Tattoos & Body Art
Body art has been a common cultural practice for thousands of years and includes body piercings, transdermal and subdermal implants, tattoos, scarification, body stretching and sculpting, dental grills, and even nail art.
This month we focus on these various forms of body art, highlighting their history, risks, and benefits. An article recently published by the AORN Journal discusses each body art form; we include descriptions from this article below.
Body piercing has been performed for thousands of years and continues to be popular today. The most common piercing site is the ear. The tongue, nipple, lip, eyebrow, and genitals are less likely to be pierced than the ear, though, these sites are more commonly pierced today than in years past. Body piercings are considered a semi-permanent form of body art because removing the jewelry does not guarantee the hole will close without defects or visible changes in the skin.
Transdermal & Subdermal Implants
Transdermal implants are semi-permanent implants in which the skin is pierced to create a one-way hole through which a small anchor is placed beneath the skin. Subdermal implantsare semi-permanent, decorative hardware that and are placed completely under the skin. The hardware itself is not visible but creates raised designs that are visible at the skin level. Risks include infection, scarring, and migration.
Tattooing is the depositing of ink pigment along a needle track into the epidermis and dermis (skin penetration is 0.6 to 2.2 mm deep). Only the ink deposited into the dermis is permanent; the epidermal layer flakes and sloughs off as it is replaced with new cells. Over time, however, tattoo colors invariably fade. Today, this art form is becoming increasingly popular in mainstream culture. Approximately 15,000 tattoo parlors operate in the US.
Scarification is performed by scratching, etching, or cutting designs into the skin with a blade and allowing a scar to form into a permanent design. A common methodology includes branding, an extreme form of scarification where images are burned onto the body. Skinning, hatching , abrasion, and scarring moxibustion are other forms of scarification involving cuts, skin removal, and burning. All forms of scarification can lead to infections and excessive scarring.
With stretching, a body part is stretched beyond its normal limit or size. The most popular body part that is stretched is the earlobe. Either larger implants are inserted to stretch a hole made by piercing or the weight of the hardware that is inserted in the hole fosters the stretching process. Risks associated with stretching include skin blowout and excessive scarring with keloid formation.
Sculpting requires a body part to be permanently altered. Examples of this practice include cutting off the top cartilage of the ear and sewing it back on to form a point (resembling elf ears) andtongue splitting (cutting the middle of the tongue from the tip back). Sculpting is painful when performed without anesthesia, and infection is a possible complication.
Dental grills are decorative covers made of solid gold or a mixture of gemstones and metal that can either temporarily slip onto or be permanently affixed to the teeth. Possible complications that may be experienced by a person wearing a grill long-term include tooth decay, gum disease, worn enamel, and halitosis–all because of the tendency for bacteria to collect under the grill.
Nail polish can be adorned with sparkles, glitter, decals, and pieces of foil with gel superimposed. Nail art can even be three-dimensional. People have been known to attach such items as plastic bows, figurines, flowers, jewels, or charms to their nails.
No Matter What, Protect Yourself
No matter which form of body art an individual chooses to take part in, it is important to understand the risks and ways to protect themselves from serious injury and infection. See the resources to the left to learn more.