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The Ingredients in Tattoo Ink

Deepa Karandikar
Modern-day permanent tattoo ink contains ingredients that can cause severe health problems, from rashes to even cancer. You need to know what compound is used for imparting color to the ink, and also what is the carrier solution.
Footballer and model for Calvin Klein underwear, Fredrik Ljungberg, has suffered from blood poisoning and has had to have a lymph gland removed because of his tattoos.
Tattoos are amongst the most popular body art in today's world. Typically, it is a design or a word written on the body. Tattoos can be both permanent or temporary. Permanent tattoos are etched on the skin by injecting tattoo ink or pigment by penetrating needles in the top layer of the skin, and is done using a hand-held machine.
Thus, in the process of tattooing, your skin comes in contact with external factors like tattoo ink and needles. That is why, the ingredients of the tattoo ink and the cleanliness of the needles should be scrutinized thoroughly. Here, we shall tell you what the ingredients of tattoo ink are, and the effects they are found to have on one's health.

Ingredients in Tattoo Ink

Many companies do not reveal the ingredients of the tattoo ink that they manufacture, saying that it is their 'trade secret'.
However, according to the European Commission report, about 40% of the coloring agents used for making permanent tattoos are not suitable to be used for cosmetic purposes on the skin. They were, in fact, supposed to be used as printer's ink or in automobile paints. It has also been found that a little less than 20% contained a carcinogenic aromatic amine.
The main ingredients of tattoo ink are a pigment that imparts the color and a carrier solution. Heavy metals are used in these pigments.
  • Mercury for the color red.
  • Lead for the colors yellow, green, and white.
  • Cadmium for the colors red, orange, and yellow.
  • Nickel for the color black.
  • Zinc for the colors yellow and white.
  • Chromium for the color green.
  • Cobalt for the color blue.
  • Aluminum for the colors green, and violet.
  • Titanium for the color white.
  • Copper for the colors blue and green.
  • Iron for the colors brown, red, and black.
  • Barium for the color white.
▶ Antimony, arsenic, beryllium, calcium, lithium, selenium, and sulfur are some other elements that are used to impart color to the pigment.

▶ Some metal oxides like ferrocyanide and ferricyanide are used for the colors yellow, red, green, and blue.
▶ Sometimes, azo-chemicals are used for the colors orange, brown, yellow, green, violet, and naptha, and derived chemicals are used for red.

▶ Carbon soot is also used for the color black.
The carrier solution contains toxic chemicals like:
  • methanol
  • isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • denatured alcohols
  • antifreeze agents like ethylene glycol
  • formaldehyde or gluteraldehyde
  • detergents
"The substances found in the inks might be partially responsible for adverse skin reactions to tattoos."
― dermatologists from Germany's University of Regensburg

Possible Health Risks Associated With Tattoo Ink

  • The ingredients of tattoo ink can cause allergies to the skin. Some people may develop rashes, while others may feel itchiness at the spot where the tattoo is made.
  • There is a risk of cancer involved with tattoo ink, that contains hydrocarbons, especially black color ink. A chemical benzo(a)pyrene present in it is potentially carcinogenic. In animal tests, it has resulted in skin cancer.
  • After you get a tattoo, the exposed inner layers of the skin may get infected, resulting in redness and the oozing out of pus.
  • Tattoo ink contains the chemical dibutyl phthalate. Fetuses and infants, if exposed to this chemical, may develop serious health problems. Hence, pregnant women and lactating mothers should avoid exposure to tattoo ink.
  • Studies have revealed that the ink reaches into the body's lymph nodes, a part of the mechanism of the body to filter out disease causing microbes.
  • The heavy metals found in the pigment are toxic. They seep right into the cells of the skin and cause damage. They can mar the immunity of the body, lead to severe complications like cancer, Alzheimer's, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, and also cause diseases related to the kidneys, circulatory, and nervous system.
  • It has also been found that when people with tattoos do an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test, they suffer from burning pain at the tattoo site during the test.
The needles with which the ink is injected into the skin can also be a carrier of infections, leading to diseases like HIV AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, Syphilis, tetanus, etc.
Before you get a tattoo, insist on knowing the ingredients of the tattoo ink. Preferably opt for vegan, herbal, or organic tattoo ink. If you already have a tattoo, detoxify your body regularly to avoid any complications.