Inside: All about tattoo ink formulation, what’s inside of it and is it really safe to put into your body?

Timeless and classy, tattoos are perhaps the oldest way of decorating and personalizing your body. Defined by self-expression and creative freedom, tattoos are an ultimate form of art and have been around for centuries.

In the 1800s, they were considered a sign of being a criminal or deviant.

However, today they are a visual display of personal narrative and reminders of cultural traditions, values, and memories.

what is tattoo ink made of?

What Are Tattoos?

Tattoos are a type of permanent body art made by injecting tattoo ink, dyes, and other pigments into the superficial dermis layer of the skin. Artists use modern tattoo machines with electromagnetic coils to move an armature bar up and down – connected to this bar is a barred needle grouping that pushes ink into the skin.

While these designs may be skin deep, the reality is that their significance goes far deeper. They are a form of self-expression, giving us an insight into the nature and personality of the wearer.

More often than not, tattoos represent something of incredible personal value and importance.

With a little guidance, reading someone’s tattoos can be like interpreting someone’s past.

What Is Tattoo Ink Made Of?

Tattoo Ink is generally made up of eight primary ingredients:

  1. Pigment – Most standard tattoo pigments are a variable combination of iron oxide, metal salts, and plastics consisting of multiple heavy metals, including beryllium, antimony, arsenic, cobalt, nickel, and chromium.
  2. Binding Agents – Binders are non-volatile compounds within the tattoo pigment added with the intent to make pigment particles stick with one another and to the tattooing needle for a more effective transfer and dispersal of ink into the skin. The most common binders used include Polyether, Shellac, Polyvinylpyrrolidone, and black co-polymer.
  3. Solvents – Binders and pigments are then dissolved into a solvent of choice, usually water, or neutralized with an alkaline solution. Sometimes polyvalent alcohols may also be used for the purpose, but makers must be very stingy with this particular solvent as alcohol in high concentrations can irritate the skin.
  4. Surfactants – The presence of a binder increases the attraction between the pigment molecules. When cohesion between pigment particles increases, so does their surface tension – an inherent tendency of liquid surfaces at rest to shrink and occupy as minimum surface area as possible. This property affects the interaction of molecules with other elements in the formulation, causing them to accumulate into a larger structure that cannot be dispersed.

tattoo ink ingredients and safety

To combat the issue, makers add surfactants like tensides in the tattoo ink to stabilize the mixture by eliminating excess air and increasing its shelf life.

  1. Thickening agents – To further inhibit the process of aggregation of pigment and binder particles, thickening agents are added to tattoo ink to amplify its structural viscosity and thixotropy. Thixotropy is a property most commonly observed in ingredients like ketchup which become viscous when still but becomes liquid when shaken. Agents like silica are utilized to stabilize the yielding point without affecting the shear processing conditions.
  2. Fillers – These are auxiliary materials added to tattoo ink to exclude unwanted characteristics of a certain ingredient and enhance the wanted characteristics of others. Fillers must be added in a very small quantity, not greater than 5%, as excess can disturb the formulation.
  3. Preservatives – Like any product with a high water concentration, tattoo ink must be protected from the wrath of microbial contamination, the growth of which can trigger massive allergic reactions. To prevent this from happening, the pH of the solution should be kept at 0.6 – this is done by adding preservatives like formaldehyde.
  4. Carriers – One of the most crucial components of the tattoo ink solution as a carrier is an ingredient that helps transfer pigment from the needle trauma to the surrounding dermis. They keep the solution evenly mixed and pathogen-free. Most carriers are some type of alcohol as they help increase skin permeability, effectively dispersing more pigment into the skin. Some common carriers include ethyl alcohol, methanol, and propylene glycol.

Maintaining Tattoo Ink Quality

When talking about tattoo ink, two dimensions must be kept in mind to ensure quality, consistency, and safety. Consistency means that each batch of ink should have the same viscosity, color, and component combinations. For instance, all batches of blue ink should look exactly the same.

To attain this goal, strict quality control processes must be enforced to keep check of formulation at every step of the process.

To maintain the second dimension, each batch of raw materials must be tested to check for impurities and inorganic substances like heavy metals and PAHs. To do so, many rules have been put in place, including:

  • Using tools with no nickel contamination
  • All plastic-made components must conform to the criteria of EU and FDA regulations
  • To eliminate microbiological pollution, all batches are sterilized with gamma rays

tattoo ink 101 - what is the formulation

Bottom Line

Making tattoo ink with the right formulation is no easy task. It requires precision, calculation, and utter concentration as even the slightest errors can cause a massive difference in quality and safety.

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