Body Piercing and Tattoos
Skin is the largest and most complex organ found in human body. Some people find tattoo, piercing and other body art as a creative way to express themselves. It's true origin, symbolism, variety, and modern day versions go more then just skin deep.
A Brief Historical Timeline of Tattoos and Body Piercing
In October 1991, a five thousand year old corpse was found frozen in a glacier between Italy and Austria. The body of this man (later called Otzi or iceman) is considered the best preserved corpse of the Bronze Age every found, and dates to around 3300 B.C. Fifty-eight total tattoos were found on Otzi, made up only of simple dots and lines. No real symbolism could be made out of these designs. However, scientists have come to a theory that these tattoos were part of a medical or spiritual healing process. Tattooed mummies have also been discovered. One of the best preserved is Amunet, a former priestess of the goddess Hathor at Thebes during the XI or 21st Dynasty of Egypt (2160-1994 B.C.). In approximately 1400 B.C., Levitical law (Leviticus 19:28) reveals that tattooing was a known practice in ancient Israel and amongst their Mesopotamian neighbors. Egyptian pharaohs had their navels pierced as a rite of passage into manhood, and Roman soldiers pierced their nipples as a sign of masculinity and bravery. In Victorian times, members of royal families, both male and female, were known to have their genitals or nipples pierced. Modern body piercing traditions include adorning the nose, lips, and navel.
Tattooing is also mentioned by a remarkable number of ancient Greek and Roman writers including Herodotus, Plutarch, Plato, Aristophanes, and Pliny the Elder. In the first century, the Roman historian Herodian described animal body markings of the Celts, and then described the people of northern Britain as “Picts” after the display of such images. Tattoos are also mentioned by Julius Caesar in his description of the Gallic wars. Throughout church history, tattoos are referred to in edicts, councils, and personal correspondence amongst clergy. Not only limited to certain cultures, body piercing has become more common and widely accepted in the general population during the last part of the twentieth century. A piercing boutique in Los Angeles reported performing 18,000 piercing in 1993 alone.
Body art is popular because it makes a person feel different, or special. They can be reminded of a turning point in their life through tattoos. In most cases, people get tattoos for a personal meaning. Whether it be to remember something great that happened in their life, to show affection or emotion, or because that specific design meant a lot to them, there’s no one reason for a tattoo.
One especially touching example of this is the 9/11 attack. Many firefighters and police officers have stated that that particularly happening inspired them to get a special patriotic tattoo. Piercing is popular because it can accent and draw attention towards certain parts of the body, such as the ears and stomach. Mostly, young adults think that it is considered elegant to be tattooed or pierced. Though, they may not always take into account that they could be judged by their appearance from too much self-expression.
Individuals often cite self-expression as the primary motivation for a tattoo, which is seen as symbolic of their individuality, spirituality, or philosophy. Many women have stated their tattoo is a statement of freedom and has improved their self-esteem. Others cite a ritualistic, sometimes fraternal motivation. Many describe the pain induced by the tattoo needle as an "endorphin rush." A sense of control and triumph over pain is commonly verbalized as a positive result of the tattoo experience. "Pain is part of the process," contributing to the sense of ritual, tribal membership, and status described by tattoo customers.
Risks involved with tattoos and body piercing.
With any type of body piercing there are risks involved. In 1999, the American Academy of Dermatology officially discouraged body piercing, pointing out that the practice can lead to chronic infection, nickel allergy problems, formation of granulomas (masses of chronically infected tissue), and other skin problems. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, AIDS, hepatitis B virus (HBV), and other blood-borne infections may be transmitted if blood-contaminated instruments are not properly sterilized or disinfected. HBV is the greatest health threat due to its ability to survive on blood-contaminated surfaces such as door knobs or instruments, and HBV can be transmitted in as little as 0.00004 ml of blood. The risk of infection, especially to HBV, is so high that the American and Canadian Red Cross refuse the donation of blood from anyone who has undergone body piercing (or a tattoo) during the previous year.
Pain, bleeding, infection, and scarring are all possible with any type of piercing. Examples of complications by site include: a torn or split ear lobe of the most popular piercing site, the ear; scarring or deformities of the rim of the ear due to the lack of blood supply to the site; embedded jewelry in subcutaneous tissue and, more seriously, endocarditis from piercing of nose cartilage; airway obstruction from a swallowed piece of jewelry or from swelling, teeth fractures, damaged cheek tissue, and loss of taste from tongue piercing; and breast abscess, and constricted ducts during lactation which could limit the ability to breast feed due to nipple piercing. Genitalia piercing of the foreskin, penis, scrotum, clitoris, labia majora, and labia minora are all at greatest risk of infection during intercourse while the wound is still healing.
Since tattoo compounds in comparison to cosmetics are not officially controlled, the origin and chemical structure of these coloring agents are hardly known; even the tattoo manufacturers do not know which substances are punctured into the skin. There is no disclosure of the ingredients of these coloring agents. A variety of tattoo pigments has been analyzed recently. The results show that pigments are mainly industrial organic pigments with high microbiological and impurities load. The resulting health effects are numerous and to some extend documented as single case reports.
Bacterial infections and diseases transmitted by tattooing include the following bacteria20:
Streptococcus pyogenes, leading to impetigo, erysipelas, and septicemia; Staphylococcus aureus transmitting toxic shock syndrome;
Pseudomonas aeruginosa transmitting septicemia;
Clostridium tetani transmitting tetanus;
Haemophilus ducreyi transmitting chancroid;
Treponema pallidum transmitting syphilis;
Mycobactrium tuberculosis tranmitting tuberculosis;
Mycobacterium leprae transmitting leprosy.
Impetigo is an inflammatory skin disease marked by isolated pustules, which become
crusted and rupture. It usually occurs around the mouth and nostrils. Erysipelas is an acute febrile disease with localized inflammation and redness of the skin and subcutaneous tissue accompanied by systemic signs and symptoms including fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, painful and warm skin, and hot, red lesions on the face and head. Septicemia is the presence of pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, parasites, mycobacteria) in the blood. The toxic shock syndrome is a rare and sometimes fatal disease caused by a toxin or toxins produced by the bacterium staphylococcus aureus.
In France between 10% and 20% of all piercings are reported to lead to a local infection21.This seems to be consistent with results obtained in the USA22. The most commonly found causal agents are Staphylococcus aureus, group A Streptococcus and Pseudomonas spp. These germs may eventually cause severe life-threatening complications even in common localizations (earlobe). Piercing the upper ear can cause infection. Its devastating chondritis leads to collapse of the ear. Five cases referred for autogenous-tissue ear reconstruction are reported23. In four of them, the destroyed segments of ear cartilage were replaced with a carved costalcartilage framework.
In another study, a male patient, who underwent chest augmentation and nipple piercing, developed chronic nipple infection, which led to unnecessary invasive diagnostic procedures, serious implant infection, and eventually urgent explantation. The study recommends avoiding nipple piercing in men with chest implants. Another study reported three adolescents who developed infections due to anaerobes at pierced body sites: the nipple, the umbilicus and the nasal septum. Anaerobes (Prevotella intermedia and Peptostreptococcus anaerobius) were recovered from pure culture of specimens obtained from one patient with nipple infection and were mixed with aerobic bacteria in cultures of specimens obtained from two patients (Streptococcus aureus, Peptostreptococcus micros and Prevotella melaninogenica were recovered from a patient with nasal septum infection and Bacteroides fragilis and Enterococcus faecalis were recovered from a patient with umbilical infection). The infection resolved in all patients after removal of the ornaments and use of antimicrobial drug treatment.
Some World Records
Canadian Brent Moffat set the world record for most body piercings (700 piercings with 18g surgical needles in 1 session of 7 hours, using “play piercing” where the skin is pierced and sometimes jewelry is inserted, which is worn temporarily). In the United Kingdom, a record was made by piercer Charlie Wilson on subject Kam Ma, with 600 permanent piercings in just over 8 1/2 hours. Officially titled “most pierced woman” Elaine Davidson of Scotland set the record for most permanent piercings (1,903 permanent piercings) and she first broke or created this record in 2000 upon verification by Guinness judges (462 body piercings, with 192 at the time being around her head and face). Unofficially Dwaine Scum attempted to break the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive body piercings (1000 needles over his stomach and chest in 5 hours). Benjamin Drucker (U.S.) allowed 745 18-gauge (1.2 cm (0.5 in) long) surgical needles inserted into his body by Nate Adams (USA) in 2 hours 21 minutes at Ix Body Piercing of Taos, New Mexico, U.S. on July 12 2003.
Differing numbers indicate the extent of tattoos within our society today. National
Geographic News stated that 15% of all Americans are tattooed7 and the Alliance of Professional Tattooists estimates over 39 million Americans have tattoos. Details magazine published a poll that stated 22% of 18-25 year olds have at least one tattoo. It is also estimated that that 60% of those tattooed are women. Another study estimates that over half of all adolescents are planning on getting tattooed. Tattoos have invaded popular culture, and can be seen on celebrities, lawyers, accountants, Madison Avenue executives, and professional athletes.8 According to US News and World Report, tattooing is the country’s sixth fastest growing retail business and growing at the rate of one new tattoo parlor opening its doors every day. One estimate cites 30,000 tattoo artists working in the United States today.9 There are also at least eight major tattoo magazines published regularly in the United States, and articles about tattooing appear in magazines, journals, and small town newspapers on a regular basis.
This review on health impacts and risks associated with tattooing and piercing as reported casually in the medical literature shows that tattooing and piercing pose great threat to person’s life. The origin and chemical structure of colouring agents used for tattooing are hardly known. Pigments are mainly industrial organic pigments with high microbiological and impurities and a load of metals such as cobalt and mercury.