Tattoo Facts
Tattoo Facts

75 Radical Tattoo Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published March 22, 2017Updated September 7, 2019
  • In the U.S., more women than men are tattooed (23% vs. 19%), according to a 2012 survey.[7]
  • A 2006 survey revealed that 36% of those ages 18-25 and 40% of those ages 26-40 have at least one tattoo.[8]
  • The Latin word for “tattoo” is stigma.[5]
  • The National Geographic states that in April 2000, 15% of Americans (40 million people) were tattooed.[13]
  • There are over 20,000 tattoo parlors in the United States alone. A new establishment is being added in the country every day.[13]
  • Americans spend approximately $1.65 billion on tattoos annually.[10]
  • Interesting Tattoo Facts
    The word "tattoo" is a loanword from the Polynesian word tatau
  • The word “tattoo” derives from the Polynesian word “ta” (“to strike”), which describes the sound of a tattooing spike being knocked on skin. The first recorded references to the word “tattoo” is in the papers of Joseph Banks (1743-1820), a naturalist aboard Captain Cook’s ship. Before Captain Cook brought the word to Europe, tattoos in the West were known as “prics” or “marks.”[1]
  • A tattoo machine has four parts: 1) the needle, 2) the tube that holds the ink, 3) an electric motor, and 4) a foot pedal to control the movement (like a sewing machine pedal).[3]
  • Early tattoo methods included using chisels, rakes, or picks. Soot-covered thread was also used. The thread would be sewn through the skin.[9]
  • After the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped in 1932, many worried parents had their children tattooed.[10]
  • Urine was sometimes used to mix tattoo color.[9]
  • Often misspelled “tatoo”, the word tattoo is one of the most misspelled words in the English language.[10]
  • Some of the funniest tattoo misspellings include “Beautiful Tradgedy”, “Tradgey/Comedy”, “Fuck the Systsem”, “Chi-tonw”, “I’m Awsome”, “Sweet Pee”, “Tomarrow Never Knows”, “Leave a coment below”, “Your Next”, “Exreme”, and “Eat & Drink Today Fore We Die Tomorrow."[14]
  • Not all skin on the body is the same and, therefore, will not take tattoo pigment the same. For example, tattoos on elbows, knuckles, knees, and feet are infamous for fading.[4]
  • The top 10 most popular spots for tattoos are 1) lower back, 2) wrist, 3) foot, 4) ankle, 5) armband, 6) back-piece, 7) arm, 8) chest, 9) breast, and 10) neck.[10]
  • Women are twice as likely to get their tattoos removed than men.[7]
  • After Social Security cards were issued in 1936, men and women tattooed their numbers on their arms.[6]
  • The most tattooed man in the world is Gregory Paul McLaren (1971), also known as Lucky Diamond Rich. He is 100% tattooed, including the inside of his foreskin, mouth, and ears.[1]
  • Show me a man with a tattoo and I'll show you a man with an interesting past.

    - Jack London

  • In 2013, just 24 hours after tattoo artist Rouslan Toumaniantz met his girlfriend Lesya in Moscow, he had, with her consent, tattooed an alternate spelling of his name all over her face. It runs cheek-to-cheek in gothic-style, five-inch, bold lettering.[2]
  • The first professional tattoo artist in the U.S. was a German immigrant, Martin Hildebrandt, who arrived in Boston in 1846.[6]
  • In 1955, the assistant secretary of defense suggested that citizens tattoo their blood type on their arms in case there was an attack against the U.S.[10]
  • A tattoo is actually in the dermis, which is the second layer of skin. The cells of the dermis are significantly more stable than the cells in the epidermis, with minor fading and dispersion for a person’s entire life.[10]
  • From the mid-1960s to late-1980s, the Soviet Union imprisoned as many as 35 million people in prison camps. Of that number, between 20 million and 30 million received tattoos while serving their time. Inmates caught wearing a tattoo they didn’t earn or deserve might be punished by death.[10]
  • The area where the color of a tattoo has lifted out during the healing or the artist missed a section is known as a “holiday.”[10]
  • Tattoo artist Vinnie Myers creates 3D nipple tattoos for breast cancer survivors.[1]
  • Modern ink may contain pigments from ground plastics, such as Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which creates extremely vivid tattooing with clearer, longer-lasting lines that are resistant to the fading and blurring of traditional inks.[1]
  • UV tattoos are created with ink that is completely invisible in normal daylight but glows brightly under ultraviolet light.[1]
  • The second most tattooed person in the world is Tom Leppard (1934) from the Isle of Sky, Scotland. Also known as the “Leopard Man,” his body is 99.9% covered in the tattoos. The only parts of his body not tattooed are between his toes and the insides of his ears.[1]
  • Little Known Tattoo Facts
    To get a tattoo, the skin is pierced between 50 and 3,000 times a minute by a tattoo machine
  • To get a tattoo, the skin is pierced between 50 and 3,000 times a minute by a tattoo machine.[1]
  • A particularly famous tattoo was the naked hula girl who, positioned properly on a bicep, could swing her hips and jiggle her breasts as the owner moved his arm.[10]
  • Laser surgery is the most effective way to remove a tattoo. The laser penetrates the skin and breaks up the tattoo pigments so that they can be carried away naturally by the body’s immune system. Black is the easiest color to remove because it absorbs more laser waves. Green and yellow are more difficult to remove.[5]
  • Some people have compared laser surgery to remove tattoos as little dots of hot grease being applied to the skin. Some treatments cost thousands of dollars. Other methods of tattoo removal include dermabrasion (sanding the skin), cryosurgery (freezing the skin), and excision (cutting away the tattoo with a scalpel and stitching up the wound). Traces of a tattoo almost always linger after tattoo “removal.”[5]
  • Some descendants of Holocaust survivors are having their concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms to memorialize their family history.[12]
  • The oldest physical body in existence, the Iceman (3300-3200 B.C.) has the oldest tattoos that have ever been preserved. He has a black cross tattooed on the inside of his left knee, six straight lines on his lower back, and parallel lines on his ankles, leg, and wrists. When scientists X-rayed his body, they discovered joint disease under each tattoo, which suggests the tattoos were meant to relieve pain.[6]
  • Archeologists have discovered tools in France, Portugal, and Scandinavia that were probably used for tattooing. These are at least 12,000 years old, or from the time of the last Ice Age.[1]
  • The earliest known tattoo that represents something other than an abstract pattern is of the god Bes, the Egyptian god of revelry. These tattoos have been found on female Nubian mummies dating from 400 B.C.[4]
  • The Greeks learned tattooing from the Persians and used tattoos to mark slaves and criminals so they could be identified if they tried to escape. The Romans learned it from the Greeks and would tattoo “fug” on the foreheads of slaves for “fugitive.”[4]
  • An Oxygen Media survey in 2012 revealed that 59% of people with tattoos are women, with the most popular images being hearts and angels.[7]
  • Interesting Tattoo Fact
    More American women than men are tattooed

  • Stone sculptures in China from the 3rd century B.C. depict men wearing tattoos on their faces. A few hundred years later, the philosopher Confucius discouraged tattooing because he believed that the human body was a gift from one’s parents and ancestors.[1]
  • The oldest known description of tattoo technique with a formula for tattoo ink is found in Medicae artis principes (1567). The formula for ink included Egyptian pine wood (especially the bark), corroded bronze, gall, vitriol, vinegar, and leek juice.[1]
  • Ancient methods for tattoo removal include using scum on the bottom of chamber pot mixed with “very strong vinegar” or pigeon feces mixed with vinegar and applied as poultice “for a long time. Other formulas include dried beetle mixed as a powder with sulfur, wax, and oil.[1]
  • Plato thought that individuals guilty of sacrilege should be forcibly tattooed and banished from the Republic.[6]
  • The sadistic Roman Emperor Caligula amused himself by capriciously ordering members of his court to be tattooed.[10]
  • Greek emperor Theophilus took revenge on two monks who had publicly criticized him by having 11 verses of obscene iambic pentameter tattooed on their foreheads.[10]
  • St. Isidore of Seville (~A.D. 560-636) reported that the Picts were so named because of the “absurd marks produced on their bodies by craftsmen with tiny pinpricks and juice extracted from their local grasses.” The Picts’ tattoos were blue designs made from a plant called woad.[10]
  • In A.D. 787, Pope Hadrian I banned tattooing of any kind, even on criminals or gladiators. From then on, tattooing was virtually unknown in the Christian world until the 19th century. Judaism and Islam also discouraged tattooing.[6]
  • Animals are the most frequent subject matter of tattooing in many cultures and are traditionally associated with magic, totems, and the desire of the person to become identified with the spirit of the animal.[10]
  • Tattooing was introduced at Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941 and at Birkenau the next March. These two camps were the only two camps to tattoo prisoners. Prisoners were tattooed on the chest and, more commonly, on the arms. Only those fit to work were tattooed.[12]
  • History of Tattoo Fact
    Tattooing was introduced at Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941 (Ian Waldie / Staff)

  • Polynesian tattooing as it existed before the arrival of Europeans in the South Pacific was the most intricate and skillful tattooing in the ancient world.[6]
  • While designs that apparently represent tattoos are seen on paintings of both men and women in Egyptian art and statues, all the tattooed Egyptian mummies discovered to date are female. Egyptologists believe that these designs are symbols of fertility and rejuvenation.[11]
  • Pamela Anderson’s barbed wire armband tattoo was so instantly famous that it was largely responsible for the huge rise in popularity of tattoo armbands through the late 90s.[10]
  • The FDA recently warned that temporary tattoos made with “black henna” ink containing para-phenylenediamie (PDD), a coal-tar product used in hair dyes, can cause permanent scarring.[1]
  • The most famous of all criminal tattoos are worn by the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza. They wear intricate and traditional designs in a full body suit that can be hidden entirely from view by clothes as an inescapable sign of their commitment to their gang.[11]
  • Across the world, even the smallest tattoos can have significance to the prison population. For example, in the U.K. a single dot on the cheek indicates the wearer as a “borstal boy.” Three dots between the thumb and forefinger prove gang membership among the Latino population of U.S. prisons.[11]
  • Samuel O’Reilly invented tattoo machines around the late 19th century. He based his design on the autographic printer, an engraving machine invented by Thomas Edison. They have not changed much since then.[4]
  • Though tattooing is prohibited in prisons, prisoners still manage to make tattoo machines out of electric shavers, needles, and guitar strings and ink reservoirs from the barrels of ballpoint pens. The marijuana leaf, the number 13, the 13th letter of the alphabet (M for marijuana) are popular as are birds (freedom or power), skulls, and other symbols of death, spiders, roses, snakes, and religious images. Teardrops at the corners of the eyes represent time spent in prison, murders committed, or deaths of fellow gang members.[11]
  • The existing tattoo designs displayed in a tattoo shop are known as “flash.” Clients can chose from flash or request a customized design.[4]
  • Interesting History of Tattoo Fact
    The Japanese word irezumi means "insertion of ink"
  • In Japan, tattooing is called irezumi (“to insert”). Japanese tattoo artists have inspired diverse Western tattoo artists, including British “King of the Tattooists” George Burchett, Sailor Jerry Collins, and Don Ed Hardy.[3]
  • Receiving a tattoo has been described as similar to getting stung by a bee or getting a sunburn.[10]
  • While HIV could hypothetically be spread by tattoo practices, there are no reported cases of the disease being transmitted via tattoo application. Other diseases such as syphilis and hepatitis B and C can also be spread.[1]
  • Rarely, some tattoo ink can contain metal. These tattoos may cause pain during an MRI or even affect the MRI results. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate or approve tattoo ink.[1]
  • Because some white supremacist groups sometimes mark themselves with Celtic tattoos, some people who choose to receive a Celtic tattoo unintentionally get an image with connections to prison life.[1]
  • While Popeye and Betty Boop were popular in the early 20th century among sailors, a popular image in the military is now the Warner Brothers cartoon character the Tasmanian Devil, or Taz. Other popular tattoos include Batman, Winnie the Pooh characters, and more adult images of artists R. Crumb, Coop, and fantasy comics and illustrations.[3]
  • Copying someone’s tattoo custom design is considered unethical in the body art world. Some tattoo artists won’t even duplicate a mummy’s tattoos because they say the tattoo belongs to the person who wore it. An exception to the taboo is children and grandchildren reproducing tattoos of parents and grandparents so that the tattoo will “live on.”[3]
  • While the amount of pain experienced while receiving a tattoo depends on the individual, typically the most painful areas to tattoo are over the bone such as the ankle, collarbone, chest, ribs, and spine.[1]
  • Choosing a tattoo from flash is similar to buying clothing “off the rack.” However, a good tattoo artist can alter the design to make it more personal.[5]
  • Rocker Tommy Lee was entered in the 2007 Guinness Book of Records when he became the first man to be tattooed in mid air during a private flight to Miami.[1]
  • Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, had a tattoo of a snake around her wrists, which she covered with a diamond bracelet at formal occasions. Churchill himself had an anchor on his foreman.[10]
  • “Old school” tattoos are those typically inspired by Sailor Jerry. They are usually humorous, brightly colored, and nautically inspired. Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins was indeed a sailor before he was an artist and he sailed the world. He was inspired by the art and imagery of the Orient. He regarded his tattoos as the ultimate rebellion against “the Squares.”[3]
  • Johnny Depp once said “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.”[10]
  • Little Known Tattoo Facts
    Adults with tattoos are more likely to engage in risky behavior
  • Research shows that adults with tattoos are more sexually active than those without tattoos. Additionally, research shows that adults who have tattoos are more likely to engage in riskier behavior.[13]
  • King Harold II of England had several tattoos. His tattoos were used to identify his body after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.[1]
  • George C. Reiger Jr. has over 1,000 Disney tattoos, including all 101 Dalmatians. He had to receive special permission from Disney because the images are copyrighted.[1]
  • During the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries tattoos were popular with English and Russian royalties. They were so expensive that common people could not afford them. When tattoos became affordable to the lower classes, they started to be deemed “trashy” until the tattoo renaissance in the mid 20th century.[4]
  • In a study of first impressions, online avatars that had tattoos (and other body modifications) were more likely to be viewed as adventure seekers, to have a higher number of previous sexual partners, to be less inhibited, and more likely to be thrill or adventure seekers than avatars without tattoos.[13]

  • Common Tattoo Symbols and Their Meanigs[10]
    AnchorTraditionally worn by sailors, the anchor shows that a seaman had sailed the Atlantic Ocean. Also used by early Christians due to its resemblance to the cross.
    Angels and CherubsSymbols of protection. As opposites play a key part in tattoo tradition, angels and cherubs are often inked along with devils.
    Bluebirds and SwiftsNautical tattoos and good luck. Sailors who logged 5,000 miles at sea were traditionally entitled to ink a bluebird in celebration.
    AnkhThe key of life in ancient Egyptian philosophy. Associated with Imhotep, an important physician who later became the god of healing and medicine.
    BullMacho tattoo. A symbol of power, strength, and fertility, as well as the star sign Taurus.
    ButterflyPopular with women, its short life and beauty have become symbolic of youth and femininity.
    Cards and DiceRepresent chance. Used as talismans for good and bad luck.
    CatSymbol of independence and free thinking. Worshipped by the Egyptians.
    Celtic crossAlso known as the Wheel Cross or the Ring Cross. While a Christian symbol from the Middle Ages, it also has pagan roots. In pagan lore, it represents the “plus sign” of male fertility with the circle sign of the female.
    CherryFertility, chastity, and purity.
    CladdaghIrish symbol of betrothal shows two hands holding a heart, topped with a crown. It represents life and commitment.
    ChrysanthemumFrom the Greek for “gold flower,” it is the ultimate flower. In China, it is a symbol of perfection and simplicity. In Japan, it is the Japanese Royal Flower. In Europe, however, it is the flower of death.
    DaisyAssociated with the innocence of childhood.
    DevilSometimes depicted as a cuddly, red, wicked cartoon or as a grotesque monster with horns and cloven hooves. Largely associated with resisting temptation.
    DolphinPopular with women. Associated with freedom of spirit and with empathy between humans and these “magical” creatures.
    DoveAssociated with the Holy Spirit by early Christians. Also a symbol of peace.
    DragonflySymbolizes the power of light. Because it can inhabit both air and water, it can pass the power of both elements to the wearer.
    Dream catcherNative American protective charm.
    Eye of HorusAncient Egyptian symbol of protection. The eye of the falcon god is also meant to ensure good health.
    Four-leaf clover and shamrockSymbols of hailing from the Emerald Isle and potent symbols of good luck.
    Hand of FatimaFatima was Mohammad’s favorite daughter. Her hand is known in the Islamic world to protect against the Evil Eye and acts as a sign of good luck.
    HorseshoeBest known as a lucky charm or amulet in the West, the Romans believed its “U“ shape could ward off evil. It is also associated with a crescent moon or fertility.
    Ivy and VinesVines have been associated with Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. The Celts viewed the vines as a symbol of death. Early Christians viewed ivy creeping toward heaven as symbolic of the resurrection. Recently, ivy has been associated with fidelity and marital love. Ivy also lets a tattoo artist to gracefully integrate different images on the body.
    JasmineA Hindu symbol of love.
    RoseMost popular of all flower tattoo designs, the rose is associated with true love. A thorn symbolizes that its owner is passionate but should be approached with caution.
    Kanji charactersOldest of Japan’s three writing systems. They are ideograms (similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs) where a single symbol can represent an entire concept, such as beauty.
    Koi or CarpPopular in Japanese tattooing. Koi represent strength of character and perseverance in the face of adversity. Carp represent wisdom and longevity.
    LadybugsSymbolized good luck.
    LionAncient symbol that represents strength, dignity, and wisdom as well as the star sign Leo.
    LizardSymbol of guile and self-protection.
    Nautical starSymbolizes a safe return home and good luck.
    PeacockKnown as the “bird of 100 eyes,” the peacock represents an all-seeing witness to the hidden sins of others.
    RopeTraditionally a sailor’s tattoo, ropes represented professionalism and strength.
    Sacred HeartRepresents the wounded heart of Jesus and the suffering of mankind.
    Sailing ShipIndicated the wearer had successfully navigated around Cape Horn. Also shows a fascination with a bygone era and the tattoo tradition.
    SkullsRepresent death and piracy.
    Skull and SnakeThe popular tattoos commonly represent memento mori, “or remember you are mortal.” Often the snake is emerging from an eye socket and signifies immortality.
    SnakeUsed in both Eastern and Western tattoo art, symbolized wisdom, charm, immortality, and free thought.
    TriquetraFrom the Latin tri quetrus or “three-cornered.” It is an endless three-cornered geometric that indicates the circle of life and the elements of earth, air, and water. Early Christians interpreted it as a symbol of the Trinity.
    Virgin MaryAs the ultimate guardian angel, the Virgin Mary is the symbol of love, patience, and intercession.
    Wicca symbolsPentagrams, crescent moons, and circles represent the power of Mother Nature.
    WolfPowerful figure in Western folklore. Represents ferociousness and cruelness, as well as loyalty and courage.
    Yin and YangRepresent the two sides of a valley bisected by shadow and sunlight as well as the duality of the universe, the male and female, positive and negative, and heaven and earth.
    Tattoo History[1][6]
    10,000 B.C.Archeological findings suggest that Stone Age people inked their skin using primitive equipment and natural dyes.
    3300 B.C.Otzi the Iceman freezes in an Italian glacier, where he is later discovered in 1991. His body was patterned with lines and dots and proved early tattooing.
    2000 B.C.Tattoo culture thrives in ancient Egypt.
    400 B.C.Russian tribes are known to have been tattooed.
    1691The world’s first exhibition of a human being for entertainment finds tattooed slave Giolo, the famous Painted Prince, being shown at English carnivals.
    1768Captain Cook sets sail for the first of his three great voyages in which he discovers and chronicles native tattooing, stimulating interest in tattoos in Britain.
    1772The world’s first circus is held in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, London. American circuses start touring in the 1800s and become centers of tattoo culture, as in Europe.
    1774Omai, a tattooed Polynesian and a discovery of Captain Cook’s, is exhibited to London’s elite.
    Late 1820sJohn Rutherford, an Englishman who has a fully tattooed face, starts touring. He is most likely England’s first homegrown tattoo attraction.
    1841James F. O’Connnell is the first tattooed man to be exhibited in the United States.
    Mid 1800sNew York and Chicago become the first major tattoo centers in the United States. The growing railroad system expands the influence of circuses and tattooists.
    1870sElaborately tattooed Prince Constantine joins Barnum’s Great Traveling Exposition, which inspires many young men to start tattooing.
    1882Nora Hildebrandt, the first tattooed lady in the U.S., makes her first personal appearance.
    1891New York tattooer Samuel O’Reilly patents the first electric machine, making tattooing quicker, less painful, and more popular.
     Late 1890sLewis “Lew the Jew” Alberts embarks on a campaign to raise the standards of tattoo flash in New York.
    1904O’Reilly’s apprentice Charlie Wagner patents a new, improved version of his mentor’s tattoo machine. Londoner Tom Riley tattooes the body of a buffalo in a 3-week exhibition in Paris.
    1911Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, the legendary tattooist, is born. He becomes known for expanding the range of available colors.
    1927The Great Omi, an ex-Army major, visits London tattooer George Burchett to arrange his transformation into a wild circus attraction.
    1939-45WWII sees a boom in tattooing as soldiers and sailors line up to be inked.
    1950sAmerican authorities start banning or limiting tattoos. At the same time, moral opposition to circus sideshows is increasing.
    1970Texas singer Janis Joplin starts a craze for rock-n-roll tattoos, which helps bring down the curtain on the old school era.
    1979Long Beach Nu-Pike closes down. The amusement park, once filled with popular tattooists such as Bert Grimm, has deteriorated, with the renowned Owen Jensen dying in 1976 after being stabbed in his own shop.
    2000The new millennium sees a resurgence of vintage tattoo art.

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