How tattoos 'move' with age

Apr 28, 2011

The dyes which are injected into the skin to create tattoos move with time – permanently altering the look of a given design. In this month’s Mathematics Today Dr Ian Eames, a Reader in Fluid Mechanics at UCL, publishes a mathematical model enabling us to estimate the movement of these ink particles and predict how specific tattoo designs will look several years in the future.

“Tattoos are incredibly popular worldwide with more than a third of 18-25 year olds in the USA sporting at least one design,” says Dr Eames. “A great deal of work has already been done on the short term fate of ink particles in the skin, tracking them over periods of just a few months – but much less is known about how these particles move over longer periods of time.

“This paper provides a mathematical framework enabling us to predict how ink particles move over 20 year periods. It helps pave the way towards assessing whether there are any long-term health implications with tattoos – in addition to giving people an idea of how their chosen design could look several years down the line.”

Tattoo inks are a suspension of particles which are insoluble in water. Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, nickel, zinc and iron are used for colours and the tattoos are created by locally puncturing the dermis level of the skin, while simultaneously applying ink.

The damage to the skin leads to an initial immune response and white blood cells arrive to clear the debris. During this process, some of the ink particles are removed from the body via the lymphatic system, while the remainder are engulfed in fibroblast cells and sealed below the surface of the skin. The dispersal of the ink particles occurs over time as the cells which contain them either divide, or die and exit the body.

“Skin type, age, size, exposure to the sunlight and the type of ink which is used all influence how a tattoo disperses with time,” says Dr Eames. “But broadly speaking, what my paper shows is that the small details in a tattoo are lost first, with thicker lines being less affected. Although finely detailed tattoos might look good when they are first done, they tend to lose their definition after 15 years - depending on how fine the lines are.”

Explore further: Decision cascades in social networks

More information: Mathematics Today www.ima.org.uk/activities/publ… athematics_today.cfm

Provided by University College London

not rated yet

Related Stories

New ink makes tattoos less permanent

Dec 30, 2006

Scientists at two U.S. universities developed a solution to make tattoos less permanent -- an ink that can be removed with a single laser treatment.

Most Teens Don't Stop to Think About Tattoo-Removal Risks

Mar 03, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many adolescents think about getting tattoos, but less than half know what’s involved in having them removed, according to an Italian study appearing online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Tattooing linked to higher risk of hepatitis C: study

Aug 06, 2010

Youth, prison inmates and individuals with multiple tattoos that cover large parts of their bodies are at higher risk of contracting hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases, according to a University of British Columbia ...

Chemicals in tattoo inks need closer scrutiny

Mar 14, 2005

As tattoos have grown in popularity, so have complaints of adverse side effects associated with both their application and removal. A new study, done by chemistry students at Northern Arizona University, looked at the chemical ...

Study examines motivations for tattoo removal

Jul 21, 2008

Individuals who visit dermatology clinics for tattoo removal are more likely to be women than men, and may be motivated by the social stigma associated with tattoos and negative comments by others, according to a report in ...

Whose Tattoo Is It Anyway?

Dec 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- An infra-red digital camera could be a crucial tool in the fight against crime when trying to identify suspects by their tattoos, according to new University of Derby research.

Recommended for you

Decision cascades in social networks

10 hours ago

How do people in a social network behave? How are opinions, decisions and behaviors of individuals influenced by their online networks? Can the application of math help answer these questions?

Christmas cracker pulling: How to send everyone home a winner

Dec 15, 2014

According to experts' statistical analyses, if you're expecting 10 guests for dinner on Christmas day, 15 crackers—those festive cardboard tubes filled with a one-size-fits-no-one paper hat, a small toy, and a groan-inducing ...

Mathematicians prove the Umbral Moonshine Conjecture

Dec 15, 2014

Monstrous moonshine, a quirky pattern of the monster group in theoretical math, has a shadow - umbral moonshine. Mathematicians have now proved this insight, known as the Umbral Moonshine Conjecture, offering ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

physpuppy
3 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2011
"mercury, lead, cadmium and iron"

Injected in skin.

Is that right? Should it say "could contain"?

If that's what the inks typically contain, sounds like getting one of those things is a pretty bad idea?
orgon
not rated yet Apr 28, 2011
Yep, it sounds strangely for me too..

http: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattoo_ink#Pigment_bases
Moebius
not rated yet Apr 29, 2011
A study was required to predict that tattoo's would fade and spread over time? That fine color details would not last as long as the large black tribal types many people are getting? They must never have seen a retired navy person.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Apr 29, 2011
Geez, now I feel great about hand-poking myself a tattoo with shoepolish when I was 13...0o...sigh

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.