Why do Pigment particles stay in the Skin?
First lets look at how the particles are deposited and where they are deposited:
Deposition of Pigment Particles:
- Tattoo artists use a tattoo machine that contains a cluster of needles (cartridge) to puncture the skin repeatedly at a rapid pace.
- These needles penetrate through the epidermis (the outer layer) and reach the dermis (the deeper layer) of the skin. This is known as the epidermal/dermal junction.
- Pigment is injected into the top layer of the dermis in the form of tiny pigment particles (pigment). These particles can be made up of various materials, such as metal salts, organic compounds, or a combination of both, depending on the type of ink used.
- This is the area of skin where the pigment becomes trapped.
- This area in the skin is commonly known to PMU artists as the “Sweet Spot”. In order for ink to stay for long periods of time, the pigment must reach this area.
- This ink may also be deposited by other methods such as Microblading. The same theory applies.
This is a simply view of the layers of the skin.
Now lets look at why pigment stays in the skin:
Depth of placement:
- It is imperative that the artist deposits the ink into the “Sweet Spot” as mentioned above. The dermis is a stable and relatively undisturbed layer of skin where the ink can remain relatively permanent.
- When ink is deposited superficially on not on the top layer of the dermis, the ink will shed with the epidermal cells that shed. This is the reason that many tattoo’s lighten. During the tattooing process there is ink trapped in the pi-dermis. This makes the tattoo look darker as the light cannot reflect thru the pigment.
This photo shows:
- The pigment being implanted.
- The pigment that has been deposited in the epidermal and dermal layer.
- The epidermis free of any remaining pigment as it has completed the shedding cycle since the implantation.
Size of the pigment particles:
- Tattoo ink contains particles that are larger than the cells in the epidermis. These larger particles cannot be easily shed or removed by the body's natural processes.
- Particles sizes of the ink vary by color, the milling process and other variables.
This photo shows the size difference in 3 of the most common pigments used. The smaller particles will stay in the skin longer. As we know carbon black will stay in the skin for a long time.
- When tattoo ink is deposited into the dermis, the body recognizes it as a foreign substance. However, the immune response in the dermis is relatively limited compared to the epidermis. This is extremely important.
- This means that the body's attempts to remove the ink are less effective in the dermis, allowing the ink to stay in place. This slower response allows some of the ink particles to remain trapped in the dermis.
- These particles can be made up of various materials, such as metal salts, organic compounds, or a combination of both, depending on the type of ink used.
The immune system swells the skin and carries away tiny ink particles through the blood and lymph. However, the ink particles are too large for white blood cells to remove, so the tattoo won't disappear completely. The ink particles remain stuck inside macrophages until they die off after a few days or weeks.
As you can see in this photo after the introduction of ink, the immune response (death of the macrophage. The ink remains in the cell.
Stability of the pigment:
- Stability of pigments: Tattoo pigments are designed to be chemically stable and not break down easily. They are formulated to resist degradation by enzymes and other factors that might cause them to fade or be removed over time.
- Pigments are resistant to degradation by enzymes and other biochemical processes.
The stability of tattoo pigments depends on factors such as the size of the pigment particles, their chemical composition, and how deeply they are deposited into the skin. Tattoo artists choose pigments based on their ability to resist fading and maintain their color intensity over time.
This photo was in the Permablend lab. Due to the dedication of top rated companies like Permablend, our pigments are extremely stable.
Why does pigment fade over time:
- Natural Skin Regeneration: This process occurs over and over again. The top layer (epidemis) continually regenerates itself. There are always new skin cells being produced at the base of the epidermis. As we know the older, dead cells are shed from the surface. We mentioned above and showed the diagram to illustrate that as these cells are shed, any tattoo ink located in the epidermis may gradually be removed with them. This natural cell turnover can cause a slight fading of the tattoo over many years.
- Sun Exposure (UV Radiation): Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can have a fade effect on tattoo’s. Another form of radiation can come from tanning beds, these can also have a fading effect on tattoos. As the UV rays break down the pigments you notice a loss of vibrancy and sharpness over time. It is recommended to protect tattoos from direct sunlight and use sunscreen to minimize fading.
- Immune System Response: While the immune system's response in the dermis is less aggressive as we mentioned above, some tattoo ink particles may still be broken down and removed by immune cells over time. This can contribute to the gradual fading of tattoos, although it is typically a slow process.
- Scarring and Skin Trauma: We may see the deviation of tattoo’s due to skin trauma or scarring in the tattooed area. These two things can alter the appearance of a tattoo. The scarring can disrupt the color and size/shape of the tattoo. Additionally, surgical procedures or injuries to the tattooed area can result in the removal or alteration of the ink.
- Skin Conditions: Many skin conditions such as Eczema or Psoriasis can affect the long term outcome of a tattoo. Not to mention burns and many other causes.
- Tattoo Quality and Care: The quality of the tattoo work and aftercare practices play a role in how well a tattoo retains its appearance. Poorly executed tattoos or inadequate aftercare can play a role in the short and long term retention of the tattoo.
- There are also many other reasons such as medical, immunology, etc.
I hope that you have a better understanding of why the pigment stays in the skin and why they should be considered permanent. Even if the tattoo fades or looses some of its vibrancy over the years, there will most likely still be many pigment particles remaining in the skin.
Mary Hall Scott
B.S. R.T. (R) CPT MPS
You may find other helpful information at some of my other sites: