Tattoos, though extremely popular, have not historically been heavily regulated. As a result, some tattoo inks have contained harmful and even toxic ingredients, ranging from metallic salts and lead to plastics, formaldehyde and a range of other chemicals 1. Today, many tattoo artists recognize the importance of using nontoxic inks in their work 1. If you want to get a tattoo, ask the artist about the ink ingredients she uses.
Although most people getting tattoos are more concerned with the color, or pigment, another critical part of the ink is the carrier. This ingredient carries the pigment into the skin, keeping the pigment evenly mixed. Although once heavily chemical-based, nontoxic versions of tattoo ink carriers today include purified water, glycerine and ethanol, all of which How-to-Tattoo.com recommends as alternatives to toxic tattoo ink carriers 1. Do not overlook the importance of carrier ingredients, not just pigments, when choosing safe tattoo inks 1.
White and Black Pigments
The two most popular tattoo inks, white and black pigments, can be used on their own, especially in tribal tattoos and for shading of colored tattoos 1. They have long been some of the most toxic ink colors. Black ink has traditionally been made of iron. Nontoxic versions include carbon and logwood for black ink, and titanium dioxide for white pigments.
Yellows, Greens and Blues
Nontoxic yellow tattoo ink ingredients are often based on turmeric, an herb. For greens, consider monoazo, a carbon-based pigment. Blue tattoo inks considered nontoxic include sodium and aluminum 1. Many blue dyes containing copper are also safe to use. When it comes to colored tattoo inks, avoid brightly colored or neon pigments, which are more likely to require the use of plastics and chemicals rather than natural ingredients, according to an article published by Natural News 1.
Reds and Purples
Red pigments in tattoo ink often cause allergic reactions, attributed to iron oxide, or rust, used to obtain the right coloration. Cinnabar and cadmium red, two other common red tattoo inks, are toxic 1. Instead, look to Naphthol, although this pigment may also cause a reaction as no tattoo ink manufacturer has succeeded in making a hypoallergenic tattoo ink. For purple or violet, nontoxic tattoo ink options include dioxazine and carbazole.
Each color and brand of ink contains completely different ingredients, according to a 2005 study at Northern Arizona University. The FDA does not regulate tattoo inks and tattoo pigments, unlike pigments used in cosmetics applied to the skin 1. Although most tattoo ink manufacturers consider their ingredient list proprietary information, some brands do release this information and make an effort to produce only nontoxic inks 1.
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