How skin age, pigment placement and cell turnover work with (and against) cosmetic tattooing!

Have you ever had or seen a cosmetic tattoo fade out in a matter of weeks? Now, you may know that this was because the pigment was placed too shallow in the skin. But let’s take a deeper dive into a more complicated topic.


The layers of the skin

Diagram of the skin layers

The epidermis is super thin across most parts of the body but still has four layers (strata) on the face. From bottom to top: the stratum basale, then spinosum, granulosum, and corneum. The stratum lucidum is present in thicker skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Epidermal skin cells are ‘born’ in stem cells in the stratum basale. Keratinocytes comprise over 90% of these cells, with the remainder mainly being collagen and elastin. Most collagen is in the dermis. There’s a lot more going on in the skin, but that’s a start.


Cell Renewal

The skin cell renewal process takes from 14 days in teenagers to 60 days or so for older people. That doesn’t mean you get brand new skin every month or two, the renewal rate is just an average for how often cells get renewed. It’s a continuous process. As cells rise through the layers, they get flattened and then die off to form the stratum corneum, which flakes off (and forms most of the dust in your house).


How this affects cosmetic tattooing!

The renewal, movement and shedding of skin cells carries cosmetic tattoo pigment with it. If most of the pigment has been placed too shallow and is in the epidermis, it won’t last very long (a month or two). If most of it is in the top of the dermis, which does not go through the same renewal process, it will last.

So, how thick is the epidermis? You’d be surprised. On the face, about as thick as a sheet of photocopy paper. On the soles of the feet (not that you’ll be tattooing there), about 4mm. When we talk about a target depth of 0.5mm for cosmetic tattoos, that’s into the top of the dermis. If it wasn’t that deep, a cosmetic tattoo would be gone quickly. In younger skin, cosmetic tattoo pigment placed mainly in the epidermis will be gone more quickly than more mature skin. This can particularly be an issue with the ombre technique, which uses a wrist flicking motion.

Depending on the machine power, needle type and quality, and the technician technique, the skin penetration may be inadequate to place enough pigment in the top of the dermis.


If you found his Tech Talk useful, there is loads more information on this and similar topics in the Diploma of Cosmetic Tattooing.

Learn more about the Diploma and start your journey of better education today.

April 23, 2024 — THink Aesthetics

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What is a 'tech talk'?

THink Tech Talks is our informative blog series that discusses technical industry news, training advise and more! Written in partnership with THink Aesthetics, an industry-leading training school that specialises in all things cosmetic tattooing.