Right now, you might be admiring your new tattoo, preparing to get your first one ever, or just looking to learn more about the true depth of a tattoo needle. Well, you’ve come to the right place. When embarking on the exciting and potentially nerve-wracking journey of getting a tattoo, it is important to know exactly what you’re getting into.
The fact that you’re reading this blog post means that you're taking your tattoo journey seriously, which means you’re already off to a great start.
We’re here to help you understand how a tattoo machine works, how deep the needle goes, and more about the entire process. Read on to find out the facts behind the tattoo needle.
What Really Happens When You Get a Tattoo?
So, you’re probably familiar with the idea of the tattoo gun. But how does it work, really? Yes, it is an incredibly powerful tool that performs close to 6000 tiny movements per second. It is what allows your body to be covered in beautiful and meaningful art for the rest of your life, but how?
The tattoo machine is an electric device that pulses the tattoo needle into the skin by employing electromagnetic coils, pushing the ink into the skin using a vacuum-seal technology while doing so. The tattoo machine uses the needle to distribute the ink beneath the skin, but how exactly does it do this?
The tattoo needle is a tiny, solid, precise part of the tattoo machine that is responsible for puncturing the skin to allow space for a deposit of ink beneath the skin. A whole bunch of these deposits works to create one small part of the larger tattoo design you have chosen.
When the needle makes a small puncture in the skin, it deposits ink on the surface of the skin. When the needle comes out, it sucks the ink into the hole that it has created, creating a vacuum seal, allowing the ink to enter the target layer of skin where it will stay permanently.
Tattoo needles can be made of steel, nickel, or chrome. There are many types and sizes of needles, but tattoo needles are usually between .30 millimeters and .35 millimeters in thickness. However, needles used for finer details can be even thinner. Round needles are used for shading and lining, while flat needles are used for cleaner lines.
Tattoo needles are sterilized and disposed of after every use to ensure cleanliness and avoid infection at the tattoo site.
Tattoos come in all shapes, sizes, and designs, but they all use the same specific type of ink. Tattoo ink is deposited into a deep layer of the skin. Because of the specific chemistry of tattoo ink, it is immune to the body’s natural processes of expelling foreign particles. Usually, when a foreign particle enters the body, the immune system recognizes and expels it, but fortunately for us tattoo fans, tattoo ink evades these processes, for the most part.
The ink bypasses the outer layer of your skin so that the needle can give the ink a permanent home in your skin. In the holes that the needle punctures are macrophages and fibroblasts, skin cells that trap and seal the ink in place. Thus, the ink stays in one place throughout the healing and aftercare processes, resulting in a healthy tattoo that looks and feels amazing.
So How Deep Does the Needle Actually Go?
The answer to the question we’ve all come here for: how deep does a tattoo needle actually go? Answer? About 1/16th of an inch into the skin. Not so scary, right?
The tattoo machine’s needle aims to deposit the ink in a region of 1.5 millimeters to 2 millimeters below the surface of the skin. You may be asking, why this specific depth? It all has to do with the various layers beneath your skin’s surface.
Your Skin’s Layers
Your skin is made of three main layers:
The epidermis, or outermost layer of your skin
The dermis, where the tattoo ink is deposited, consisting of tissue, sweat glands, and hair follicles
The subcutaneous tissue, or hypodermis, the layer that stores fat and connective tissue
So, because we are aiming for the dermis, the tattoo needle must go deep enough to bypass the epidermis layer of your skin. This part of the skin is constantly renewing itself. This means that every day, thousands of epidermal cells are shed from your skin and replaced with new ones. Ink injected into this uppermost skin layer would come off or fade within just three weeks.
The dermis layer is the goal for a tattoo artist. If the ink is correctly deposited here, it won’t “bleed out” as the tattoo heals. The dermis is filled with blood vessels, hair follicles, and sweat glands. A skilled tattoo artist knows how to navigate the needle to ensure that the ink is going where it should be. Additionally, it shouldn’t be super painful nor cause infection, as it would if it was injected into the hypodermis.
Of course, the first step to ensuring the needle creating your tattoo goes the correct depth in your skin is finding an experienced professional tattoo artist to do the job. Look for reputable tattoo shops and salons.
Before the tattoo process begins, the artist adjusts the machine and needle precisely in regards to the parameter of the dermis layer location, between the epidermis and the hypodermis, the sweet spot.
Additionally, tattoo needles are designed to only enter the skin at this exact depth, not a millimeter shallower or deeper, staying between 1 millimeter and 2 millimeters below the surface of the skin at all times. The hallmark of a practiced tattoo artist is shown in the depth and pressure they apply to a needle, ensuring a long lasting tattoo and pain-free experience.
What Can Go Wrong?
Now that we know the ideal depth of a tattoo needle, we know that it is possible to misjudge this depth and accidentally puncture the skin and deposit ink at the incorrect depth. This can have a range of consequences, so it is important to know your stuff before you head in for your new ink.
If the Ink Enters the Bloodstream…
This is often a major concern of those looking to get a tattoo. Tattoo ink entering the bloodstream and causing major health issues is a common misconception.
The tattoo needle does enter the dermis, the layer of the skin filled with blood vessels, but an experienced tattoo artist will know how to navigate the needle to ensure that only trace amounts of ink enter the veins, if any does at all. So, even if a tiny amount of ink does end up in your blood vessels, it virtually never causes an issue.
Our bodies are able to break down any ink in our bloodstream using the powerful force that is our immune system, and that ink will get processed and excreted like other things that make their way into our bodies but don’t quite belong.
If the Tattoo Needle Goes Too Shallow…
If the needle being used on your tattoo doesn’t go deep enough into the dermis layer of your skin, that means the ink has been deposited in the epidermis layer. As we mentioned before, ink deposited here will quickly leave the skin when epidermal cells renew themselves, making for a not-so-permanent tattoo.
If the Tattoo Needle Goes Too Deep…
Conversely, if the tattoo needle bypasses both the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin, it can become a problem. When the tattoo needle goes into the dermis, there can be minor bleeding and irritation, as it is the layer where blood vessels live. However, if the tattoo needle enters the hypodermis layer, the pain level for a client can double.
Additionally, when a tattoo needle enters the hypodermis, the risk of infection increases significantly. The tattoo will also be much less visible, as the ink has been deposited too deep beneath the skin’s surface. A tattoo that goes too far down can even sometimes, in the worst cases, create nerve damage or thick scarring.
Sounds scary, but avoiding kitchen magicians and sticking to an experienced artist at a reputable shop is generally an easy way to make sure your ink goes exactly where it should.
Final Things To Keep in Mind
It is really important that your new tattoo undergoes a healthy healing process. If it does not, ink can leave the skin at any time or create issues like tattoo infection, as we mentioned above.
Tattoo popularity has increased a lot in past years, so it is more important than ever to understand how tattoos really work and make sure to do your research beforehand.
Tattoo aftercare is key to ensuring a healthy healing journey and a permanent piece of body art. Make sure to take care of your new ink by finding a healing daily lotion or replenishing balm. The tattoo aftercare products here at Mad Rabbit include both of these, and are made with powerful but natural ingredients that work to nourish and soothe your skin for the sleekest tat yet.
Tattoos are a beautiful thing, and the depth of the needle is one important part of the process. Although the ink is going a mere 1/16th of an inch into your skin, it is still a big deal, and an exciting one at that. So do your research, find a responsible and reputable artist you trust, and get out there!
For more answers to all questions ink, check out the rest of the Mad Rabbit Tattoo blog here.