Now that you have a general idea of how carbon compounds can act we can talk about how this is related to ink and pigment when being applied to the skin.

Tattoo ink can loosely be divided into two groups, you have black ink and colored pigments.  The molecular structures of these group can vary greatly, however, black inks you will generally find more carbon-based coloring.  I will not go into detail about the basic ingredients of inks because it is easy enough to find if you’re really interested.  Anyways, black inks are based out of carbon sources which helps make them black. Can you think of any examples of black colored carbon-based substances?

We can skip to the part where ink has been injected into the dermis layer. Those carbon-based inks are delivered with a transport fluid that keeps the ink suspended evenly and prevents microbial growth.

As black ink is applied to the skin, the carbon compounds find each other and create bonds.  I use the term bonds very loosely here, because they may be more like links in this case (but that would be a separate discussion).  These carbon bonds essentially make the black ink hard under the skin which is great for outlines and making a bullet-proof tattoo.  Black ink also makes a great outline because it bonds and hardens up. Obviously, we cannot feel the ink hardening in our skin as it’s a chemical property that forms while in the dermis. Color tattoo pigment is made from a wide variety of compounds, but do not form the same links as carbon based black inks.  Pigments are known to migrate the longer they are in the skin and as we age. Black ink can be thought of as a stopper or a dam so that the color pigment does not generally migrate past the black outlines. 

Another fun fact (that’s two in one post - today is your lucky day) about pigment is how we see their colors. This is applied to anything that has color in our day-to-day lives, but I will keep this brief and easy to understand.  Anything we see that has color (which is pretty much everything) is connected to something called the visible light spectrum.  The visible light spectrum is a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes various forms of energy and light, like radio waves, microwaves, x-rays and all kinds of cool stuff.  Anyways, visible light is a very small percentage of the spectrum, you can look up additional info on that if it tickles your fancy, but we are going to keep moving on.  So, when we see color, the surface of the object we are looking at is absorbing and reflecting colors, and we see the colors that are reflected. So, when we are looking at a beautiful, vibrant red rose, those rose petals are reflecting that red light and the sensors in our eyes pick it up and transmit the signal to our brain.  Tattoo pigment works in the exact same way, as it is comprised of molecules that can sit under the skin without being consumed by the human immune system. These molecules reflect the colored light that we see and BOOM!!! Colored tattoos! Because of the chemical properties of the pigments, it is difficult for color tattoos to hold integrity over time without the black lines keeping things in place.  Pigment migration is a common issue with color outline tattoos. Over time, the skin moves and changes which alters the pigmented area, distorting the shape and making it susceptible to attack from our white blood cells.

Remember last week I discussed that white blood cells attack the ink molecule. However, the ink and pigment molecules are too large for the white blood cells to breakdown/consume and carry away.  This is basically how the ink particles are able to reside in the skin for many years.  The previous post explains it a little more in depth and as always, personal research never hurts.  I hope this post was informative and as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. Thank you for reading, and below for your viewing pleasure are some super tough tattoos done by Zenon!!!!

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I think there are a lot of people who do not want to make a permanent tattoo on their body so they have to choose a temporary ink-tattoo. They removed their tattoo when they want. 

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