Ep 200 - Tattoos and Skin Immunity

Tattoo of roses

Recent research has revealed that pigment in tattoos may be outsmarting our immune cells and contributing to their permanency. Researchers also theorize that the lasting impact of tattoos may actually be boosting the immune system. Tune in to this episode of ASCP Esty Talk to listen to Maggie and Ella discuss the science behind wound healing, skin immunity, and the impact of tattoos on the body.

ASCP Esty Talk with Maggie Staszcuk and Ella Cressman

Produced by Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) for licensed estheticians, ASCP Esty Talk is a weekly podcast hosted by Maggie Staszcuk and Ella Cressman. We see your passion, innovation, and hard work and are here to support you by providing a platform for networking, advocacy, camaraderie, and education. We aim to inspire you to ask the right questions, find your motivation, and give you the courage to have the professional skin care career you desire.


About Ella Cressman:

Ella Cressman is a licensed esthetician, certified organic formulator, business owner, and absolute ingredient junkie! As an educator, she enjoys empowering other estheticians and industry professionals to understand skin care from an ingredient standpoint rather than a product-specific view.

She has spent many hours researching ingredients, understanding how and where they are sourced, as well as phytochemistry, histological access, and complementary compounds for intentional skin benefits. In addition to running a skin care practice, Cressman founded a comprehensive consulting group, the HHP Collective, and has consulted for several skin care lines, including several successful CBD brands.

Connect with Ella Cressman:

Website: www.ellacress.com

Website: www.hhpcollective.com


About Maggie Staszcuk:

Maggie has been a licensed esthetician since 2006 and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Stephens College. She has worked in the spa and med-spa industry and served as an esthetics instructor and a director of education for one of the largest schools in Colorado before coming to ASCP as the Advanced Modality Specialist. 

Connect with Maggie Staszcuk:

P 800.789.0411 EXT 1636

MStaszcuk@ascpskincare.com or AMI@ascpskincare.com


About our Sponsors

Truth Treatments:

All Truth Treatment Systems products have one thing in common—they work! Our products are made with 100 percent active and functional ingredients that make a difference to your skin. No fillers, preservatives, waxes, emulsifiers, oils, or fragrances. Our ingredients leverage the latest biochemical understandings and use proven strategies gleaned from years of compounding prescription skin health products for the most discerning physicians and patients. 

Connect with Truth Treatments: 

Website: www.TruthTreatmentsPro.com 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/truthtreatments 

Private Facebook Pro Group: www.facebook.com/groups/truthtreatments 

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/truth.treatments


About DMK:

Founded by botanical visionary Danné Montague-King, DMK is the World Leader in Paramedical Skin Revision™. Our revolutionary concept of REMOVE. REBUILD. PROTECT. MAINTAIN.® aims to match an individual’s biochemistry with the appropriate skin therapy. DMK believes that the origin of most skin conditions is a result of disharmony within the skin. Using the principles of biochemistry, DMK has formulated a range of Enzymatic Treatments and Home Prescriptives that encourage the skin to return to its most balanced and healthy state. For skin care professionals whose business depends on generating long-lasting clinically-proven results, DMK’s education-first approach has become essential. Hundreds of salons, spas, and even industry experts have recognized the effectiveness of the DMK concept, witnessed by thousands of people worldwide whose lives have been changed forever.

Connect with DMK:








About Rhonda Allison:

Rhonda Allison Skincare recognizes that every person’s skin is unique—we have beautiful skin down to a science.

For more than 30 years, we’ve looked to nature for inspiration, blending the best active, quality-driven, natural ingredients with highly beneficial, scientifically developed compounds to create superior products.

CEO Shannon Esau and world-class biochemists are in constant research to uncover the latest scientific advancements and next-generation ingredients to give you time-tested, proven ingredients that will transform the condition of your skin.

No matter what your skin care needs may be, we have a skin care line that will meet those needs with quality products proudly free of synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrances, sodium lauryl sulfates, and parabens. Everything you want in skin care.

Connect with Rhonda Allison:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/raskincare

IG: https://www.instagram.com/rhondaallison/

web: https://rhondaallison.com/


blog: https://ra.skin/blogs/news


About Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP):

Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) is the nation’s largest association for skin care professionals and your ONLY all-inclusive source for professional liability insurance, education, community, and career support. For estheticians at every stage of the journey, ASCP is your essential partner. Get in touch with us today if you have any questions or would like to join and become an ASCP member.

Connect with ASCP:

Website: www.ascpskincare.com

Email: getconnected@ascpskincare.com

Phone: 800-789-0411

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ASCPskincare

Instagram: www.instagram.com/ascpskincare

0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: Do you see yourself as the rebel who challenges the status quo on skin health? Learn how to be a critical thinker. Discover innovative solutions to skin conditions and facilitate individualized healing on a deeper level with Truth Treatment Systems. Truth Treatment Systems provides you the products and tools to unveil the truth behind skin conditions. Sign up for a wholesale account today at truthtreatmentspro.com and receive 10% off your first order. That's truthtreatmentspro.com. 


0:00:38.4 S1: Reverse aging and boost collagen with Rhonda Allison Skin Care. Peptides help increase collagen and elastin, reducing fine lines, wrinkles, loss of elasticity and increasing firmness. RA Skin Care has created several peptides serums ideal for photoaging due to years of UV exposure, toxic environments and premature in general aging. Our serums are perfect for restoring and maintaining moisture and hydration levels within the skin. Whether you have sensitive, normal or severely photoaged skin, RA Skin Care has a cutting edge peptide just for you. Learn more at rhondaallison.com. 




0:01:31.0 Maggie Staszcuk: Hello, and welcome to ASCP's Esty Talk. I'm your co-host, Maggie Staszcuk, an ASCP's education program manager. 


0:01:37.9 Ella Cressman: And I am Ella Cressman, a licensed esthetician, international educator and content contributor for Associated Skin Care Professionals. 


0:01:46.2 MS: So Ella, I've been reading up lately about the impact of tattoos on the body's immune system and I'm obsessed with this topic right now. I think it is so interesting. And I've never actually considered this before, but it would seem the pigment in tattoos is outsmarting our immune system. 


0:02:03.7 EC: That's crazy. 


0:02:05.1 MS: Yes. Yeah. 


0:02:06.3 EC: Interesting. 


0:02:06.8 MS: Yeah, very interesting. So generally speaking, tattoo application is the same regardless of the type of tattoo you have. So needles puncture the skin, causing a wound as ink is inserted into the reticular layer of the dermis. And basically, this wound is an assault on the body. The body responds accordingly so that the healing process can begin. When the skin is injured and then these foreign invaders such as ink enter the skin, white blood cells, which we refer to as macrophages, rush to protect against infection and they're eating these invaders, or eating the ink. Proteins in the blood, our antibodies will continue to circulate in the bloodstream on the lookout in case this invader should return. So when it comes to tattoos, this immune system fails due to the size of pigment particles. 


0:02:53.7 EC: So if we look at tattooing, I wouldn't say centuries, thousands and thousands and thousands of years old tattooing versus permanent, or I guess what it really is, semi-permanent make-up, also referred to as micropigment, does that have something to do, micropigmentation, why those are more temporary versus this thousands-of-year tradition with other kinds of ink?  


0:03:15.8 MS: Yeah. It very well could. We're gonna touch on semi-permanent tattoos here in a minute. And size of the particle is a huge factor here. So when we're talking about tattoos in general, the particle size of that pigment is very large. It's difficult for the immune cells to gobble up and destroy those particles. So when the immune cell eats the pigment, the pigment particles basically are refusing to be destroyed. That immune cell gets gunked up with the pigment particle, and then when that pigment particle reaches its end of life, that pigment then is released back into the skin and gobbled up then by another immune cell. So there's this life-long persistence of tattoo ink in the skin because of this cycle of capture, release and recapture of the pigment. 


0:04:05.1 EC: That is interesting. So that explain... I love history almost as much as I love skin. I will watch a documentary. I will read an article. Those are captivating for me. And recently, I was reading an article about what they thought at the time they wrote this article was the oldest record of someone having tattoos. And the interesting part about this specifically was where this person was tattooed, and he was tattooed in areas of the body where they hypothesized that he had arthritis. So it would make sense from what you're saying that if this histologically or physiologically inspires a lot of effort into that area for healing, that there was this primal instinct to bring healing to that area. And that is crazy. 


0:04:49.1 MS: Yeah. So crazy. And actually, there are studies on this about boosting the immune cells by tattooing, which we'll talk about in a second. But this cycle of eating the pigment and it being gunked up in the cell and then releasing it back into the body, this idea of that's why that pigment or the foreign invader, if you will, is why tattoos persist for a lifetime. This may be one of the reasons why eliminating tattoos is so hard, and even why semi-permanent make-up or temporary tattoos are not fading like they're advertised. So there's also something called ephemeral tattoos. Ephemeral tattoos are composed of smaller polymer particles. 


0:05:32.9 EC: Oh, okay. Let me tell you a story. [laughter] 


0:05:35.2 MS: Tell us. 


0:05:36.0 EC: I'm from a small town and I have stories for days. And so when you're saying polymer, I think plastic, right?  


0:05:41.6 MS: Totally. 


0:05:42.4 EC: They... Not me, not my friend groups, but there was people in certain social circles that would melt checkers for homemade tattoos. So it worked. Weird. Okay, go. I'm so sorry to interrupt. 


0:05:58.6 MS: No, I love the story there. So these small polymer particles or the checkers, if you will, they are medical grade, they're bio-absorbable bio-compatible. And this pigment specifically is often used in food and cosmetics. So a little bit more bio-identical with the body. 


0:06:16.0 EC: More sophisticated. 


0:06:17.1 MS: Yeah. So the question is, are these distracted macrophages or the immune cells full of pigment gunked up with pigment, are they interfering with their ability to seek out more dangerous invaders like pathogens?  


0:06:31.9 EC: Ooh. 


0:06:33.4 MS: Yeah. So the consensus is no. And there are some researchers that have argued that tattoos may be boosting the immune system. So going back to this story that you read about with, dating back centuries, there are anthropologists from the University of Alabama and they liken to getting tattoos to going to the gym. So each workout strengthens the body. They're saying that those with tattoos had higher antibodies and theorized that they then had a stronger immune system. 


0:07:03.9 EC: Stop. I have 1.5 tattoos. I have one that I got when I was 18. I love it. I still love it. I've had it updated a little bit. It's the Eye of Ra, an Egyptian symbol. And I was so nervous to tell my mom, I moved out and came home for Thanksgiving. I was like, "I have to tell you something." And then she didn't care. The other one I got with my aunt in Florida and it was a toe ring tattoo. 


0:07:25.5 MS: Okay. 


0:07:26.3 EC: And we wanted to do eyeballs in theme and then we were like, "Ooh, yeah, it's cool and metaphysical. It's great." We may have had a couple of glasses of chardonnay at the time. It may have been in a plastic water bottle, but whatever. We go to this tattoo shop, we get 'em done. We're like, "This looks so good." We both got it on our left pointer toe. I don't know what you call it, the one next to the big toe. And after it healed, it looked like the Burger King crown. And so... 


0:07:50.8 MS: Oh, no. [laughter] 


0:07:52.2 EC: Yes. And that was in 2003, 2004, and I've been dealing with it ever since, trying to get it removed. 


0:08:01.6 S1: Okay. 


0:08:02.6 MS: And my body hates it so much that one time I stubbed my toe so bad it took off a layer of skin, but not on the sides. So it's still there. I've had it lasered off a couple times. And I know it takes time. But speaking of laser, could this be why this immune tennis match between immune cell, ink, ink, ink, bounce, bounce, bounce, could this be why it's... That's the reason that tattoo removal specifically is so hard?  


0:08:28.9 MS: Yeah, 100% why. 


0:08:32.1 EC: Hold that thought. We'll be right back. 


0:08:33.0 S1: DMK is the world leader in paramedical skin revision education with certification programs designed to give licensed professionals a thorough understanding of the skin and an in-depth study of the DMK concept of remove, rebuild, protect, maintain. Created by the botanical visionary, Danné Montague King, DMK offers skin revision training and education for all ages, skin conditions and ethnicities in more than 35 countries, harnessing the body's innate healing mechanisms to change the health of the skin. Learn more at dannemking.com. That's D-A-N-N-E-M-K-I-N-G dot com. 




0:09:22.6 EC: Okay, here we go. Let's get back to the podcast. 


0:09:26.1 MS: Laser tattoo removal is really challenging too, depending on the colors that you have in that tattoo. So the laser isn't just going and shattering whatever that tattoo is. You're targeting each color and you have to break it down. So if you think about black for instance, it's all the colors in the rainbow. So you're not just hitting and shattering that black tattoo and seeing, boom, it's gone. You're breaking up all the colors that make up black over time. And so I think if you compare this to these immune cells that are gunked up with pigment and then transferring that pigment to immune cells as they die, it would make sense then that it's really hard to laser away a tattoo. 


0:10:08.3 EC: That's probably why it's changed color to where when I get a pedicure, they think it's dirt. 




0:10:11.8 MS: Oh no. 


0:10:14.9 EC: It's morphing. [laughter] 


0:10:15.4 MS: Yeah. Just let 'em scrub away, man. 


0:10:17.6 EC: Actually, what happened was... To tell the whole story, it's crazy. And so does this change with layers of the skin as far as traditional tattooing and semi-permanent make-up?  


0:10:29.3 MS: No. So we're all... All of our tattoos are going to the bottom of the epidermis or top of the dermis to that reticular layer. What is different, like we were talking before, is the size of that pigment particle. So with our permanent make-up or what's now being promoted as temporary tattoos, the ephemeral tattoos is the size of the particle in the pigment, which given that it is a smaller pigment particle, it's intended not to last as long. 


0:11:00.4 EC: 'Cause it gets gobbled up a little easier. 


0:11:02.8 MS: Yeah. 


0:11:03.9 EC: It's like intermittent fasting or small meals. Got it. 


0:11:07.1 MS: Totally. Yeah. 


0:11:08.7 EC: So then, does the size of the pigment have any relation to oxidation? Have you seen... Like my grandpa had a black tattoo and it turned green over years. Or we've all seen those people who had their eyebrows done, I'm sure they were beautiful brown before, but now they're purple. Does the size of pigment change oxidation?  


0:11:27.0 MS: That is a really good question that I don't know the answer to. 


0:11:31.6 EC: I would hypothesize that perhaps this immune... Is it oxidation or is it immune munching? [chuckle] 


0:11:38.7 MS: Well, the whole concept behind tattoos lasting is the immune munching. 


0:11:44.5 EC: Yeah. So the smaller the pigment, the more color change opportunity... 


0:11:48.7 MS: Yeah. 


0:11:49.2 EC: The breakdown of what makes that color up. So if you have a brown, there's gotta be a spectrum of colors and maybe the purple is just the biggest one. 


0:11:57.3 MS: Yeah, totally. But tattoos over time, those edges fade and become a little bit more blurred. And part of that is those immune cells go into town, trying to attack that invader. And that's why you're... One of the reasons why you're starting to get those blurred edges, the line isn't as tight. 


0:12:15.7 EC: Oh, is there anything topically that you can apply, would you think, to distract those immune cells?  


0:12:22.8 MS: Yeah. I don't know. That's a really good question. I would venture to say probably not. 


0:12:28.9 EC: Or antioxidant creams maybe... 


0:12:30.1 MS: Yeah, could be. 


0:12:31.3 EC: To help your tattoos last?  


0:12:31.8 MS: Could be, yeah. 


0:12:32.5 EC: I guess preserving all of the skin around it might help to at least keep 'em brighter... 


0:12:36.1 MS: Yeah, for sure. 


0:12:36.8 EC: Not muddy, thinking that they're dirt. 


0:12:38.3 MS: Mm-hmm. 


0:12:39.5 EC: The next question I have then is, I know that we avoid areas, specifically eyebrows when we're doing certain types of services, for example, microchanneling, because that can expedite the fading. It's what we've called it, right? We've called it fading for a long time. 


0:12:57.7 MS: Yeah. 


0:12:58.7 EC: Do you think that that... Now thinking about microneedling or microchanneling, the theory with that is that it's bringing attention to that area and... Like shocking the skin's immune response. Do you think there's a bridge there that that's what makes sense?  


0:13:12.9 MS: Yeah. I think probably thinking about it in that sense because we're creating another wound, we're rushing those immune cells to that area, but also, there's probably potential for if it's a new tattoo for that pigment to purge. 


0:13:29.4 EC: I think that would be good argument, just thinking for those people who have built a business on semi-permanent make-up. As far as it relates to our industry, this is just me thinking histologically, what a great opportunity to sell retail. 


0:13:43.2 MS: Oh, totally. 


0:13:44.3 EC: Sell retail for healing, sell retail for ongoing care to stretch that out, because the stronger skin immunity is with home care products for the entire face, the entire area or wherever you have that, the longer-lasting semi-permanent make-up will be. And then as far as those who have tattoo businesses, the longer the... Well, the crispness, like you were talking about, will last. The color vibrancy will last. And I know there are tattoo-specific lines out there and I... And now, guess what? I'm gonna go look and see what they've got in there as far as ingredients go to preserve the skin immunity to maybe satiate, to calm those immune cells from the gobble, gobble. 


0:14:28.5 MS: Now listeners, we wanna hear from you. Have you had a bad tattoo reaction, one that is fading or persisting? Are your clients getting permanent make-up, tiny tattoos or ephemeral tattoos? We wanna know. Share with us on social media, through Instagram, Facebook, or by email and getconnected @ascpskincare.com. Thank you for listening to ASCP Esty talk. And as always, for more information on this episode, or for ways to connect with Ella and myself, or to learn more about ASCP, check out the show notes. 



Please note: We have recently updated our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Learn more...