Types of tattoos

There are many different types of tattoos available today, some for purely aesthetic reasons and others that have a medical purpose. Here are the various types you may consider:

Professional tattoo

Professional tattoos

Modern day tattooing performed with a sterile machine and inks is the most popular form of tattoo art today. While there are more than 50 different styles to choose from, the top 8 most popular tattoo artforms can be broken down into the following categories.

  • Traditional - Featuring artwork and art styles found in the 1700s, traditional body art aims to capture the start of the modern tattooing era.
  • Realism - One of the most staggering tattoo styles found today, realism takes photographic images and transforms them into tattoos that can be breathtaking.
  • Watercolour - Definitely one of the most recent additions to the tattoo world, watercolour tattoos take a lot of skill as they mimic the art style achieved on paper or canvas.
  • Tribal - This tattoo style is one of the oldest in the world as it links back to tribes such as those in aboriginal communities. Dark in colour and often featuring elaborate patterns, tribal tattoos are a bold statement.
  • New school - As tattooing has evolved, so have the art styles. New school is filled with colour and often involves fun artwork with a cartoonish style.
  • Neo traditional - An evolution of the traditional style, these tattoos use vibrant colours and strong linework to give the art an illustrative quality.
  • Japanese - Japanese tattoos have a distinctive look that can be dated back to the Edo period. These tattoos are often filled with orange and blue colours.
  • Blackwork - While a broad category to cover, blackwork tattoos are very popular. This refers to any tattoo where the main focus and only colour used during the tattoo process is black.

Amateur Tattoo

Amateur tattoos

It's with good reason that becoming a full-fledged and trusted tattoo artist takes years of practice and hard work. Not only can the process of tattooing be hazardous to your health if not conducted in a hygienic environment, but the effects are permanent (and often painful to remove) which makes it a really bad idea to trust just anyone with a tattoo machine.

Unfortunately, tattoo machines can be purchased online and you don't need a licence to get your hands on a cheap tool. That means your friend may think they're a great artist but that's no reason to let him practice his newfound skills on you!

More than just the risk of a bad piece of artwork (which is almost guaranteed), amateur tattoo artists won't know to follow the proper sterilisation techniques and provide the necessary aftercare needed to ensure that you stay healthy and your tattoo stays infection-free.

If you're ever faced with the option of receiving an amateur tattoo, even if it's for free, always say no!

Permanent make-up - cosmetic tattoo

Cosmetic tattoos

The popularity of permanent cosmetic make-up is on the rise as women seek to have that freshly applied make-up look without all the effort. Permanent make-up offers the option of having your eyebrows tattooed and beautifully shaped at all times through the process of microblading or the option to have eyeliner added to your lids forever.

Medical tattoo - nipples after mastectomy

Medical tattoos

Even the field of medicine is getting in on the benefits that tattooing can offer, especially when it comes to addressing cosmetic complaints caused by various diseases and conditions. One of the most prevalent forms of medical tattooing in use today is that which is provided to breast cancer survivors who have undergone a mastectomy and subsequent breast reconstruction.

The addition of tattooed nipples to the breast once the patient has undergone a breast augmentation can make a huge difference to the appearance of the breast as well as the self-confidence of the woman in question. More and more, tattoo artists are offering their services to change the lives of women who've faced cancer and won.

Many women are also choosing to forgo the simple addition of nipples to the breast reconstruction, but instead have mural pieces done on their chests. These artworks are often beautiful and emotional for all involved.

Medical tattoos are also used to:

  • Enhance the symmetry of the lips of those who have had a cleft lip
  • Restore the appearance of hair after alopecia related hair loss or in burn victims where hair and hair follicles have been destroyed (this includes tattooing of the eyebrows and head to simulate the appearance of hair)
  • Reduce the appearance of scarring, particularly those related to burns.
  • Restore colour to the skin in minor areas affected by skin pigmentation disorders like vitiligo (a condition that causes the skin to lose its colour in blotches)

Interestingly tattooing in a ‘medic alert’ capacity is also used by some individuals. Instead of wearing medic alert jewellery or carrying a card to inform emergency and medical personnel of a particular ailment or organ donor status, some people choose to have this information tattooed on their body.

There have been recorded instances of those suffering from diabetes tattooing their illness status onto their skin and well as others ensuring that their blood type is easily spotted in case of emergency. While these tattoos are not standard practice, doctors have been known to question the information provided3 - just in case.

Henna tattoo

Temporary tattoos

If you're not quite ready to take the permanent tattoo plunge, you may consider getting a non-permanent / temporary tattoo using henna.

Henna is a plant-based dye that has been used by Muslim and Hindu cultures4 to decorate the hands and face for thousands of years. Henna tattoos have become popular around the world with many henna tattoo artists offering their services for bridal showers and other celebrations, as well as on the beach during summer time.

Unfortunately, this form of tattooing is not without risk. There have been cases where those being tattooed are allergic to the dye. While most forms of henna are completely natural and have very little chance of causing an allergic reaction, another form of the dye called 'Black Henna' has been found on the market too.

Black Henna contains standard henna dye, PPD (a textile dye to give the henna a darker reddish-brown or black colour) and heavy metals5 that can cause severe allergic reactions. A contact allergic reaction may appear within 48 hours in those sensitised to PPD (often due to the use of hair dye containing it), and within 7 to 14 days after exposure in those who are not. Symptoms include:

Increased pigmentation or white outlines of the tattoo pattern may be seen once the above resolve, keloid scarring (raised scars after the injury has healed) have also been reported.

Always ensure that you discuss the dyes used with your henna artist before receiving your temporary tattoo to avoid unwanted reactions.


3. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. March 2008. The use of blood-type tattoos during the Cold War: https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(07)02359-6/abstract [Accessed 25 September 2018]

4. Wiley Online Library. April 2015. Bullous contact dermatitis after a black henna tattoo in a backpacker in Thailand: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jtm.12202 [Accessed 25 September 2018]

5. US National Library of Medicine. Monitoring of Lawsone, p-phenylenediamine and heavy metals in commercial temporary black henna tattoos sold in Turkey: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27757963  [Accessed 25 September 2018]

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