Yet amongst the Greeks and Romans, the use of tattoos or "stigmata" as they were then called, seems to have been largely used as a means to mark someone as "belonging" either to a religious sect or to an owner in the case of slaves or even as a punitive measure to mark them as criminals. It is therefore quite intriguing that during Ptolemaic times when a dynasty of Macedonian Greek monarchs ruled Egypt, the pharaoh himself, Ptolemy IV (221-205 B.C.), was said to have been tattooed with ivy leaves to symbolize his devotion to Dionysus, Greek god of wine and the patron deity of the royal house at that time. The fashion was also adopted by Roman soldiers and spread across the Roman Empire until the emergence of Christianity, when tattoos were felt to "disfigure that made in God's image" and so were banned by the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-373).
A tattooing session typically lasted until dusk or until the men could not longer stand the pain and would resume the following day, unless the inflamed skin needed a few days to heal. The entire process would often last almost three months. Afterwards, the men's family helped him celebrate, despite his pain, by throwing a party, and the tufuga smashed a water vessel at his feet, marking the end of the ordeal.
Many studies have been done of the tattooed population and society's view of tattoos. In June 2006, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published the results of a telephone survey of 2004. It found that 36% of Americans ages 18–29, 24% of those 30–40, and 15% of those 41–51 had a tattoo. In September 2006, the Pew Research Center conducted a telephone survey that found that 36% of Americans ages 18–25, 40% of those 26–40 and 10% of those 41–64 had a tattoo. They concluded that Generation X and Generation Y express themselves through their appearance, and tattoos are the most popular form of self-expression. In January 2008, a survey conducted online by Harris Interactive estimated that 14% of all adults in the United States have a tattoo, slightly down from 2003, when 16% had a tattoo. Among age groups, 9% of those ages 18–24, 32% of those 25–29, 25% of those 30–39 and 12% of those 40–49 have tattoos, as do 8% of those 50–64. Men are slightly more likely to have a tattoo than women.
The FDA regularly issues warnings to consumers about avoiding any temporary tattoos labeled as black henna or pre-mixed henna as these may contain potentially harmful ingredients including silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye and chromium. Black henna gets its color from paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a textile dye approved by the FDA for human use only in hair coloring. In Canada, the use of PPD on the skin, including hair dye, is banned. Research has linked these and other ingredients to a range of health problems including allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, and late-onset allergic reactions to related clothing and hairdressing dyes. They can cause these reactions long after application. Neither black henna nor pre-mixed henna are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA.
Many tattoos serve as rites of passage, marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, sexual lures and marks of fertility, pledges of love, amulets and talismans, protection, and as punishment, like the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts. The symbolism and impact of tattoos varies in different places and cultures. Tattoos may show how a person feels about a relative (commonly mother/father or daughter/son) or about an unrelated person. Today, people choose to be tattooed for artistic, cosmetic, sentimental/memorial, religious, and magical reasons, and to symbolize their belonging to or identification with particular groups, including criminal gangs (see criminal tattoos) or a particular ethnic group or law-abiding subculture. Popular verses include John 3:16, Philippians 4:13, and Psalms 23.