Mathematical model reveals how tattoos age

Catherine de Lange, contributor
HawkingTatFinal.jpgThe tattoo now and in 30 years (Image: Simon Dack/The Brighton Argus)

People may choose to wear a tattoo as a sign of religious commitment, to declare their love, or… well, for other reasons.  But no matter what the design, all tattoos fade and smudge over the decades, because the permanent ink used to create them migrates under the skin.
Now comes the first mathematical model to chart how tattoos alter with time. Developed by Ian Eames at University College London, the model might influence the designs that prospective tattooees choose. More elaborate tattoos, like the Stephen Hawking example above left, become more difficult to recognise after 20 years (above right), according to Eames’ model.
The ink from a tattoo is locked into fibroblast cells in the skin, and tends to disperse as these cells divide, or fade as the cells die and are removed from the body.
Eames’ model is the first to predict how tattoos should change over long periods – up to 20 years – by modeling the way skin cells shunt the ink particles around.
Other factors are also important, such as age, tattoo size, skin type and sun exposure. But according to the model, if you do opt for a tat, you’re best sticking to a simple and bold design

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