Medical tattoo

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Medical tattoo: blood type (below razor blade)

A medical tattoo is a tattoo used to treat a condition, communicate medical information, or mark a body location for treatment. People may get a paramedical tattoo to conceal a condition or the effects of treatment, such as creating the appearance of an areola after breast reconstruction, or a cover-up tattoo to disguise the area in an artistic way.

Historical uses[edit]

A crude practice of corneal tattooing was performed by Galen in 150 CE. He tried to cover leucomatous opacities of the cornea by cauterizing the surface with a heated stilet and applying powdered nutgalls and iron or pulverized pomegranate bark mixed with copper salt.[1] With the rise of Christianity, tattooing declined and eventually became banned by a papal edict in 787 CE.[2]

In 1835, a German doctor named Pauli used mercury sulfide and white lead to tattoo over skin lesions including nevi and purple plaque. Another doctor in the 1850s used mercury sulfide after plastic surgery of the lip.[3][4] The practice of corneal tattooing was revived by Louis de Wecker in the 1870s.[1][5][6] Tattooing of scarred lips with cinnabar began in 1911.[3][4]

To provide medical information[edit]

During the Cold War, threats of nuclear warfare led several U.S. states to consider blood type tattooing. Programs were spurred in Chicago, Utah and Indiana based on the premise that if an atomic bomb were to strike, the resulting damage would require extremely large amounts of blood within a short amount of time.[7][8][9][10]

Similar to dog tags, members of the U.S. military may have their vital information tattooed on themselves, usually on the rib cage below the armpit; they are referred to as "meat tags".[11][12][13]

Tattoos have also been used to provide notice to emergency personnel that a person has diabetes mellitus; people with this condition may fall into a diabetic coma and be unable to communicate that information.[14][15] Medical alert jewelry, such as bracelets, are the most common way to provide this notice, but some people prefer tattoos due to the cost and inconvenience of losing or breaking jewelry.[16] Because diabetes can impair wound healing, people with diabetes may need to carefully choose the location and timing of a medical tattoo.[16]

For radiation treatment[edit]

Tattoos have been used as fiducial markers as an aid in guiding radiotherapy.[17] Typically these markers are tattooed in dark permanent ink, but ultraviolet tattoos, which are mostly invisible under normal light, have been studied as an alternative to minimize impact on patient body image.[18][19] Scott Kelly used marker tattoos in the positioning of sonogram probes for multiple checks for atherosclerosis while on a long-duration mission on the International Space Station.[20]

Paramedical tattoos[edit]

Tattoos over mastectomy scars may restore the appearance of removed nipples and areolas or may be decorative cover-ups.[21]: 10–11 

A paramedical tattoo is a cosmetic tattoo applied to conceal a medical condition or to disguise the results of its treatment, typically in a realistic style. Alternatively, people with skin conditions or scars may choose to get a decorative cover-up tattoo with a piece of art over the area.

During breast reconstruction after mastectomy (removal of the breast for treatment of cancer), or breast reduction surgery, tattooing is sometimes used to replace the areola which has been removed during mastectomy, or to fill in areas of pigment loss which may occur during breast reduction performed with a free nipple graft technique.[22] Since September 2011, the Royal Derby Hospital offers free nipple tattoos for breast surgery patients in order to mask the scars of surgery. The purchase of the tattoo device was funded by the Ashbourne Breast Cancer Walk.[23] Vinnie Myers of Little Vinnie's Tattoos in Finksburg, Maryland, has performed nipple tattoos on over 5,000 women who have undergone surgery for breast cancer, including those of Caitlin Kiernan, who wrote a story about Myers in The New York Times.[24][25] A similar service offered without charge in 2017 by a cosmetic tattooist in the UK was booked up six months ahead.[26] Another option some people choose after mastectomy is to get a decorative tattoo on the chest as body art instead of a reconstruction.[27]

Other uses include simulating the appearance of fingernails and covering scars.[28] Micropigmentation (permanent makeup) can be used to reduce the visibility of vitiligo areas on the skin.[29]

Eyebrow enhancement tattoos such as microblading can provide benefits for individuals with medical conditions like alopecia or trichotillomania, providing a natural-looking restoration of eyebrows lost due to these conditions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ziegler, SL (1922). "Multicolor Tattooing of the Cornea". Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society. 20: 71–87. PMC 1318311. PMID 16692612.
  2. ^ Levy, J (1979). A short history of tattooing. pp. 851–6.
  3. ^ a b Garg, Geeta; Thami, Gurvinder P. (August 2005). "Micropigmentation: Tattooing for Medical Purposes". Dermatologic Surgery. 31 (8): 928–931. doi:10.1097/00042728-200508000-00007. PMID 16042938.
  4. ^ a b Vassileva, Snejina; Hristakieva, Evgeniya (July 2007). "Medical applications of tattooing". Clinics in Dermatology. 25 (4): 367–374. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2007.05.014. PMID 17697919.
  5. ^ Turell, R (1942). Technic of tattooing with mercury sulfide. Ann Surg. pp. 126–30.
  6. ^ Von Wecker, L (1872). Das Tätowiren der Hornhaut. Arch Augenheilkunde. pp. 84–7.
  7. ^ "Booklet tells what to do if city is bombed". No. 7. Chicago Daily Tribune. Dec 7, 1950.
  8. ^ "Mass tattoo of 200,000 on in Lake County". No. 1. Chicago Daily Tribune. August 26, 1951.
  9. ^ Kite, L (August 2, 2006). "Sign of the times". The Herald Journal.
  10. ^ Wolf, E. K; Laumann, A. E (2008). "The use of blood-type tattoos during the Cold War". Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 58 (3): 472–6. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2007.11.019. PMID 18280343.
  11. ^ Kristin Wilson Keppler (18 August 2010). "The man who makes sure dead marines get home". BBC News. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  12. ^ Katherine Kington (27 February 2012). "Medical tattoos on the rise". WTVM. Retrieved 22 March 2012. Donny says much like an Army dog tag, the soldiers call them meat tags.
  13. ^ Reilly, Rick (17 February 2003). "Where Have All the Young Men Gone?". Time. Vol. 161, no. 2–10. Time Inc. Archived from the original on February 22, 2008. Retrieved 22 March 2012. A lot of 'em are young and scared to be going over," says Rachael Mays of the Sleeping Dragon tattoo parlor. "They come in for their meat tags. You know, dog tags for the skin. Their name, rank, serial number, religion, blood type and gas-mask size. They want 'em in case they're blown in half. Then at least some part of them can come back to their folks.
  14. ^ Kluger N, Aldasouqi S (May 2012). "A new purpose for tattoos: Medical alert tattoos". Presse Med. 42 (2): 134–7. doi:10.1016/j.lpm.2012.04.009. PMID 22647627.
  15. ^ Richard S. Irwin; James M. Rippe (2008). Irwin and Rippe's intensive care medicine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 1256–. ISBN 978-0-7817-9153-3. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  16. ^ a b Glassy, Crystal M.; Glassy, Matthew S.; Aldasouqi, Saleh (November 2012). "Tattooing: Medical uses and problems". Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 79 (11): 761–770. doi:10.3949/ccjm.79a.12016. ISSN 0891-1150. PMID 23125325.
  17. ^ Greer PB, Mortensen TM (1997). "Anterior-posterior treatment localization in pelvic radiotherapy: tattoos or fixed couch-to-isocentre distance". Med Dosim. 22 (1): 43–6. doi:10.1016/s0958-3947(96)00156-2. PMID 9136107.
  18. ^ Landeg, Steven J; Kirby, Anna M; Lee, Steven F; Bartlett, Freddie; Titmarsh, Kumud; Donovan, Ellen; Griffin, Clare L; Gothard, Lone; Locke, Imogen; McNair, Helen A (2016-11-07). "A randomized control trial evaluating fluorescent ink versus dark ink tattoos for breast radiotherapy". The British Journal of Radiology. 89 (1068): 20160288. doi:10.1259/bjr.20160288. ISSN 0007-1285. PMC 5604906. PMID 27710100.
  19. ^ LaRochelle, Ethan P. M.; Soter, Jennifer; Barrios, Leonardo; Guzmán, Marysia; Streeter, Samuel S.; Gunn, Jason R.; Bejarano, Suyapa; Pogue, Brian W. (April 2020). "Imaging luminescent tattoo inks for direct visualization of linac and cobalt irradiation". Medical Physics. 47 (4): 1807–1812. doi:10.1002/mp.14094. ISSN 2473-4209. PMC 7198205. PMID 32056218.
  20. ^ "Halfway Through a Year in Space: How the Science Gets Done". TIME. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  21. ^ Becker, Stacie J; Cassisi, Jeffrey E (1 September 2021). "Applications of Medical Tattooing: A Systematic Review of Patient Satisfaction Outcomes and Emerging Trends". Aesthetic Surgery Journal Open Forum. 3 (3): ojab015. doi:10.1093/asjof/ojab015. PMC 8214112. PMID 34159314.
  22. ^ Potter S, Barker J, Willoughby L, Perrott E, Cawthorn SJ, Sahu AK (June 2007). "Patient satisfaction and time-saving implications of a nurse-led nipple and areola reconstitution service following breast reconstruction". Breast. 16 (3): 293–6. doi:10.1016/j.breast.2006.12.004. PMID 17241786.
  23. ^ "New nipple tattoo service for breast surgery patients at Royal Derby Hospital". Royal Derby Hospital. 20 September 2011. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  24. ^ Caitlin Kiernan (3 June 2014). "Tattoo Therapy After Breast Cancer". The New York Times. p. D6.
  25. ^ Kassie Bracken; Taige Jensen (2 June 2014). "The Nipple Artist (video)". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "Breast tattoo service for cancer patients". BBC News. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  27. ^ Locke, Katherine (7 August 2013). "Women choose body art over reconstruction after cancer battle". The Guardian. More women are choosing not to reconstruct after a mastectomy and tattoo over the scar tissue instead.... The mastectomy tattoo will become just another option for post cancer patients and a truly personal way of regaining control over post cancer bodies and proving once and for all that breast cancer is not just a pink ribbon.
  28. ^ Anthony, Cara (2020-02-18). "Ink Rx? Welcome To The Camouflaged World Of Paramedical Tattoos". Kaiser Health News. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  29. ^ Arndt, Kenneth A.; Hsu, Jeffrey T. S. (2007). Manual of Dermatologic Therapeutics (illustrated ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 116. ISBN 978-0781760584.