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Hands up if you have a tattoo or if you’re thinking of getting one? Did you do your research first? As much as we don’t want to spoil your spontaneity, it’s worth you knowing more about the ink and the techniques involved.
Here you will find an informative guide on hypoallergenic tattoo ink and what you need to know, especially if you are at risk of having an allergic reaction.
Knowledge now or nasty rash later? You can decide.
Put simply, tattoo inks are solutions consisting of a carrier and a colorant. A carrier is a fluid that is used to transport the colorant to the application location. That’s you, by the way.
A carrier could contain any of the following ingredients:
On the other hand, tattoo colorants are typically pigments, intensely colored compounds that can reflect light in the visible area of the light spectrum. They’re quite different to dyes, which require a physical or chemical interaction to be anchored into place.
Dyes must react with the surface of your skin to develop their color and stay in place. Pigments don’t. Pigments provide color without needing a chemical reaction and they are held in place by intermolecular or physical forces.
Pigments are the colorants used in tattoo inks and they’re usually derived from mineral or geological sources to create certain colors and hues. In plain English, they are usually made from natural elements like rocks or metals.
When it comes to tattoo allergies, it’s no thanks to these bad boys right here! Mainly because they are derived from heavy metals, even toxic ones like mercury.
Only 30% of available pigments and dyes are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA and even then, some of these are developed for paints, textiles or automobiles.
Add to this the fact that manufacturers aren’t required to reveal ingredients or to conduct trials, the world of tattoo inks can cause a great deal of harm to people.
Typically, here are some heavy metals that are used to create different colors of tattoos:
If you’re keen on getting specific colors in your tattoo, here’s the breakdown of ingredients by color including heavy metals, metal oxides and organic compounds:
Red: Mercury, Cadmium, Iron
Yellow: Lead, Cadmium, Zinc
Green: Lead, Chromium, Aluminum, Copper
Blue: Cobalt, Copper
Black: Nickel, Iron, Carbon, Soot, Ash
White: Lead, Zinc, Titanium, Barium
Metal oxides like ferrocyanide and ferricyanide are used in red, yellow, green and blue pigments. Organic chemicals are often included in orange, yellow, green and violet hues and are made of azo-chemicals.
Honestly, this list just scratches the surface. Elements like calcium, lithium, selenium, sulphur and even arsenic may also be present in your tattoo ink.
To reduce costs, tattoo artists may blend heavy metal ingredients with other agents like lead or titanium. Professional inks can be made from rust, metal salts or plastics. Homemade inks may include pen ink, soot, dirt, blood or other ingredients that make us cringe.
Given that some tattoo artists prefer to make their own inks, it’s worth asking in advance and knowing what ingredients they use!
So by now you’re probably wondering if given all these ingredients used in tattoo ink there are any that may be less toxic, or at least less likely to trigger allergies.
There are very real risks involved with inks and the tattoo procedure. The most common of these risks is that of an infection.
Further known reactions include allergic-hypersensitivity and auto-immune reactions, granulomas, and interferences with medical diagnosis and treatment (due to the heavy metals in tattoo ink).
If you’re prone to sensitive skin, here’s a guide on how to go about choosing a hypoallergenic tattoo ink.
The good news is that as the demand for tattoos has spread, so has the variety of inks offered. There are many tattoo ink brands that are willing and able to tell you what is in their products. And they are made with safer ingredients.
Another way to stay safer is to choose your artists wisely. Take responsibility and do your research:
The best non-toxic carriers to look for in ink ingredients are vegetable glycerin, witch hazel, water, or ethanol.
Not only can they increase your risk of an allergic reaction but these substances are also known to be highly toxic.
Red pigment often causes the most skin reactions and is considered the most dangerous because it contains cadmium, mercury, or iron oxide. Choose red ink with naphthol instead.
Choose carbazole or dioxazine for this pigment, try to avoid manganese violet.
Choose arylide or tumeric based pigments.
BLUE & GREEN
Copper phthalocyanine pigments are the safest choice for both of these. Specifically monoazo for green and sodium-based for blue.
Just watch out for iron oxide aka rust.
Avoid animal-based inks that are often referred to as “India Inks.” It is better to use black ink derived from logwood and magnetite crystals.
The symptoms of your allergies may be simply a localized inflammation or an eczema-like allergy. Steroids are used to treat these kinds of allergies. There are also more serious issues associated with ink allergies.
People have reported:
There are also severe reactions that you should look out for and that can affect your entire body. Seek help from your healthcare provider if you begin to experience:
If you have mild symptoms like inflammation or slightly irritated skin, here are some treatments you can try at home. If your symptoms worsen, make sure to consult your medical practitioner as soon as you can!
Here are some brands we have found which avoid using toxic ingredients in their blends. Many are vegan friendly and also organic.
As with anything, if you have sensitive skin, you’ll still want to do a spot test to ensure your skin won’t flare up.
You can also check in with your artist about which of these inks will suit their equipment and tattooing style. You may also wish to buy the ink you like to ensure you stay clear of any nasty reactions down the track that can result from unknown inks!
This ink is developed by artists, for artists. It is a powerful black that’s perfect for tribal tattoos or padding. With easy penetration and the ability to fill large areas you can’t go wrong. It also doesn’t change to blue or green over time.
In terms of ingredients, these inks are vegan and also do not contain cadmium, mercury or iron oxide. As a base they typically use distilled water or witch hazel.
This is another very dark ink that heals even darker than it initially appears. It’s sterilized in a certified lab and formultade so it doesn’t dry out. Another vegan ink that hasn’t been tested on animals or using any animal based ingredients.
It contains carbon black (C.i.77266), distilled water, glycerine and witch hazel.
If you’re looking for an organic alternative that is sure to keep its color, Kuro Sumi is for you! Be careful as there are a number of fake products on the market under this brand. The real deal is vegan friendly and made in the US (originally from Japan though).
As for the ingredients, the black ink contains carbon black (C.i.77266) and also uses glycerin, distilled water and witch hazel as carriers.
Last but not least, this brand features a homogenized carrier and pigment mixture that flows really easily. With a versatile range of colors, Millennial Moms focus on vibrancy to ensure your tattoo stands out.
As for the ingredients, there are no metals or plastics used in their inks and they are also vegan friendly and made in the US.
As was stated at the beginning of this article, you should do your own research and ensure you go to a reputable tattoo artist. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their methods and the ingredients in their inks.
You can also arrange a spot test to ensure your skin won’t flare up and that they use hypoallergenic tattoo ink that sits well on your sensitive skin.
If you have experienced any type of allergic reaction to tattoo ink in the past, make the artist aware.
Overall, the results of a beautifully designed tattoo don’t have to be a disaster if you take the right precautions!
Most often, these types of allergic reactions are caused by mercury sulfide, which is often found in red tattoo ink.
One type of reaction is called the Lichenoid. This is rare but is typically related to red tattoo ink, and characterized by small bumps that appear around the red ink sections.
Just like personal care products and other cosmetics, the FDA does not regulate or approve any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This includes UV and glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Even Henna isn’t approved for skin injection, just for hair dye.
At the present time, there is no direct relationship between tattoos and skin cancer.
A change in skin pigmentation is one of the earliest signs of skin cancer, particularly melanoma. This is why regular self-checks should be done and always speak to your doctor if you spot something unusual.
Now, this sounds scary, right? The simple answer is yes, the ink does enter the bloodstream and has nothing to do with a tattoo artist not knowing what they are doing.
The reality is macrophages carry the ink particles to the lymph nodes closest to the site of the tattoo. When the cells cannot break down, the particles become lodged there.
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