Getting a tattoo can be an exciting experience, whether it’s your first or 20th time getting inked. Reasons for getting permanent body art may vary, but most people choose their tattoos carefully as they’ll have to live with them for the rest of their lives. And while there may be some questionable and regrettable tattoo choices out there, it’s good to know that laser removal can help to erase that Tweety Bird tattoo on your chest or your ex’s name from your wrist. But did you know that certain cells in your body play a key part in tattoo longevity?

Recent research has shown that some cells actually help in prolonging the life of a tattoo, making sure that the colors and design stay vivid for years to come. In an interesting twist, the authors of the study also suggest that learning more about these cells may help improve tattoo removal procedures in the near future.

From The Needle To Your Cells

As the tattoo artist injects the ink into your skin with a needle, an interesting thing is happening beneath the dermis. In the study published in May 2018 by the Journal of Experimental Medicine, it was revealed that as the tattoo is taking shape, cells called macrophages capture and “eat” the ink. Macrophages are cells that ingest foreign matter or unhealthy elements in the body to keep one healthy. The study showed that because the cells cannot eliminate the ink, the macrophages cling onto the pigment instead, ensuring that the tattoo is vivid and intact. When the original macrophages die and expel the pigment, new ones take over to gobble up the ink, and a new cycle begins.

The research team believes that the macrophages that have absorbed the ink are stable, and because they are constantly replaced with every cycle, it was suggested that this factor is the key to a tattoo’s permanence.

Suppressing Macrophages: Future Treatment To Remove Tattoos?

Although the study was conducted using genetically engineered mice and not human beings, experts are looking forward to how the findings can impact tattoo removal in the future. Speaking with Scientific American, Simon Yona, an immunologist who studies macrophages at University College London, said that the results from the study indicate a promising future for tattoo removal technology.

“It really does provide a strategy to remove unwanted tattoos, in combination with conventional approaches, which could be especially useful for removing small tattoos in well-defined location,” said Yona.

Meanwhile, Sandrine Henri, an immunologist who was part of the French research team, revealed plans to work with dermatologists for the next phase of the study. Henri hopes that laser tattoo removal will work better in the future when combined with methods to hinder the macrophages’ function.

What This Means For You And Your Tattoos

If you’re wondering whether you’ll come to regret that tattoo new tattoo in the future, take heart—it appears that new methods to erase some regrettable tattoo choices will be available in the years to come. But right now, laser treatment is the only known and approved procedure to remove a tattoo permanently. This can be costly as it can take several sessions before your ink is completely gone, and some who have had this procedure experienced pain during and after each session.

For now, think carefully about what type of design to get permanently inked on your body. Choose a meaningful symbol or words that matter to you so you can avoid having to consider tattoo removal in the first place. By doing so, you get the kind of tattoo that you’ll be happy and proud to have for the rest of your life.


1. 10 Powerful Reasons People Have Gotten Tattoos, Cosmopolitan,

2. Unveiling skin macrophage dynamics explains both tattoo persistence and strenuous removal, Journal of Experimental Medicine,

3. Tats Off: Targeting the Immune System May Lead to Better Tattoo Removal, Scientific American,

4. What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Tattoo Removal, Glamour,