What Is Your Tattoo Ink Made Of? Chemistry Explained

Curious about tattoo ink? We've got the scoop on what is in that tattoo ink

Learn what is used to make tattoo ink

Many of us have “getting a tattoo“ on our bucket list. Some like big, statement tattoos while some prefer getting a tiny, little trinket. But, have you ever been curious to learn about how your tattoo ink is made?

If you have, let us tell you that you can never really be 100 percent certain. It’s definitely a little disturbing that the pigment or tattoo ink manufacturer is not required by law to reveal the contents. But, professionals, who usually mix their tattoo inks from different pigments do have an idea of what ingredients are in their ink. Read on as we discuss the chemistry behind the ink of your tattoo.

The Composition of the Tattoo Ink

Technically, tattoo inks are not actually inks, they’re pigments that come along with a carrier or base substance. The different types of carrier solutions have the same composition and don’t really vary from one to another. Also, these pigments are not vegetable dyes contrary to popular belief.

The carrier helps to disinfect the pigment suspension, facilitating easy and even application from the point of the needle to the skin. This is why you get that smooth finish whenever you get a tattoo... that is, if your artist is good enough.

It is also very common for the base to be made of alcohol as it increases the permeability of the skin transferring more pigment on to the surface. The most common bases are ethyl alcohol, methanol, distilled water, glycerin, denatured alcohol, rubbing alcohol, and propylene glycol.

Decoding the Pigments Used for Creating a Tattoo

Colorful tattoos are not only eye-catching and attractive but are a true piece of art. There is a lot of history behind tattoos and what's been used to make them over the years. At one point, the black tattoo pigment was generally made from ground-up carbon or ash. Whereas, tribal people used the soot from charred woods for their tattoo markings.

Things have changed so much since then.

Today, the tattoo ink pigment is created using original mineral pigments along with modern industrial pigments that are organic in nature. Depending on the color of the tattoo, the pigment can either be vegetable-based (rarely) or plastic-based. There are also pigments that make use of heavy metals to make basic colors like red, green, black, yellow, and so on. Here is a detailed list of these heavy metals along with the colors they’re used to create -

  1. Nickel is used for black
  2. Lead is used for white, yellow, or green
  3. Mercury is used for red
  4. Cobalt is used for blue
  5. Copper is used for blue or green
  6. Barium is used for white
  7. Titanium is used for white
  8. Zinc is used for white or yellow
  9. Iron is used for red, black, or brown
  10. Aluminum is used for violet or green

Another dangerous practice adopted by a few pigment manufacturers is the blending of heavy metal pigments along with lead or titanium. Lead or titanium and actually lightening agents that aren’t good for a person’s health. The main reason that these manufacturers resort to such practices is to lower production costs.

Should You Opt for Vegan or Organic Tattoo Inks?

You have got to be living under a rock if you aren’t aware of the shift of people’s interest in organic and vegan products. Since organic food is usually safer, many people automatically assume that choosing organic or vegan tattoo inks would be safer as well.

Over the last 20 years, many pigment manufacturers have started employing organic tattoo inks to fulfill this need. Nearly 80 percent of these inks are made from carbon. In addition to this, 60 percent occasionally use azo pigments as well.

Now, it is true that organic or vegan tattoo inks skip the use of a number of toxic substances. However, they still do have heavy metals like titanium oxide which isn’t exactly risk-free. Nevertheless, you should make sure that the production environments and sterilization methods are carefully followed by your tattoo artist under every circumstance.

So, there you go! Here's exactly how your tattoo ink is made. If you do plan on getting a tattoo, you should educate yourself with the risks related to tattooing. You have to protect yourself from inherent toxicity by choosing a professional who uses disinfected needles and follows hygienic practices and safe substances. Once you get this sorted, you can rest easy (well, a little bit!). Finally, be sure to learn how to take care of your tattoo after it's done, using the best lotion for tattoos. Regardless of what your tattoo is made of, incorporating tattoo care into your skincare routine is important.

Resources— Authority TattooThought Co.

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