May 9, 2012 Tattoos
You may be wondering just what tattoo ink is. The truth is that there is no way to be one hundred percent sure. The manufacturers of the pigments and inks used by tattoo artists are not required by law to reveal the ingredients of their product. A professional who mixes his or her own ink from dry pigment is most likely to know what is in the ink. However, this information is considered to be a secret in the trade and you may not get an answer if you ask.
The majority of tattoo inks are not technically inks. Tattoo ink is made up of pigments suspended in carrier solution. Despite popular belief, these pigments are not typically vegetable dyes. The majority of pigments that is used in tattoo studios are metal salts. Although, some pigments are plastic. The color of the tattoo comes from these pigments. Carrier solution is used to disinfect the suspension of the pigment, keeping it evenly mixed for easy application.
A number of health risks are associated with tattoos from the natural toxicity of some substances used to do the art. In addition, you may want to take a look at the Material Safety Data Sheet for any carrier solutions and pigments. The MSDS will not identify all of the risks and reactions that are associated with interactions with these chemicals; however, it will provide basic information related to the components of the ink. Unfortunately, the United Stated Food and Drug Administration do not regulate tattoo inks.
The earliest pigments came from carbon black and ground up minerals. Present day pigments are mineral, organic, vegetable-based and plastic-based pigments. Phototoxic reaction, scarring, allergic reactions and other unpleasant effect are a risk with several pigments.
The pigments that are plastic-based produce vibrant, intense colors, but quite a few people have reported adverse reactions to these pigments. There are also pigments available that respond to ultraviolent, or black light, as well as some that glow in the dark. These pigments are notorious for their risks. While some are safe, others have been proven to be radioactive or toxic in some way.
As mentioned earlier, tattoo ink is made up of not just pigment, but a carrier solution as well. The primary purpose of the carrier solution is to ensure that the pigment is distributed evenly, inhibiting pathogen growth, prevention of pigment clumping as well as aid in application. The most common, as well as the safest ingredients used are:
- Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol
- Glycerin, or glycerol
- Listerine brand mouthwash
- Propylene glycol
- Purified water
- Witch hazel
Additional substances that may be used include:
- Aldehydes, like gluteraldehyde an formaldehyde, which are highly toxic
- Denatured alcohols that are toxic and may burn the skin
- Ethylene glycol, or toxic antifreeze
- Methyl or isopropyl alcohol, which are both toxic
- Various detergents or surfactants
A number of other substances may also be found in tattoo ink. A tattoo artist has the option to mix his or her own tattoo ink by mixing the carrier solution with dry dispersed pigment, or buy predispersed pigments. Several predispersed are safer than the pigments that the tattoo artist mixes. However, the list of ingredients is not usually made privy to the public, so there is no way of knowing which chemicals are in fact present.
The best thing to do is to ensure that the supplier of the ink and the specific ink has a long history of being safe.
Even with high quality pigments and the right carriers, there are additional risks involved in being tattooed.
- Alcohol enhances the permeability of the skin. Therefore, if it is used in the tattoo ink, or as a disinfectant on the surface of the skin, it will allow more chemicals to seep into your bloodstream.
- In addition, alcohol is also a known "promoter", meaning that it works well with carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens, which make them more harmful than they are alone. If there happen to be any hazardous material in the ink, the alcohol will increase the risk of disease or mutation, not just where you have the ink work done, but throughout your entire body.
- Chemicals that are classified as medical-grade are meant for medical uses, so you would think that any impurities that are found in them are safe. On the contrary, the smallest trace of contaminants from the chemical supply warehouse could be extremely toxic. For instance, distilled water is not sold as drinking water, so even though it is technically pure, it may contain toxic organic chemicals.
- The individual who is responsible for mixing the ink should be knowledgeable of the proper techniques for sterilization. This means they should be able to perform cold-sterilization and heat-sterilization as well as the sterilization of different materials. Mixed or dry pigments should never be sterilized with heat, because the heat will cause changes to the chemicals that could result in toxic substances.