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Tattoo Ink Chemicals

Chemicals in Tattoo Ink

Tattoos are becoming an increasingly popular trend in today’s society.  Many people are getting tattoos without knowing what is in the ink that is injected into their skin.  This is leading to increased reactions both toxic and allergic to tattoo ink.

This information is meant to inform the consumer population about the risks of using tattoo ink in their bodies.  Most reputable tattoo shops and artists use good quality inks.  But, these are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Some of the chemicals in tattoo ink are also used in car paint and computer printer ink.

Here is a list of some known chemicals in tattoo ink:

  • Mercury – Mercury is found mostly in red inks and one of the biggest causes for allergic reactions from tattoo inks.  Mercury is a very toxic substance and can cause a rash (sometimes known as a “red reaction” in the industry), granulomas and lichenoid reactions on the skin.  Look for the name cinnabar on ink bottles.
  • Azo-chemicals – These chemicals are marketed as organic materials, but have been found to cause nodular granulomas and hypersensitivity reactions.  They have also been implicated in basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer).  These chemicals are found in orange, brown, yellow, green and violet inks.
  • Glow in the dark inks – These are a popular choice as they take up light particles and “glow in the dark.”  These inks contain Polymethylmethacrylate and fluorescent dye.
    They are said to be as safe as any other tattoo ink, but tattoo artists state that they can cause reactions in the skin and have not been used enough to know long term complications.
  • Various other toxic chemicals – Ink colors contain a lot of various chemicals that are not as toxic, but can cause reactions in sensitive people.  Listed below are some various other chemicals used to make tattoo ink:

Iron Oxides – Black, brown and red inks.

Cadmium – Red and Orange inks

Lead – Yellow, Green and White inks

Nickel – Black ink

Zinc – Yellow and White ink

Aluminum – Green and Violet inks

Titanium – White ink

Copper – Blue and Green ink

Ferrocyanide (cyanide forms from the creation of this chemical) – Used in yellow, red, blue and green inks

Naptha – This is a common solvent found in gasoline and lighter fluid. This is also used in some red inks

Carbon (ashes) Used in black ink

Other chemicals in tattoo ink

Tattoo pigments need to be mixed in a carrier for delivery into the skin.  These carriers can be substances that can cause reactions themselves, or cause the toxins from the pigments to enter the bloodstream faster.  Some of the carriers used in tattoo inks are:

Ethyl alcohol


Denatured alcohol


Rubbing alcohol

Propylene glycol


Some carriers have even been known to contain ethylene glycol, which is another name for antifreeze and is highly toxic.  Also, when any toxic or cancer causing substance is used with alcohol, it makes the substance more toxic.

The best way to be safe with tattoo inks is make sure the artist uses a reputable supplier and obtain a full list of ingredients prior to getting the tattoo.  And you can never be 100 percent certain that any ingredient, even though considered safe, will not cause an allergic reaction in your body.  Educate yourself and make a wise decision before introducing any foreign substance into your body.