How Tattoos Have Been Used For Therapeutic and Medicinal Purposes Throughout History

Published November 22, 2023
By Celebrity Ink

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, and while they’re most often associated with self-expression, they’ve also played a role in medicinal and therapeutic practices throughout history.

From providing acupuncture treatments to being sources of healing for trauma survivors, tattoos provide a wider range of purposes than once thought.

From the Ancient Egyptians to the modern-day individual, this article explores the historical use of tattoos for healing and therapeutic purposes and how those practices have resurfaced today alongside ways in which tattoos are powerful healing tools. 

Ancient Use Of Tattoos As Medicine

While tattoos are commonly known for being creative forms of self-expression, a few thousand years ago, they were used for medicinal purposes.

The first evidence of medicinal tattooing was found on the world’s most famous mummy, Ötzi, also known as “Iceman”.

Ötzi is a 5,300-year-old mummy discovered in the Alps on the Austria-Italy border in 1991. Having been trapped beneath a glacier for millennia, Ötzi’s body was found in an incredibly well-preserved state, with his body art still visible.

Tattoos were found all over Ötzi’s body, consisting of short lines on his lower back, ankles, and wrists. The visibility of tattoos from 5,300 years ago intrigued anthropologists, specifically tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak.

Krutak found that 80% of Ötzi’s tattoos overlap with traditional Chinese acupuncture points. The locations where Ötzi’s tattoos were found suggest they were used to treat rheumatism and gastro-intestinal problems.

Lars Krutak also discovered that tattooing for medicinal purposes was prevalent amongst Yugipet women on St Lawrence Island off the coast of Alaska. Krutak found that the women use a form of tattooing known as skin-stitching to promote healing over a swollen area on the body. This tattooing practice has also been seen in a couple of other countries around the world.

Another example of this approach to ancient medicinal tattoos was found on a 1,000-year-old Peruvian mummy discovered in the 1990s. Along with a range of symbolic and animal-like tattoos, she had an unusual pattern of overlapping circles on her neck.

When the mummy was alive 1,000 years ago, the most common material used for tattoo ink was ash or soot. However, scientists examining the mummy discovered that the ink used for the neck tattoos consisted of partially burnt plant material. Since plants were used in ancient forms of medicine, it’s believed that this Peruvian mummy got circular tattoos to relieve pain in her neck muscles.

Therapeutic Purpose of Tattoos

As well as the ancient medicinal tattoos, they also have therapeutic purposes. So, why are tattoos therapeutic for some people?

Boosts Your Immune System

A study found in the American Journal of Human Biology discovered that getting tattoos can boost your immune system. But how does that work?

Getting a tattoo is essentially the same as getting a wound, and when your body is wounded, it goes straight to the area to fight off whatever is harming the body. Your body does the same thing when getting inked. Your body responds to the tattoo needle and tattoo ink by sending macrophages, a type of white blood cell, to the tattoo site. When this happens, white blood cells produce vital antibodies that help strengthen your immune system over time.

Researchers at the University of Alabama found that frequent tattooing could act as training for the immune system. To put it simply, the more tattoos you get, the more antibodies your body produces.

Reducing Stress Levels

Not only does tattooing boost your immune system, but it has also been linked to reducing stress levels.

Again, a study in the American Journal of Human Biology found that during the tattooing procedure, the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced. The study concluded that people with multiple tattoos have lower levels of cortisol due to reduced production when getting inked.

Form of Relaxation

Has someone ever told you that when they get a tattoo, they find it extremely relaxing? There’s a reason for that.

While receiving a tattoo is most commonly thought of as being painful, for some people, it can promote a sense of relaxation.

When you get a tattoo, your body releases endorphins, creating a sense of euphoria, which can be very therapeutic.

Some common therapeutic tattoo ideas include

  • Unalone tattoo
  • Serotonin tattoo
  • Semicolon tattoo
  • Balance tattoo
  • Be still tattoo

The Healing Power of Tattoos Today

As well as being used for medical and therapeutic purposes, tattooing is also great for healing, whether it be from mental, emotional or physical scars.

Some of the ways in which tattoos provide healing powers include

Mental Health

Many people in Australia and around the world have turned to tattooing as a means of self-expression, using ink to tell their personal stories of overcoming adversity.

In particular, recovery tattoos are a powerful tool for those in addiction rehabilitation or healing from traumatic past experiences. These tattoos often symbolise growth, transformation and recovery, serving as visual reminders of the journey towards a happier and healthier life.

Physical Scars

Tattoos also have the fantastic ability to cover scars, whether from accidents, self-inflicted wounds or surgeries.

Tattoo artists at Celebrity Ink can create designs that not only conceal scars but also help individuals reclaim their bodies and self-esteem. The power of this enables individuals to rewrite their own stories, replacing reminders of pain and suffering with symbols of resilience and beauty.

Personal Loss

Grief is a very powerful emotion, and when we lose someone we love, we often feel very powerless.

When an individual loses someone close to them, getting a memorial tattoo as a part of their healing process can help them feel as though they’re healing.

Not only does getting a memorial tattoo of someone you love help you heal, but it’s also a reminder that they’re always with you.

Book In Your Next Tattoo at Celebrity Ink

From medicinal and therapeutic use to promoting personal healing, tattoos boast a wide range of purposes.

If you’re thinking of getting a tattoo, book an appointment at your nearest Celebrity Ink studio. During your initial free consultation, we’ll listen to the type of tattoo you want and find the perfect artist for you. From traditional tattoos to fine-line and oriental tattoos, we do it all!

No matter what type of tattoo you’re considering getting, the tattoo artists at Celebrity Ink are ready and eager to help bring your vision to life.

Get your next tattoo at Celebrity Ink

The team at Celebrity Ink can provide you with not only a tattoo that tells your story but also detailed aftercare information that goes beyond the question of how long does a tattoo take to heal.

Our team sets standards in tattoo design while working alongside you to bring your vision to life. Whether you’re seeking traditional tattoos, realistic designs, mandalas, or any other, we have artists specialising in a range of tattoo styles that can provide you with the tattoo you have envisioned.

Book a consultation to discuss your tattoo design, get in contact with the crew at Celebrity Ink, and we will lock you in for your next ink session.
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