The chemicals present in tattoo inks pose health problems you have no idea about.

Do you have a tattoo? Maybe, or not. Whatever! We have some important notice for your consideration if you don’t have a tattoo, and if you have one already, you better listen up to what you just scribed onto yourself permanently. Here’s the question: Do you really know what chemicals are present in tattoo inks? We know for sure you have no idea, or better yet still you got a tattoo anyway or will get one soon. Before you do so, finish reading this article first.

Related media: What You Need To Know Before Buying Tattoo Inks

Knowingly Inking Thyself With The Unknown

People have been inking themselves for as long as we’ve graced the planet for thousands of years. From prehistoric cavemen to ancient Egyptian royals brandishing themselves to Oceanic island settlers’ tattooing (looking at you, Ma’ui) made from soot, charcoal, and other natural pigments.

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However, modern tattooists often have little knowledge of what their inks are really made of. As aforementioned, do you know what’s in tattoo inks? Although tattoo artists have to be certified before they can practice their craft legally, tattoo inks and pigments are not regulated by law enforcement agencies.

Unlike professional tattoo artists, most tattooists mix their inks from any form of dry pigments available, that’s a good chance you’ll never find out exactly what goes into tattoo inks. Here’s the catch: most manufacturers tend to protect their chemical formulas as a means of intellectual property.

Whatever the case, tattooists and enthusiasts as such usually have no idea exactly what chemicals go into tattoo inks — as it turns out that’s a really Big Deal. While some pigments are naturally sourced, others are byproducts sourced from laboratories — the textile, plastic, or automotive industry.

tattoo inks
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What’s In The Ink Thy Scribe

A 2016 report by the Joint Research Center (JRC) — an independent scientific advisory committee to the European Union (EU) — analyzed a wide variety of tattoo pigments and listed the ingredients of most concern. This revealed the mystery behind what goes into tattoo inks.

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The most dangerous chemical on their list was the infamous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — a chemical group found in mostly black inks that contain carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). These compounds can migrate through the skin and into the lymph nodes.

Also on their list were azo pigments, which make up about 60 percent of the color ingredients in tattoo inks. The good news is that azo pigments are quite safe when they enter the skin, but over time they degrade into potential carcinogens.

In a Swiss survey that sampled 229 tattoo inks, researchers found traces of problematic preservatives present in a quarter of the inks analyzed. These inks surveyed contained the skin irritation agent benzo-isothiazolinone and seven percent contained formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Huh?

(Fun fact: Did you know that formaldehyde is an embalming compound used in morgues and funeral homes?)

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Tattoo inks can also contain harmful metals such as nickelchromium, and cobalt.

How Do You Protect Thyself?

Don’t get a tattoo. Simple enough! But come on, it’s cool or maybe hot to get tatted up. Don’t be fooled by your favorite celebrities’ catchphrase and write it up your “butt” thinking it is a goodwill charm. It isn’t! Here’s exactly what you’re signing in onto your body for good.

Modern high-quality pigments are typically made from a variety of metal salts. And you guessed it, different metals pose different risk factors as well. What this means is that certain pigments are inherently riskier than others. The hotter/brighter the pigment, the riskier the risk. Kinda!

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Red pigments, in particular, are known to cause sensitive reactions and adverse health problems as compared with black pigments, which are easily sourced from safe and natural ingredients. Blues and greens are sourced from high-quality copper salts which tend to be safe but watch out for cobalt-based blue pigments. They aren’t safe!

The least reactive pigments in the market are white pigments, typically sourced from titanium oxide. Whereas pigments such as yellow are easily sourced from natural sources like turmeric or curcumin. These are mostly reactive because of how much pigment is needed to create bright colors.

Before You Get A Tattoo

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If you want to be safe about getting a tattoo, stick to reputable tattooists, and don’t be afraid to save up and pay a premium price. Cheap inks are cheap for reason. The cheaper the ink, the riskier. Unscrupulous tattooists won’t be honest with you about their supplies — a shred of evidence supporting that the craftsman isn’t worthy of the craft.

You should ask your tattooist to provide as much information as possible about where they source their inks and what they are made with — and not forgetting the colors involved as well. With all that said, would you still risk it? A tattoo is permanently on you, after all!

Let us know if you still want to get a tattoo. Tattoo the “Factionary” logo and send us a snapshot.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Apr 01, 2020.


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