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What are Tattoo Inks Made Of?

tattoo inksTattoo inks are substances that are placed underneath the skin by the tattoo machine to be able to do a simple but permanent body modification. Technically, tattoo ink isn’t really ink. In reality, tattoo ink is made of pigments made of metal salts and even plastics. These dry pigments are then mixed with a carrier solution which keeps the pigment evenly mixed.

Carrier solutions typically used by tattoo artist are made of alcohol, sterilized water and glycerine. In the past, homemade carriers are made of solution you wouldn’t imagine using like Listerine and Vodka. Other even use very toxic substances like formaldehyde and anti-freeze.

Tattoo inks are commonly bought pre-mixed, no more hassle of mixing up pigments which is quite messy. But some tattoo artist, especially the more experience ones, may mix some of their own. The advantage of mixing up colors versus pre-made is the variety of shades that one artist can make. Yes, tattoo ink with different colors when mixed together will give a different colour or shade, just like mixing up the primary and secondary colours we learn in preschool.

As stated earlier, tattoo ink isn’t made of real in but pigments made of metals. Below are a few familiar and not so familiar metals used for inking:

  • Black: Made of carbon, iron oxide or log wood. Black pigment can naturally made from powdered jet, wustite, bone black, magnetite crystals or soot.
  • White: Made from white lead, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or barium sulfate.
  • Red: Made from iron oxide, cinnabar, cadmium red or naptol.  Red pigments carry a risk of allergic reactions.
  • Blue: made from cobalt blue, azure blue or Cu-phtalocyanine.
  • Yellow: Made from ochres, cadmium yellow, curcuma yellow, chrome yellow or disazodiarylide. Curcuma is derived from the ginger family like turmeric curcurmin. When an artist use yellow pigments, they use a lot of it to achieve a bright yellow color, hence giving it a high risk of reactions.
  • Brown: Made from ochre. Ochre is actually clay.

Tattoo inks are not regulated, but most on the pigments are approved for use in foods, cosmetics and medical devices. However, it is important to note that ink allergy is very rare.

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