What Is Tattoo Ink Made Of – Chemistry of Tattoo Ink

Many early tattoo inks were prepared using burnt wood ashes. The wood ashes were nearly pure carbon, which yielded a black to brown tattoo. Today you can’t be 100% certain, as manufacturers of inks and pigments are not required to reveal the contents. A professional who mixes his or her own ink from dry pigments will be most likely to know the composition of the inks.

However, the information is proprietary (trade secrets), so you may or may not get answers to questions. Most tattoo inks technically aren’t inks. They are composed of pigments that are suspended in a carrier solution. Contrary to popular belief, pigments usually are not vegetable dyes.

Today’s pigments primarily are metal salts. However, some pigments are plastics and there are probably some vegetable dyes too. The pigment provides the color of the tattoo. The purpose of the carrier is to disinfect the pigment suspension, keep it evenly mixed, and provide for ease of application.

What Chemicals are in Tattoo Ink?

Is Tattoo Ink Safe

Some recent studies have been done to see the possible long-term effects of tattoo inks. These studies are few and far between but are the beginning of really getting to know the possible skin and health reactions to tattoos.

Some fairly common reactions to tattoo ink include allergic rashes, infection, inflammation from sun exposure, & chronic skin reactions. These reactions could be linked to the presence of harmful chemicals in most mainstream tattoo inks. Phthalates and benzo(a)pyrene are two of the most harmful chemicals present, both having been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption. They can also be found on the EPA’s carcinogen list.

Safest and Most Common Ingredients

  • Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)
  • Purified water
  • Witch hazel
  • Listerine
  • Propylene glycol
  • Glycerine (glycerol)

What Does Ink Consist Of?

Not all tattoo inks are created the same way. When planning for a new tattoo, it is essential to work with a professional tattoo artist who invests in high-quality ink that is both safe and effective. Tattoo ink is a solution that typically consists of two main components:


When selecting a tattoo design, most individuals are focused on the color of the ink. However, the carrier plays a strong role that is equally important to the success of the overall design. The carrier component of the tattoo ink solution allows the color to be transported to the tattoo’s actual location.

Carriers may contain a variety of ingredients, such as water, alcohol, or witch hazel. Most tattoo artists prefer alcohol-based carriers because these types are not only effective but also the safest. This is because the alcohol prevents bacteria from growing in the ink solution.


The colorant is the most apparent component of the tattoo ink solution because it gives the ink its color. Most tattoo ink solutions use pigments rather than dyes to achieve the desired hue. This is because pigments can provide concrete shades, and they do not rely on a chemical reaction to develop the correct color. Pigments are more reliable, and they stay in place within the design better than dyes would.

It is important to be aware that every tattoo ink color is created with different ingredients. Previously, most tattoo ink solutions were made with mineral-based pigments. However, many people had adverse reactions to these and would develop an allergy to their body’s permanent tattoo. The vast majority of colorants created for tattoo ink solutions are now carbon-based. Most of the best tattoo ink manufacturers prefer to rely on organic ingredients to make pigments.

There may be other additive ingredients in your tattoo ink in addition to having both a colorant and a carrier. These additives can include preservatives or binding agents that are designed to provide vibrant, long-lasting results. It would be best to talk with your tattoo artist about the ink they use, so they can give you as much information as they can on the brand. If for some reason they do not have the information you’re looking for they can contact the manufacturer directly.

How Does Tattoo Ink Work?

Tattoo ink can permanently embed itself in the skin when it is properly injected with a needle. It takes more than just luck and skill to design a beautiful tattoo, be it a Raven Tattoos or anything else, that will last for years to come. Tattoo artists need to understand the science behind creating a tattoo, too.

Ink Placement

The tattoo artist has to inject the ink solution into the right layer of the skin to achieve permanent results. Ink needs to reach the skin’s dermis layer, which is the thickest layer between the epidermis and hypodermis. The ink needs to get to the dermis because it does not shed itself as quickly as the epidermis. Every person has a fresh epidermis layer every three to four weeks, and if the ink does not penetrate past the epidermis, the tattoo will fade away within a matter of weeks.

Immune Response

It may be a surprise to find out that your body’s immune system is responsible for the permanency of your tattoo. When the ink arrives in the dermis layer, the immune system immediately assumes that the body is under attack. As part of the immune response, macrophages are sent to the area where the tattoo is being applied.

Under normal circumstances, the macrophages attack and destroy the invading particles. However, the ink solution particles are too large for the macrophages, and therefore, they cannot be eliminated by the body. This is what allows for a permanent tattoo to stay in place on the skin.


In general, tattoo ink is considered safe, especially if you are getting a tattoo at a reputable parlor with qualified and skilled tattoo artists who use quality tattoo guns. However, there are some risks involved with having tattoo ink injected into your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the chemical composition of tattoo ink?

Results Of the 30 tattoo inks studied, the most commonly identified elements were aluminum (87% of the pigments), oxygen (73% of the pigments), titanium (67% of the pigments), and carbon (67% of the pigments).

Does tattoo ink have copper in it?

Yes, tattoo ink contains potentially harmful metal impurities such as copper, and cobalt

What are the ingredients in black tattoo ink?

Black is the most commonly used tattoo ink. The ingredients of black ink are iron oxide, carbon, and logwood.

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