To answer this question, this post will touch upon the most common skin markings that can result from tattooing, and how Ephemeral approaches skincare to mitigate unwanted permanent skin markings. By the end of the post, our goal is for you to be knowledgeable about the potential effects of tattooing (both permanent and Ephemeral) and why we approach skincare the way we do.
There are two types of skin markings that can occur from tattooing:
Scar: A growth of tissue that marks the spot where your skin has healed after injury or trauma, and is permanent. A scar is basically what is left after your body tries to mend itself, and is an indication that your body has been repaired. Visually, a scar is identifiable by disruptions and changes to the skin pattern. For example, bulging or sunken skin is typically associated with injuries from acne. Scarring can sometimes appear magnified or diminished depending on skin type and skin tones, and the color of the scar can also be different compared to the surrounding skin. The texture too might appear smoother. Scarring can occur for a variety of reasons, including surgical procedures, mechanical trauma, infection, disease (e.g chicken pox), or inflammation of tissues.
Hypopigmentation and Hyperpigmentation: These terms refer to when the skin lightens (hypo) or darkens (hyper) as it heals in response to an injury. Both are sometimes loosely referred to as scarring, but they are actually distinct types of skin markings. For the purposes of this post, when we speak of hypo- or hyperpigmentation, we are referring to skin markings where the skin pattern is intact but has lightened or darkened. This lightening or darkening arises when there is too little melanin (hypo) or too much melanin (hyper) produced at the site of injury. Hypo or hyper pigmentation is a natural part of healing after injury has occurred. Unlike scarring, it typically goes away within a year but can last longer, and its appearance can depend on your skin type. All of these outcomes vary due to the individual’s unique skin physiology and processes.
Now that we've established the two common types of markings that can occur, let’s talk about why they might happen in tattooing.
Contributors to skin markings:
Needles are placed too deep: When the needle transferring the ink is placed too deep in the skin, below the dermis, markings can occur. Tattoo artists refer to this as a “blowout.” When this happens, the ink is deposited in the fatty layer of the skin and spreads out, leading to a blurred line effect, basically compromising the crispness of your tattoo. Tattoo artists pay close attention to maintaining the proper depth while transferring the ink to the skin so as to avoid blowouts. The more damage done to the skin, the greater the likelihood of scarring.
Overworking the skin: Overworking the skin can also lead to undesirable healing and a greater chance of skin markings. “Tattoo overwork” usually happens when, in an attempt to create a desired effect such as a fully saturated line, filling, or shading, the needle is passed over the skin too many times or too deeply, injuring the skin more than necessary. Tattoo overwork can also come about because of bad or damaged needles. The effect of overwork is an aesthetically unpleasing tattoo that may appear blurred or distorted—there might also be deep lines or holes in the skin, where in the very worst cases, scarring can occur. When tattoo overwork occurs, your body has to work harder to restore your skin to its original state.
Adverse response to the Ink: Another source of scarring in tattooing can come from an adverse response to the ink, when an aggressive or prolonged immune response occurs. A prolonged immune response can have a similar effect to overworking the skin. Tattoo allergies can come from specific components in the ink or from metallic components in the needle.
Improper aftercare: An infection at the site of the tattoo can also precipitate a prolonged immune response, as your body attempts to care for the infected area. When the inflammatory phase of healing persists for too long, the underlying tissue becomes overly traumatized, and can potentially scar. To prevent infections, every employee in contact with the ink or supplies at our studio has been trained and is certified in dealing with bloodborne pathogens.
How do we approach tattooing and caring for your skin when our ink is made-to-fade?
Tattoo artists are working with a live organ that can respond in many, many different ways and the interaction between needle and skin, ink and skin, and artist and client all contribute to the outcome. Like surgeons with scalpels, tattoo artists require the same optimal conditions, focus, and care to improve the chance of a successful procedure. Tattooing involves needles piercing the skin thousands of times, and tattoo artists have only 1 to 2 mm of skin thickness to work with (about 10 to 20 times the thickness of your hair). All this speaks to the tremendous talent tattoo artists have.
At Ephemeral, we take the risk of skin markings extremely seriously because, unlike a permanent tattoo, there won’t be ink there forever to mask any potential markings. We also know that most of our community is trying a tattoo for the first time, and we want them to have a completely positive experience around tattooing.
Here are some of the ways we accomplish this goal:
Practiced Techniques: As a general rule, we prohibit techniques where the risk of trauma to the skin is too great to obtain the desired artistic effect. That’s why we use stippling and hatching to obtain shades and depth instead of techniques that might require more trauma to the skin. We also avoid sensitive areas, where healing can be more challenging: high-motion and friction areas, joints, ankles, etc (more on this in another post). Our hope is that the totality of these measures reduces the occurrence of overworked tattoos.
Artist Training + Quality Equipment: All of our artists undergo a rigorous onboarding training process with our ink and have many years of tattooing experience. Once an artist is hired, they participate in weekly quality reviews with fellow artists, ensuring we are promoting a culture of shared knowledge.
In addition to training, we provide extremely high-quality tattoo equipment to mitigate overworking of skin, including needles and tattoo machines that give our artists better control over their work. In-house testing has shown that the machines we’ve invested in are better able to transfer ink to the skin, allowing more precision and control over the amount of ink applied. Together with well executed techniques, our artists can reduce trauma to the skin, leading to a higher probability for successful healing. In addition, our machines are easy to work with. They are battery-operated and equipped with wireless technology, which means fewer cords and, therefore, fewer potential points of contamination.
Aftercare: We invest heavily in our tattoo aftercare to optimize every client's healing experience. Our aftercare regimen is crucial to improving the odds of a desirable healing journey and should be followed precisely. We’ve spent an enormous amount of time developing it so that your skin will look and feel exactly the same as it was before your Ephemeral tattoo.
Information provided to Ephemeral: We encourage clients to email us to share skin sensitivities such as allergies to adhesives from bandages or skin conditions caused by mechanical trauma (e.g keloids). In situations where you reach out and we do not have experience with a particular issue or are not knowledgeable, we will recommend seeing your physician or dermatologist before proceeding with a tattoo.
So, will there be any marks on my skin once my Ephemeral tattoos fade?
The simple answer: It’s possible. Even after the measures we take, there’s a chance that some people may see skin markings after the tattoo ink disappears, while many others will not. The more important distinction to make is the type of skin marking. As mentioned earlier, the more common markings you may experience after your Ephemeral has faded are hypo and hyperpigmentation, which will typically disappear over time, while scarring can take much longer to fade or may never go away.
As is the case with fade time, each person’s physiology is different and each situation is different. Outcomes on skin markings can vary even when best practices are strictly followed, or the best equipment is used. We’ve taken every prudent and conceivable step to minimize the risk of scarring, but we cannot guarantee that an unwanted outcome will not occur.
In scenarios where confirmed scarring occurs, we research the incident from artist to design to equipment to aftercare to identify the root cause so that we can understand and improve our approach.
Have more questions? You can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.