A woman hand getting a tattoo / Photo by 123rf.com
The occurrence of tattoos dates back to about 3,000 B.C. when mummified human bodies were discovered having marks on their preserved skins. Tattoos have also been found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies that date back to about 2,000 B.C.
Europeans rediscovered tattooing when they encountered Polynesians and American Indians during some exploration.
The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian word "tattau" which means "to mark".
Ink Tattoo History
Europeans and American societies considered tattoos very exotic so they exhibited many tattooed Indians and Polynesians at circuses and fairs during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The reason for tattooing has changed over the years and across various cultures. In the early practice of tattooing, it was primarily for decoration. This ancient practice still holds true today for most people while early Romans used tattoos for identification.
Tahitian tattoos were rites of passage and signified stories of the person's life. In the early days of sailors who would travel to foreign lands, they would collect tattoos as souvenirs of their travels and experiences.
Methods of tattooing varied across cultures and time as well. Many Indians in North and South America created tattoos simply by pricking. In Polynesia, pigment was pricked into the skin by using a small tool that resembled a rake. In New Zealand, the Maori people used wood carving techniques with a bone-cutting tool to make shallow, colored grooves in the skin. When the Europeans arrived, they began to use metal, taking a small step toward the puncture style of tattooing we see today.
The American tattoo tradition began primarily with sailors. One main reason for the establishment of cultural traditions with tattoos was to ensure that they had defining, distinguishing marks on their bodies. British ships forcibly took American sailors to the British Navy if they could not identify them as American. Additionally, sailors received tattoos in their voyages to foreign countries with a rich tattoo culture such as Japan and the Pacific Islands as a remembrance of their countless travels overseas.
For a while, tattoos remained out of mainstream culture and were found mainly on the bodies of those on the fringes of society: bikers, soldiers, criminals, gang members, and circus freaks. Body art was considered distasteful and the stigma against tattoos began.
Associated with rebelliousness and anarchy, tattoos grew in popularity and harshly negative views towards them eventually dwindled. However, tattoos did not become mainstream until the start of the new millennium.
Tattoos were no longer associated with roles in society and thus, the demand for tattoos and artists grew immensely. The number of tattooed Americans and other nationalities boomed, as well as many artists, new styles, and techniques.
Dotwork, stippling, black and grey, and realism are all popular styles of tattoo that vary widely in their appearances. Additionally, many tattoo artists draw inspiration from Japanese and tribal tattoo traditions in their work. Pigments made from colored inks and other technological enhancements involving tattoos were also introduced.
Neo-traditional tattoos that combine old-school flash art style with new technicality and quality are also very popular. Ink history may have come later than many other cultures, but traditional tattoo methods show no sign of going out of style any time soon.
Another innovation used by tattoo artists who want to have body art on them is the use of henna. As defined in Webster’s dictionary, henna is a natural dye made from leaves of a plant that is used on hair and is sometimes called a temporary tattoo.
Unlike natural henna, however, black henna contains high levels of a chemical called paraphenylenediamine, or PPD for short. PPD is the substance found also in some hair dyes, but it is in much higher concentrations in black henna.
The desire for dark henna goes back thousands of years. In some cultures, mainly in South Asia, legend – and tales of brides being so in love that their henna turned black – prompted artists to try and subdue that effect. This eventually led people to come up with synthetic, black versions using the chemicals found in hair dye, although it's not known exactly when this happened.
Unlike black henna, natural henna does not contain PPD -- it is made entirely of plant-based ingredients, including eucalyptus. Once it hardens and peels off, it leaves an orange stain, which then darkens to a burgundy color over the next two days. Some brides have it applied to their hands and feet and it's used at religious festivals. It has even been used to give women with cancer who have lost their hair something resembling beautiful floral "crowns."
"Real henna is totally safe – it’s been used for thousands of years,” henna artist Ash Kumar says. It has plant-based ingredients in it like eucalyptus that help cool the skin, which is why it’s put on women a couple of days before they get married. It’s traditionally done for therapeutic reasons -- to calm brides. That’s why Hindus use it, Muslims use it, Sikhs use it, and certain Jewish communities use it.
Natural henna, Ash says, has a very distinctive smell, whereas black henna usually doesn’t give off an odor. "...Black henna paste is odorless or might smell even a bit like paraffin. It doesn’t have a pleasant smell,” Ash further explained.
And he warns that natural henna never ever dyes the skin instantly, so that should be a major warning flag for those who want to get a henna tattoo someday.
A lady applying a henna tattoo at the woman's palm / Photo by 123rf.com