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Arch Hellen Med, 28(5), September-October 2011, 583-595


The tattoo: From social outcast to genetic medicine

K.A. Mavridou, I.D. Bassukas
Department of Skin and Venereal Diseases, Medical School, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece

This review provides information on tattooing, which has been practised for centuries worldwide. In the 18th century the Polynesian practice became popular, initially among European sailors, but later spreading throughout western societies. Tattoos have been used by both sexes, reflecting religious, spiritual, esthetic, sexual, or therapeutic purposes. Nowadays, the decorative tattoo is considered to be a manifestation of everyday (pop) art, in the framework of life style perceptions, although it has also been linked with risky and psychopathological behaviors. Early tattoo pigments were obtained directly from natural sources and were considerably limited in color variety. Today, a wide range of dyes and pigments can be used for tattooing. The invasive nature of tattooing, with penetration of foreign substances into the skin, may carry substantial health risks, including infection and allergic reactions. With the increasing number of people in the society with tattoos, many individuals also wish to undergo tattoo removal. Currently, the most effective method of tattoo removal is selective laser photolysis, which in the hands of experienced therapists provides the best esthetic result with minimal side effects. In the last few decades, tattoo has gained recognition in clinical medicine as an adjuvant reconstructive method for traumatic or surgical defects, and also as a method of in vivo labeling of body areas or pathological lesions for easier relocalization on subsequent occasions. The fields in which medical tattooing is applied include dermatology, plastic surgery and ophthalmology (mainly for reconstruction), radiation oncology (for labeling of radiation fields) and endoscopic tattooing. More recently, the technique of intradermal application of substances using tattooing equipment has been tested in clinical trials as a method of intradermal administration of DNA vaccines and drugs. Future studies are expected to define the safety and efficacy of clinical applications inspired from tattooing in modern medicine.

Key words: DNA tattooing, Medical tattooing, Tattoo, Tattoo ink, Tattoo reaction.

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