What Is Tattoo Ink Made Of?
If you’re thinking about covering up old tattoo work, do some research before committing to a new design. The most important step is to select an artist that has experience covering up old tattoo work, as well as a style you love. The first step is to book a consultation with your tattoo artist to discuss ideas and confirm the best way to handle the design.
In the old days, inks were made from a variety of different things: berries, burnt wood, minerals…even blood. Today, while we don’t always know exactly what’s in tattoo inks, most are comprised of two main substances:
- Pigment. These are what give you colors. Typically, much like what you’d find in tubes of paint, pigments are derived from minerals, metal salts and probably some vegetable dyes.
For example, mercury and iron provide red and brown hues, while lead lends us yellow and green. Charcoal has been used to create blacks, while cobalt and copper can offer blue colors and aluminum can give off green or violet.
- Carrier Solution. A carrier helps mix the ink more evenly while also removing pathogens (like how alcohol helps minimize bacteria) and easing the application process. Certain carriers can even open up pores and help ink permeate the skin more easily. Vodka has even been used a home-made carrier solution.
Some common, safe carriers include:
- Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)Ethyl Alcohol Glycerin Purified Water used as Tattoo Carrier
- Purified water
- Witch hazel
- Propylene glycol
- Glycerine (glycerol)
Are There Organic Pigments Available?
Some manufactures claim to produce their inks using only all-natural ingredients, such as animal products. This includes things like beeswax, liver oil, bone char, fat glycerin from animals, or resin from beetle wings.
Toxicity & Other Concerns
Like anything foreign to the body, there’s always a risk of allergic reactions such as scarring, or odd reactions (like after sun exposure) when you introduce a pigment. Unfortunately, many people have reported allergic reactions to plastic-based pigments while other tattoo inks have migrated to some individual’s lymph nodes, which can have other health implications.
Tips for Safer Tattoo Choices
Before you get too worried, keep in mind that people have been getting tattoos done for hundreds of years! Your best bet for ensuring you are protecting your body is get as much information as possible.
Here’s a few tips to help:
- Request a Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). These sheets provide information for each of the pigments or carriers used in your tattoo and will provide details about the safety as well as the basic health information about each known substance.
- Have a skin test done. Make sure you have skin tests performed using all the inks you plan to use on your design.
- Request known, non-toxic inks & carriers. Insist on inks that generally have been shown to be safe. Look for carriers we mentioned above (those that include glycerine, ethanol, and purified water rather than toxic chemicals). When possible, opt for non-toxic choices for desired pigments (e.g. logwood and carbon for black; titanium dioxide for white; turmeric for yellow; carbon-based tints, such as monoazo for green; etc).
- Avoid vivid/neon hues. Avoid bright, neon or glow-in-the-dark colors as well as red pigments made from cadmium red, iron oxide, or cinnabar.
- Go vegan. There are companies which make pigments that are animal-cruelty free. Do some research on the brands and ask for them by name. In some cases, your artist may be able to order them for you.
Choosing A Tattoo Shop
When covering up old tattoo work, choose a shop that focuses on quality and safety. At Remington Tattoo we use sterilized equipment, new needles, and new inks for every client, every time. Our studio is recently upgraded with the latest technology, supplies, and sterilization techniques. Each of our artists offer a distinct perspective and style. Get in touch to book an appointment or read our FAQ page for more information about the process.