What is tatto ink made from?
What is tattoo ink made from?
You may be surprised to know that the tattoo ink industry isn’t regulated, so there’s a wide variety of ingredients used to make the ink.
That said, tattoo ink has two components: pigment and carrier. The pigment is the dye that gives color to the tattoo. The carrier, on the other hand, is the liquid that transfers the pigment from the needle to the skin.
Pigment – the Color
For pigments, the material used depends on the color. To clue you in on how unsafe some tattoo ink ingredients are, here’s a partial list:
Black ink – carbon, nickel, iron
Red – mercury, cadmium
Yellow – lead, cadmium, zinc
Orange – cadmium
Green – lead, chromium, aluminum, copper
As you can see, some of these ingredients are heavy metals! Sure, they’d add a nice color to your tattoo, but don’t be surprised if you get a tattoo ink allergy. Also, some heavy metals can cause a reaction even on old tattoos. Cadmium, for instance, is photosensitive, so when it’s exposed to the sun, it can cause your tattoo to itch!
Carrier – the Liquid
Ink carriers play a huge part in making sure the ink gets to the right spot. Distilled water can be used, but many manufacturers (and artists who make/mix their own ink) prefer alcohol-based carriers. The alcohol prevents bacteria from growing in the liquid solution.
That said, some of the safer options include ethyl alcohol, glycerin, Listerine, witch hazel, and propylene glycol. Watch out (and stay away from) - tattoo ink that uses denatured alcohol, methanol, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), formaldehyde, or antifreeze as carriers.
Fortunately, many ink manufacturers are now using more skin-friendly ingredients. Don’t be afraid to ask your tattooist about the ingredients used in their ink. You’ve got the right to know, it is your skin after all!
Once the tattooed area starts to form into scabs, use a moisturizer or lotion to keep your skin from getting too dry or damaged. Don’t scratch or pick at the skin. This can cause the area to heal poorly, which may make you more susceptible to infections.
Medically reviewed by Daniel Murrell, M.D. — Written by Tim Jewell — Updated on March 7, 2019