What's in the bottle?
We’ve all had that question from a client, “what exactly is in tattoo ink?” You look down the side of the bottle and see that it doesn’t say a whole lot besides listing off pigment numbers and chemical sounding ingredients. This is in part because a lot about a pigment recipe is proprietary information owned by the manufacturer and maybe because accurately answering that to a client may open a can of questions.
Thousands of years ago ink came from organic products like copper, ashes, graphite, and tree bark. Modern inks no matter who the maker, all follow a similar recipe: solid pigment suspended in a liquid carrier (for example: water, witch hazel, glycerin, propylene glycol, and ethyl alcohol.) The carrier agent works to both disinfect and homogenize the solution as well as make it easy to work with. Carriers which should always be AVOIDED are rubbing alcohol, antifreeze (ethylene glycol), and Formaldehyde.
Modern solid pigments are primarily metal salts, however some are plastics and some may include vegetable dyes. For example, black inks are found to most commonly have a pigment base made from Iron Oxide, Carbon, and Logwood. Browns commonly have an Ochre base (iron oxides mixed with clay).
Are tattoo inks Vegan? Mostly, yes. In the past some tattoo inks may have been made with animal products including bone char, animal based glycerine, gelatin (hooves), or shellac from insects. By far and large ink makers have replaced these products with vegan friendly and cruelty free ingredients.
As we discussed in a past blog, many of the ingredients used in approved modern inks are now coming under the microscope in the EU (with the passing of the new REACH standards) and will likely be held to the same fire here in north America. The cover of secrecy may be permanently lifted with more transparent labeling as we move into the future of tattooing..stay tuned!