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Safety First: Understanding What Should Never Be in Your Tattoo Inks

Tattoo inks contain substances that vary based on color and manufacturer, and formulations may include differing amounts of certain ingredients. As a result, it’s crucial to be mindful of what is in tattoo ink when choosing them to ensure the safety and health of the recipient. 

What Chemicals Are in Tattoo Ink?

Commonly found ingredients in ink include:

  • Barium sulfate
  • Dichromate salts
  • Aluminum
  • Calcium
  • Cadmium selenide
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Mercury sulfide

Many also include iron oxide, either on its own or as part of a compound with magnetite.

Regulatory Challenges

Tattoo inks inhabit a less-than-clear regulatory environment in the U.S., despite almost 40% of Americans between 26 and 40 years of age having one or more. The inks themselves fall into the category of cosmetics, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees. Yet, they exercise no authority over the color additives to pigments used for ink hues.

The EU has already banned some of the common ingredients found in tattoo ink, prohibiting them in any cosmetic product. The region’s sweeping 2022 Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) agreement has eliminated the use of several pigments, including the popular blue 15 and green 7.

What to Look for in Your Tattoo Inks

With new options frequently hitting the market, the following information can help guide your choices.

Potentially Harmful Tattoo Ink Ingredients

Here is a summary of components that should be red flags in tattoo inks you may consider using:

  • Heavy Metals: Inks should be free from heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, which can be toxic and pose serious health risks.
  • Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Aromatic hydrocarbons like benzenes and toluene are known carcinogens and can cause skin irritation.
  • Plasticizers: Certain plasticizers, like phthalates, should not be present as they may disrupt hormonal balance, and various health issues trace back to these compounds.
  • Preservatives and Stabilizers: Inks should be free from potentially harmful preservatives and stabilizers that can cause allergic reactions or other adverse effects.
  • Alcohols: Alcohol, when found in high concentrations in inks, can lead to skin dryness and irritation. It’s essential to have a balanced formulation to prevent these effects.
  • Animal Products: Inks should not contain animal-derived ingredients, especially for individuals with allergies or those seeking vegan-friendly options.
  • Toxic Colorants: Certain pigments may contain harmful colorants or impurities. It’s crucial to choose inks made from high-quality, non-toxic dyes.
  • Microbial Contaminants: Inks must be produced in sterile environments to prevent microbial contamination, which could lead to infections in the tattooed area.
  • Resins: Some inks may contain resins that can cause allergic reactions. Hypoallergenic formulations are preferable to minimize the risk of adverse skin reactions.
  • Carcinogenic Compounds: There is an increased risk of cancer in products that contain known carcinogenic compounds or substances.

Issues With Blacklight Tattoo Inks

Blacklight tattoo inks, also known as UV or fluorescent inks, have garnered attention for their ability to glow under ultraviolet (UV) or blacklight. While they might seem intriguing for creating hidden or glowing designs, there are concerns about the safety of these inks. Here are some reasons why blacklight tattoo inks can be considered potentially dangerous:

  • Lack of FDA Approval: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved blacklight inks for tattoo use. The lack of regulatory oversight means that the safety and composition of these inks have yet to undergo the same scrutiny as those with FDA approval.
  • Unknown Ingredients: The formulations of blacklight inks can vary widely, and tattoo artists and clients may need to be fully aware of the specific ingredients used. Some of these inks may contain pigments and chemicals not intended for use in the human body.
  • Potential Toxicity: Some blacklight inks may contain phosphors or toxic chemicals. The long-term effects of these chemicals on the body, especially when injected into the skin, need to be well-documented.
  • Allergic Reactions: Individuals tattooed with blacklight inks can be more prone to allergic reactions. Sensitivities to certain pigments or additives may cause skin irritation, itching, or other allergic responses. Reactions may take time to be apparent, making it challenging to identify the cause.
  • UV Light Exposure: UV rays can contribute to skin aging and increase the risk of skin cancer, and while blacklight tattoos are visible under UV light, prolonged exposure to UV light, whether from the sun or artificial sources, may have adverse effects on the skin. 
  • Limited Research: There is little scientific research on the long-term effects of blacklight inks within the human body. The lack of comprehensive studies makes it challenging to understand the potential health risks of these inks entirely.
  • Difficulty in Removal: Removing blacklight tattoos using laser tattoo removal procedures can be challenging. The ingredients in these inks may not respond well to traditional tattoo removal methods, leading to complications or incomplete removal.

Challenges With Glitter Tattoo Ink

The inclusion of glitter in tattoo inks can raise safety concerns for several reasons:

  • Unknown Composition: Glitter often consists of small, reflective particles from various materials, including plastics, metals, or other synthetic substances. The specific composition of glitter can vary widely, and some components may not be suitable for injection into the skin.
  • Potential Irritation or Allergic Reactions: Glitter particles may have sharp edges or contain substances that can irritate the skin or lead to allergic reactions. When injected into the dermal layer during tattooing, these particles have the potential to cause inflammation, redness, itching, or other adverse skin reactions.
  • Risk of Migration: Glitter particles may not stay confined to the injected area; there is a risk of migration within the skin. This movement could lead to an uneven distribution of glitter, affecting the appearance of the tattoo and potentially causing complications.
  • Difficulties in Removal: If individuals later decide to remove or cover up a tattoo containing glitter, the presence of these particles can pose challenges. Traditional tattoo removal methods, such as laser treatments, may not effectively break down or remove glitter particles, resulting in incomplete removal or undesired effects.
  • Long-Term Safety Concerns: The long-term effects of having glitter particles embedded in the skin must be better studied. The potential for chronic irritation or other complications remains a concern, especially as the tattoo ages and the skin undergoes natural changes.
  • Risk of Infection: The presence of foreign particles, such as glitter, in the tattooed area, may increase the risk of infection. Bacteria can potentially adhere to or accumulate around these particles, leading to localized infections or other complications.
  • Lack of Regulatory Approval: Glitter may not be an FDA-approved ingredient for injection into the skin. The absence of regulatory approval raises questions about its safety and suitability as a tattoo ink ingredient. 

Final Thoughts on Tattoo Ink Safety

Innovative manufacturers are responding with plant-based vegan inks that contain body-friendly ingredients, but there’s no substitute for knowing what’s in your inks.

Before getting a tattoo, individuals should communicate with their tattoo artist about the ink ingredients, ensuring they are well-informed about the product’s safety. Additionally, reputable tattoo artists and studios prioritize using high-quality, safe inks to protect their clients and their craft’s integrity. 

Trust ELECTRUM Tattoo Supply for Superior-Quality Ink

ELECTRUM Tattoo Supply launched its reputation with game-changing stencils that still lead the market as the artist’s choice. But we didn’t stop there. Today, we offer an entire collection of tattoo shop supplies and tattoo after-care essentials for artists and consumers. And we’ll keep pioneering to bring you the best solutions and champion community advancement.

Shop online 24/7 or through an authorized dealer. You can also reach out to our team for personalized service and advice.