Significance of tattoo marks in identification

Medico-legal significance of tattoo marks

Tattoo marks are designs effected by multiple small puncture wounds made through the skin through needles or similar penetrating tools dipped in a dye.The permanency of tattoo marks depends upon the type of dye used,the depth of its penetration,and the part of body tattooed.

Black,blue and red dyes are more durable,almost permanent and therefore commonly employed.The optimum depth of penetration is up to the superficial layers of the dermis.

To reveal latent tattoo marks,the use of high contrast photography,computer image enhancement,ultraviolet lamp or infra-red photography is helpful.Tattoo marks on unidentified putrefied bodies maybe photographed by sharp definition, the loose epidermis is first removed and the design on dermis is recorded.This method is of special value in the case of bodies recovered from water.

A tattoo design maybe altered or eliminated,or a secondone superimposed in an attempt to conceal identity.Various artificial means have been devised for removal of a tattoo mark which include:

  • Dermabrasion
  • Application of caustic substances or carbondioxide snow
  • Electrolysis
  • Surgery &
  • Exposure to laser beams.

Tattooes removed by applying one of the first three methods will leave a visible scar,surgical removal with skin grafting would leave a less obvious scar.Exposure to laser beams destroys pigmented cells and evaporates the dye from the tattooed area without any pain,damage or alteration of skin structure.Chronic eczema may cause the tattoo designs to disappear and confluent small pox would obliterate them in children.

The important complications of the tattoo mark may relate to sepsis,and transmission of diseases like syphilis,leprosy,tuberculosis,hepatitis & AIDS.

The medicolegal importance of the tattoo marks is notable as they may indicate:

1)The identity of a person(special designs),ones own name,name of spouse,close relation or friend;date of birth,service,etc.

2)Race extensive tattooing of the chest and limbs is common amongst the Japanese.

3)Profession/occupation–some criminal gangs have certain specific emblems of tattoo marks.Some occupations e.g coal miners leave visible tattoo marks on the hands and face from the material handled by the workers.

4)Religion designs of Cross or Christ (in christians)and Hanuman,Lord Krishna(in hindus).

5)Political convictions like sword and sickle,cow and calf.

6)Behavioral characteristics–erotic tattoos of the sexual fanatic,blue bird design on the extensor surface of the web of thumb of homosexuals,number 13 inside the lower lip of drug pushers,addict type of tattoo marks to conceal injection sites etc.

7)Tattoes may also represent someones social status.


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