In addition to its storied history and unique desert locale, Tucson has another draw: tattoos. Ranked No. 9 on a list of the top 10 cities for tattoos, the burg is a hot spot for those hankering for permanent body art. But what makes tattoos stay on the body in a way actual butterflies do not? Read on to learn the science behind the art in the Tucson tattoo scene.In the BeginningThough tattoos are applied in a matter of minutes, they last seemingly for life despite the body’s attempts to erase it (although you can always opt for tattoo removal). When first applied, a new tattoo is vibrant and sharp, its colors popping against the skin like fresh paint. With proper care, tattoos can stay like this for years—just think of Ötzi the Iceman, whose 5,000-year-old tattoos are still visible on his mummified body. That’s because tattoo artists don't simply apply the ink but bury it, carefully injecting insoluble pigments about 1 millimeter deep into the skin’s second layer (the dermis) and bypassing the upper layer (the epidermis) completely. Prone to flaking skin and big brothers' rug burns, the epidermis has a high cell turnover, which makes it too volatile for tattoos to stay put. The much less fragile dermis is able to hold ink in place for decades.Time, Sun, and the Human Body’s Defenses—Oh, My!Over time, tattoos do fade. Sun exposure is a major culprit, but so is the human body itself. Tattoo ink is, after all, a foreign substance that our bodies want gone, much like viruses or clothes. Slowly but surely, the immune system gradually begins to break pigment down into manageable pieces that the lymph nodes can carry away. This process varies depending on ink color—lighter, brighter colors are broken down more easily, and thus they tend to wane well before darker blues, blacks, and greens.How to Prevent FadingThough it’s not realistic to never go outside again, tattoo owners should protect their tattoos—no matter the age—from the sun. The UVA, UVB, and IR rays zap and drain the color from your ink, which is why sunblock, particularly chemical-free sunblock, can help prevent fading.Looking for the Best Tattoo Shops in Tucson?The city is dotted with tattoo shops, so we rounded up a few to get tattoo shoppers started: Black Rose Tattooers: The shop was named the Best Tattoo Parlor by Tucson Weekly four times. Inkaholics Anonymous: In addition to traditional body tattoos, the artists also decorate faces with permanent makeup, including eyeliner and lip liner. Diamond Body Art: The artists create everything from ultra-realistic portraits to geometric designs.
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