(WJLA) - People ink their skin for all sorts of reasons. Some get tattoos to celebrate an event like a birth or anniversary. Others get them to simply decorate their bodies. And we all know those people who get inked (usually someone's name or strange animal) on a regrettable, drunken whim.
But tattoos are fast becoming more than just body art. As techniques improve, more people are turning to tattoos for medical reasons.
More than six million people suffer from Alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss all over the body. It affects men, women and children of all ages, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
Some Alopecia patients, mostly women, who lose their eyebrows are getting them replaced by tattoos. The idea of permanent makeup was first used by women who wanted to save time and money on trips to the salon. But eyebrow tattoos are now being used by those who have lost their eyebrows due to Alopecia, chemotherapy or over-tweezing.
"You feel better when you look better," says Shirley Zhou of the Permanent Makeup Clinic in McLean. "Especially Alopecia patients, they have been through physical and emotional trauma."
Zhou has been working with Alopecia patients for years. She says her tattooing technique is to mimic each hair on the brow, making them look like the real thing.
It's estimated that nearly a third of all men are balding. And for those who don't want surgery, pills, or smelly creams to fix the problem, hair tattooing is becoming a popular alternative.
In 2012, ABC News investigated "Cosmetic Transdermal Hair Replication", better known as hair tattooing. The process involves the technician making tiny hair-like marks under the scalp. Some say it's not tattooing at all because a smaller, thinner needle is used. Ink formulated specifically for the scalp is also used.
The procedure is still fairly new and can cost anywhere from $1,500 to upwards of $5,000 for small areas of the head.
Scarring and Skin Disorders
For people who have scars or skin disorders, tattoos provide a more functional purpose. The American Academy of Dermatology says there's been an increase in patients with pigment conditions who are finding solutions with flesh colored tattoos.
Birth marks, vitiligo and scars from dog bites or surgeries can all be remedied by properly licensed and trained cosmetic tattoo artists.
BreastReconstruction.org describes nipple tattooing as the "finishing touch to breast reconstruction". It involves shading in the areola area of the breast. Some tattoo artists can even provide a 3-D effect on the nipple tattoo, giving it a more realistic appearance for women who've undergone reconstruction after a mastectomy.
Thursday on ABC7 News at 11, Greta Kruez speaks to the man known as the "Michelangelo of nipple tattoos". Vinnie Myers started off as a traditional tattoo artist, but now devotes his skills to helping breast cancer survivors through his innovative tattooing techniques.
Meet Vinnie, and the women who travel from around the world to seek his help, TONIGHT on ABC7 News at 11.