George Stimpson

His life and works

Home > Information Roundup > Can tattooing marks be removed?
Can tattooing marks be removed?

Tattoo designs are made by pricking the skin with a needlelike instrument and rubbing indelible pigments of various colors into the small punctures. The marks are permanent and seldom disappear of their own accord, although some of them become fainter as the years pass. They can be removed only by removing the skin itself. Tattoo marks are sometimes removed successfully by applying a paste of salicylic acid and glycerin under pressure for a week or ten days and then removing the dead skin. The performance may have to be repeated before the entire skin has been replaced and all signs of the artificial pigments have disappeared. This operation is not always entirely successful and sometimes a slight discoloration remains where the tattoo marks were. It may be painful and attended with some risk of infection. Perhaps the operation should not be attempted except under the supervision of a competent physician. Tattooing and similar practices were once common among primitive peoples in many parts of the world. The term is one of the few words in the English language of Polynesian origin. It is from Tahitian tatau, "mark," and was introduced into English by Captain James Cook about 1760. The South Sea Islanders and the East Indian natives are noted for their elaborate tattooing. Among primitive peoples the primary purpose of tattooing seems to have been personal embellishment, although often the figures [page 76] tattooed on various parts of the body had a symbolic or heraldic significance, and not infrequently the number and character of the designs indicated the achievements, rank or social standing of the individual. A Samoan youth was not considered eligible for marriage until he had been tattooed from the hips to the knees. Tattooing was practiced but not highly developed among North American Indians Among some tribes of Indians and Eskimos the patterns represented their clan or totem. Columbus noted that the West Indian and Central American natives tattooed figures of their inferior deities on their skin. As a rule the light-skinned peoples practiced tattooing, while the dark-skinned ones disfigured their bodies by scarifying the skin with red-hot stones. Primitive peoples tattoo themselves by pricking the skin and rubbing into it some substance like powdered charcoal, which produces a deep blue color. Among some peoples tattooing may have served the purpose of identification and been merely a kind of brand ing. The practice was known to the ancient Hebrews and was for bidden by the Mosaic law. Leviticus 19:28 says, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you." The Saxons in England, before the Norman Conquest, practiced a form of tattooing for the identification of the bodies of men slain in battle. Legend says that Edith, the "Swan Neck," identified the body of her brother, King Harold, on the field after the Battle of Hastings by such marks on his neck. Even at the present time tattooing is used to some extent for identification purposes. The practice has decreased among primitive peoples with the increase of clothing but is still common among civilized peoples, especially among seamen and sailors. As late as 1945 it was reported that at least 90 percent of the men in the American navy bore some tattoo marks. The Navy Manual says "a cause for rejection is obscene, offensive or indecent tattooing."