With the rising number of body art forms becoming mainstream in the public eye or generation pool, there’s also an impending question which ensues asking if tattoos are safe. Some folks will argue not to get one in the first place, though with immense experience in the field, my opinion & research differs. I’ve created a comprehensive guide for you on choosing proper tattoo inks, along with what solutions are available.
What You Should Know
It is standard for a tattooer to use only unexpired, up to date ink. Confirm this with your chosen practitioner. Though, the FDA has very loose regulation on tattoo ink use or production, nor requires ingredients to be listed for the public, so it’s your responsibility to choose a tattoo artist who has proper discretion on safety. It’s okay to ask your tattooer questions about their practice before choosing them. Everyone has different practices around consulting, but you should be able to get some answers through an email. Do not give business to any body art technician who does not respect your wishes.
Artificial red formulas are typically harder on the body, have increased risk of toxin usage & are more prone to inflammation.
Inks with mercury, cadmium, iron oxide, Benzo[a]pyrene (also found in cigarette smoke), phthalates, & more can cause legitimate health concerns.
Not every ink is made cruelty free or without animal products, if that’s something you wish to factor in on your decisions for an artist or ink formula.
Traditionally manufactured UV ink or completely white ink tattoos are not really worth it, as they are extremely prone to fading or diffusing under the skin.
There are options for safer, non-toxic ink formulas!
From an excerpt in a report by the Guardian,
“A recent report from the European Commission warns that tattoo ink often contains “hazardous chemicals” such as heavy metals and preservatives that could have serious health consequences, including bacterial infections. A separate study issued earlier this month by the Australian government reveals that 22% of the inks tested contained chemical compounds known to cause cancer.” Read the full report here. This is why I’m a passionate advocate for improving our access to non-toxic inks from transparent sources.
Furthermore, body art can actually improve our overall resistance to pathogens under the right circumstance. We understand that receiving just one tattoo can drop your immune system’s strength, & certain inks can have a negative impact as well. However, getting several tattoos, non-toxic ink implied, actually boosts the immune system. This is showcased by fluctuations in immunoglobulin A levels, measurements of which indicate a more solidified immunological response after a handful of sessions receiving body art. Click for more on that from Science Alert.
Recalled Inks 2019
Please keep up to date with researching recalled inks on your own time! For mass manufacturing centers, there’s usually semi-frequent occurrences you have a right to be aware of.
Scalpaink SC, Scalpaink PA, and Scalpaink AL basic black tattoo inks manufactured by Scalp Aesthetics (all lots)
Dynamic Color - Black tattoo ink manufactured by Dynamic Color Inc (lots 12024090 and 12026090)
Solid Ink - Diablo (red) tattoo ink manufactured by Color Art Inc. (dba Solid Ink) (dba Antone's Ink) (lot 10.19.18)
Other Ink Brands to Avoid
White and Blue Lion
A Thousand Virgins
Products to Ditch
What to avoid when using aftercare. These will work in a pinch if you use a very small amount, & wash well before, though your best bet is to take them off the shelf when it comes to your body art aftercare options.
Neosporin: believe it or not, this is a frequent allergen among consumers. It also is not suitable for daily-basis use on the same wound.
Petroleum: contrary to what “American traditional” practices suggest, this will strip the ink to some degree. It can also trap bacteria, which hinders the healing process. Vaseline, A&D, as well as aquaphor all have petroleum in them.
Lanolin: an animal-derived “moisturizing” agent also susceptible to interfering with pigmentation.
Concerns with Generalized Tattoo Inks
Since inks are under-regulated in terms of safe ingredients, there are several problems that may arise. For example, issues with sunlight or elemental exposure are extremely common. Granulomas as well, “small knots or bumps that form around areas where the body senses foreign material,” (definition from WebMD) can form with artificial formulas or ones made without much regard for the body’s relationship to its contents. Other issues worth noting that can appear with ill-crafted inks:
Lymph node absorption of the inks
Allergies or sensitivities to artificial ingredients
Materials which may harm endocrine or immune systems
Sacred Pokes offers a variety of inks, each pre-tested & up to non-toxic standards. We utilize them in our own sessions, as well as can outsource them to other tattooers by wholesale or retail. Some of our carrier ingredients include witch hazel, vegetable glycerin, & colloidal silver, among other natural components selected for their heavy metal removal capabilities. Black pigment is made with activated charcoal, colors are made from various organic plant powders.
How our inks work is by understanding the skin as an organ. We consider the cycle of macrophages, immune cells within the dermis skin layer who consume dying cells & intruders to the typical subsurface environment. Macrophages eat the tattoo pigment, seeing it as a foreign substance, then eventually die themselves. When macrophages pass, they release the ink they had stored. New ones come in, consume the ink, & hold the piece in place.
What we see as a still, non-moving tattoo has just as much cellular turnover as the rest of our bodies. So, we must utilize inks with ingredients that are supportive to this process. Being the location of puncture is filled with blood vessels, nerves, lymphoid structures, macrophages & more, the solution is to opt for formulas crafted in support of these systems.
For example, the ingredient of colloidal silver has been found to essentially eradicate any single-celled pathogen by smothering its ability to metabolize oxygen. This kills the infiltrating bacteria or virus, which is picked up by the nearby immune & lymphatic systems to be eliminated. Meanwhile, it does not harm necessary enzymes or further promote scarring, something inorganic antibiotics cannot do. It also works as a contagion preventative. Source.
Please request a session or place a pre-order for inks, if you would like to opt in for a safer & non-toxic experience.
Coconut oil is a highly-preferred option; unrefined, cold-presser, “virgin,” or raw would be ideal for skin.
Cocoa or shea butters are also highly effective & can be well-applied without having to be concerned about stripping pigments.
Tattoo Goo is a brand that has been very mindful of its ingredients, & is suited for non-toxic use. Contains beeswax.
Sacred Pokes also carries an imprint balm, with colloidal silver, essential oils, & mushroom-based skin protectant. Contains no animal derived ingredients.
Recommended Reading Resources
These articles are shared for further insight, though I encourage you to use discernment. Through years in this trade I’ve put together what is or isn’t helpful; these sources provide notably helpful information but do not speak to the absolute opinion of myself or body art practitioners as a whole.