What Is Tattoo Ink Made Of?

Written by: Pete
Updated:

Curious about what’s inside tattoo ink? We get it: you’re about to put this foreign substance in your body so it makes sense that you’d want a clear understanding of what tattoo ink is made of. Since tattoo inks are not regulated by the FDA, ensuring you do your research into the ingredients in your pigment is important.

Related: Is Tattoo Ink Toxic? Can It Cause Health Problems?

What Makes Ink Tattoo Ink?

Back in the day, tattoo ink composition was quite simple and not much different from pigments artists were using for their other crafts. They contained ground ash or soot and were mixed with water; this is often how traditional hand poke tattoo inks are still made.

But nowadays, with the need for a larger color range as well as cheaper access to ink, manufacturers can put absolutely anything in their tattoo inks. This is because tattoo inks are not regulated by the FDA. In fact, they clearly state, “Published research has reported that some inks contain pigments used in printer toner or in car paint. FDA has not approved any pigments for injection into the skin for cosmetic purposes.”

This may cause you to wonder what makes tattoo ink different from other inks, and often it is the heavy composition of pigment in comparison to the carrier, which is often water or alcohol. This needs to be done in a way where the color does not fade after it is deposited in the dermis and heals.

Tattoo Ink Composition

Tattoo ink is made up of pigment and a carrier which is either alcohol or water, though sometimes witch hazel or glycerin is used, as well. The more alcohol-based the carrier is, the deeper pigment can be carried into the skin. If you are making your tattoo ink from home, which is not recommended unless you are a professional and highly experienced, sometimes vodka may be used as the carrier.

Carrier composition is not generally a worry for people who are wondering what ingredients are in tattoo ink. They normally combat infection and are otherwise harmless.

Pigments Used in Tattoo Ink

Pigment composition can differ depending on the color the manufacturer is trying to create. This is when tattoo ink ingredients can be complicated, and in some cases, not completely safe. Mineral pigments can sometimes contain animal byproducts, chemicals, metals, or even plastic content. Organic pigments are usually vegetable-based and cruelty-free.

All brands have their own unique tattoo ink formula, but if you are trying to be on the lookout for heavy metals in tattoo inks, here are a few found in specific color compositions.

  • 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

Adding metals reduces production costs and allows ink to be produced and purchased for cheaper. But this adds an element of risk to you, the person being tattooed. You can read all about heavy metals in tattoo inks in our article.

Are Organic or Vegan Tattoo Inks Safer?

Generally, organic, cruelty-free, or vegan tattoo inks not only avoid animal byproducts but also aim to create non-toxic and chemical-free formulas. Most of these inks are carbon-based in order to strengthen the pigment and while they are slightly more expensive, they’re not only safer but also age better.

We created a review guide of The Best Tattoo Ink Brands In The Industry and majority of the pigments on this list are labeled as vegan as well as non-toxic.

Glow-In-The-Dark Tattoo Inks

These tattoos are a rising fad, but they’re also quite unsafe for you and your skin. The “glow” comes from the addition of phosphorus but this particular chemical is known to cause:

In addition, there have been some links to glow-in-the-dark tattoos and long-term health concerns. This is not an ink we recommend.

Henna Tattoos

You may think this semi-permanent tattoo alternative is safer than tattoo ink, but that’s not always the case. Be sure to read ingredient lists of henna ink, as many are made with cheap products and chemicals, as well. Generally, black henna ink should be avoided because it is the least pure and can cause allergic reactions. Brown henna ink made of clay and organic ingredients is a better option.

Our Final Thoughts

It’s important to do research as to what is inside your tattoo ink. If you’re ever unsure or want to double-check what you’re being tattooed with, ask your tattoo artist what brand they use. Since the FDA does not regulate or standardize tattoo inks, taking your health into your own hands is vital. If you’re ever confused about the information you’ve found, discuss this with your artist at your consultation.

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