Whether it’s your first or fifth tattoo, you may be wondering how safe your tattoo ink is. Or perhaps you’ve heard rumors that tattoo ink is toxic and can cause health problems. Whatever the reason for your research, we’ve got the lowdown on tattoo pigments and whether they’re the cause of health issues or completely safe for you and your skin.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Regulations of Tattoo Inks Are Long Overdue
Frankly speaking, no tattoo ink, regardless of the ingredients, are regulated by the FDA. In fact, they state that, “FDA traditionally has not exercised regulatory authority for color additives on the pigments used in tattoo inks. The actual practice of tattooing is regulated by local jurisdictions.”
Unlike Europe, there are no standards for regulation on tattoo ink and local jurisdictions don’t enforce any ruling regarding pigments, either. That being said, it’s normal to hear talk within the tattoo industry about a need for more regulations and standards. This would allow people to feel safer getting tattooed, and would enable shop owners to feel more confident about the work they are producing and the inks they are using.
This enables so many companies to manufacture and sell cheap inks that are resulting in skin and health issues and reactions that are unexpected in users. The FDA reports that, “In the spring of 2012, we received reports of infections from contaminated inks, resulting in their recall and market withdrawal. In the fall of 2017, a firm voluntarily recalled several colors and sizes of tattoo inks, due to microbial contamination identified by an FDA survey. In addition, concerns raised by the scientific community regarding the pigments used in tattoo inks have prompted FDA to investigate their safe use.“
Some reported reactions have included:
- Allergic reactions
- Itchiness and inflammation
- Removal problems
- Keloid formation
- Ink getting into your lymphatic system
- Carcinogenic exposure
- And MRI complications
Tattoo Inks - What Exactly Do They Contain?
Unfortunately, regardless of whether you’ve investigated the ingredient list of your tattoo ink, you may not be getting the entire picture of what is inside your ink. Pigment formulas don’t need to be completely listed and can often contain impurities, animal by-products, heavy metals, or chemicals.
Unless it is specifically stated on the bottle of your favorite ink brand that it is ‘non-toxic’ or ‘chemical-free,’ certain pigments could contain the following elements:
- White - lead, zinc, titanium, barium
- Yellow - lead, cadmium, zinc
- Red - mercury, cadmium, iron
- Orange - cadmium
- Green - lead, chromium, aluminum, copper
- Blue - copper, cobalt
- Black - nickel, iron
Can Tattoo Inks Be Safe and Non-Toxic?
There are multiple brands on the market that emphasize to customers that their products are:
- Cruelty free
- Heavy metal free
In fact, our list of favorite inks are some of the safest in the industry.
Is There Anything You Can Do to Reduce the Risk?
Taking control of your health is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of being exposed to tattoo ink that contains toxins. The most effective way to do this is to have a candid conversation with your tattoo artist or shop about what brands of ink they use, and then request a Material Safety Data Sheet from the company on their formula and the pigments used in the ink.
You can also ask your tattoo artist to produce a patch test of the ink prior to getting completely tattooed with it. This will allow you to determine if you have any adverse reactions to the ink immediately, but keep in mind that allergic reactions could develop after much time has passed, as well.
Check out the labeling of the tattoo inks that your artist uses and keep a lookout for some keywords such as, non-toxic, chemical-free, and heavy metal free. Vegan tattoos are known to be a safe ink option, as well. In addition, you can check what carrier the tattoo ink uses to dilute its pigment: the safest options are vegetable based, water, witch hazel, or ethanol.
Of course, another option you have is to not get the tattoo at all - but we understand that it might be difficult to resist!
Our Final Thoughts
A tattoo is a lifelong commitment and one that requires your health and safety at the center of it all. Choosing a reputable shop with a high-quality and professional artist will almost always guarantee that you are being tattooed with tried, tested, and truly safe tattoo inks. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re ever unsure, as your tattoo artist wants you to be confident and comfortable with this decision.