Today, people choose to be tattooed for cosmetic, medical, religious, and magical reasons. They may also use tattooing as a symbol of belonging to or identification with particular groups. Tattooing could be also used as a form of cosmetic surgery for hiding or to neutralize skin discoloration or some other medical reasons (medical tattoo).
Permanent cosmetics are tattoos that enhance eyebrows, lips (liner or lipstick), eyes (shadow, mascara, liner), and even moles, usually with natural colors as the designs are intended to resemble makeup.
The most common method of tattooing in modern times is to introduce ink via a group of needles soldered to a needle bar and attached to an electric tattoo gun or tattoo machine. When the gun is activated the needles move rapidly up and down; when placed against the skin the action of the needles results in the insertion of ink beneath the uppermost layer of the skin.
The growth in tattoo popularity influenced improvement in the quality of tattoos being produced today due to advancements in tattoo pigments, the ongoing refinement of the equipment used for tattooing and also an influx of new artists into the industry, many of whom have technical and fine art training.
Despite their increasing popularity, in some cultures, tattoos still have negative associations and are generally associated with criminality in the public's mind; therefore those who choose to be tattooed in such countries usually keep their tattoos covered for fear of reprisal. For example, many businesses such as gyms, hot springs and recreational facilities in Japan still ban people with visible tattoos, in part because of their association in the popular imagination with the yakuza, or Japanese mafia.
According to popular belief, most triad members in Hong Kong have a tattoo of a black dragon on the left biceps and one of a white tiger on the right. It is widely believed that one of the initiation rites in becoming a triad member is silently withstanding the pain of receiving a large tattoo in one sitting, usually performed in the traditional "hand-poked" style.
In Western cultures as well, some dress codes specify that tattoos must be covered. In the United States many prisoners and criminal gangs use distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior, prison sentences, and organizational affiliation.
In the past various cultures have had their own tattoo traditions, ranging from rubbing cuts and other wounds with ashes (this may be an adjunct to scarification), to hand-pricking the skin to insert dyes. Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice at least since Neolithic times. Mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the second millennium BCE have been discovered in Xinjiang, West China. Tattooing in Japan is thought to go back to the Paleolithic era, some ten thousand years ago.
Tattoos have served as marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, rites of passage, sexual lures and marks of fertility, pledges of love, punishment, amulets and talismans, protection, and also as the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts.
During the 2000s, the presence of tattoos became evident within pop culture. Tattooing is also widespread in the British Armed Forces and U.S. Military.
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