Some clients ask if the iron oxide in tattoo ink is harmful to the body. The fact is iron oxide pigments have been used in tattoo ink safely used for centuries. At present there have been no lawsuits to have successfully filed against iron oxide based inks. The basis for this concern is because natural iron oxides (dust and dirt) are found mixed with toxic metals like arsenic, lead and mercury. This is the reason the FDA has imposed regulations in the levels of such contaminants in tattoo ink. Many US tattoo ink manufacturers comply with the FDA suggested regulations, some however, have not. Tattoo inks that are made in China, are not regulated and recent news suggests that at least some of the made in China tattoo ink have unacceptable levels of contaminants.
What are Synthetic Iron Oxides?
Synthetic iron oxides are made with the goal of eliminating the toxic metals mixed with iron oxides. Synthetic iron oxides are inorganic and non magnetic, with the exception of some blacks. Their molecules are composed of many differently shaped crystals. UV light can change their structure resulting in loss of color. Many made in the USA tattoo ink that follow FDA guidelines use synthetic iron oxides.
Tattoo Ink Pigments Particles and the Dispersal Agent
Tattoo ink pigments are particles and therefore require a dispersal agent to make them flow to skin. The most common dispersal agents are water, ethyl alcohol and glycerin. There has been much disagreement over which dispersal agent is the best but their purpose is the same, to allow the pigment a means to disperse evenly in solution. At least some amount of alcohol mixed into the ink is highly recommended as alcohol is a very good sterilization medium.
What is Organic Pigment Tattoo Ink?
Some tattoo ink will use organic pigment. This is also popular with permanent makeup pigment and inks. Organic pigment are synthetic, not organic; they are named organic pigments because they are used to dye organic things. For example, organic pigments are used to make margarine appear more yellow. Some organic pigments have been found to be harmful whilst some are just fine, same goes with iron oxide pigments. There is no scientific proof that organic pigments as a whole are safer than iron oxides.
Allergic Reactions to Tattoo Ink
Some people say that iron oxide based pigment in tattoo ink is more likely to encourage allergic reactions. Allergic reactions from iron oxides are derived from various properties. Many allergic reactions to iron oxides can be explained by the presence of nickel. 18% of the general population is allergic to nickel and many iron oxide pigments contain at least some trace amounts of nickel. Many allergic reactions attributed to tattoo inks are actually the result of the person being allergic to the various ointments people use for tattoo aftercare.
Iron Oxides are Generally Safe
Iron oxides when processed properly are safe to use for pigments in tattoo ink. Human beings have been using iron oxides safely for a long duration of our history. Alternative pigments like organic pigments have not been proven to be safer than iron oxide. It is important to be aware of the potential dangers of all types of pigments before using them.