Disclaimer: The tattoo inks pictured are examples of common China tattoo ink sold on Ebay, they have not been examined for any contaminants.

China Tattoo Ink
Whether or not China tattoo ink is safe has been an ongoing debate on many tattoo forums.  Currently only one government has banned the sale of unsafe tattoo ink, New Zealand, where they banned the sale of tattoo kits with ink on TradeMe.  This was due to findings by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma), that some ink samples from these tattoo kits, contained a metal that was prohibited by New Zealand’s Cosmetic Group Standards.  There have been numerous reports about weird reactions and health concerns from people that have been tattooed with China tattoo ink.


There is a large amount of counterfeit tattoo ink that originate from China.  Chinese Manufacturers have created fake versions of Intenze, MOM’s, Starbrite, Immortal, Kuro Sumi, Skin Candy and many other popular tattoo ink brands.  This has become such a big problem that some of these tattoo ink companies are creating methods to help tattoo artists to authenticate their tattoo ink.  At the very least, most of the major brands have a section on their website notifying artists about the existance of counterfeit tattoo ink.

So the fact is, there is a lot of China made tattoo ink being purchased in the United States and Canada.  The question is, is it safe?  Tattoo ink consists of 3 main ingredients: a dispersal agent, a disinfectant and pigment.  The first two components, is really hard to screw up.  The most common dispersal agent is Glycerin which is relatively cheap.  The most common disinfectant is alcohol and that is plentiful and cheap as well.  The pigment is what drives up costs for tattoo ink manufacturers.  Have you ever wondered why good brands of tattoo ink are usually a bit thicker?  That is because they are not cheaping out on the pigment.  The most common sign you have a counterfeited brand of tattoo ink is if the ink comes out of the bottle watery as hell.

In the United States, tattoo ink manufacturers are bound by regulations to produce ink that is safe and meet quality standards.  Since the company is based in the United States, if things went wrong with their ink, angry US citizens will sue.  The reputation of the entire company is at stake if such things happen.  Therefore it is in the companies best interest to maintain a high level of quality and safety for the tattoo ink they produce.  In China however, there are no regulations and the typical US citizen will be hard pressed to find an address and someone to talk to, much less being able to sue a Chinese company for damages.  The companies themselves do not operate under any brand names and have no reason to maintain any kind of reputation.  If the company had problems, it could just close shop, change name and operate again next week under a different name.

So is China tattoo ink dangerous?  So far we have only been able to confirm one study by New Zealand’s Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) that suggests they can be.  However, considering the lack of regulations China tattoo ink manufacturers face, it is not unlikely that some will decide to cut corners by choosing a harmful pigment that is cheaper for production.  At the least, you get watered down tattoo ink that won’t stay in the skin anyway.  At the worst, you have tattoo ink contaminated with god knows what.

References: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10680801