When most people think of tattoos, all kinds of images and purposes come to mind. One, of course, is to proclaim something—from the name of one’s sweetheart, a logo of some band or a branch of the armed services, maybe the portrait of a favorite character from film or television. A possibly infamous example might be the man paid to have a Romney/Ryan campaign image tattooed upon his face! Another reason is ritual, from the Maori warriors to former felons who emerge from prison with gang emblems woven into their skin with ink. Others use them as a mark of shame or worse.
One of the simplest, most horrifying types of tattoo made famous in the 20th century must be a row of numbers on the inner arm for Europeans of a certain age (and of certain ethnicities). Less famous—but perhaps most wonderful—are tattoos used as cosmetic surgery. Quite simply, using ink in unmaking scars.
Recently, an Iraqi woman named Basma Hameed became a dramatic example. At age two, she suffered terrible burns from a kitchen accident involving scaldingly hot cooking oil. Over one hundred surgeries followed, involving grafting skin and carefully rebuilding portions of her face. Still, her skin remained vividly marked, with splotches of discovered flesh that were burn scars.
After a failed attempt to transplant eyebrows onto the burned side of her face, she had a relatively simple procedure done. New eyebrows were literally inked onto her face in place of the old. From that event came another idea, a simple but profound one.
Why not tattoo her scars to match her original pigment? Why not indeed? Hameed trained as a tattoo artist, the proceeded to try her idea—with amazingly positive results!
The scars all but vanished to the naked eye, as she applied ink of colors copying the actual shades of her un-scarred face. Gone was the lobster-red splash pattern, replaced by natural skin tones. In doing this restorative to her own face, Hameed also found a career and a calling. Today she has a foundation with clinics in Toronto and Chicago, helping those who’ve run out of options in terms of hiding or healing scars. Some call what she does paramedical scar camouflage. Her own words are less scientific.
“When I first meet my clients they can be so shy and insecure about their respective skin conditions, but once we do few treatments they are like brand new people,” said Hameed in an interview, “They smile, they laugh, and most importantly they feel like they can live again.”
“I would like to see the service being offered all over the world one day. My end goal is to … eventually, make this procedure accessible to people who need it everywhere.”
Among her clients is Samira Omar, a teenager targeted by bullies who poured boiling water on her face. Hameed’s foundation is treating her free of charge. Such work has seen the Foundation covered in such venues as the Huffington Post, CNN, Cosmopolitan and CDC News. Although much of what gets the most attention are severe burns or other scars, Hameed and her clinics help all kinds of other patients as well. For example, breast cancer survivors use her services for areola reconstruction. A series of treatments, very much like airbrushing or the layered painting of the Old Masters, create a realistically complex pattern of pigments.
This varies from previous efforts at medical tattooing, which at most would cover up unsightly patches or (sometimes) individuals covering up scars and like them with artwork. Here the idea becomes the recreation of un-inked skin—a tattoo that for all intents and purposes becomes invisible by blending into what should naturally already exist.