Tattoo Ink – A Complete Guide | Tattoo Ink vs Permanent Makeup Ink

Tattoo ink is used for tattooing. They are made of pigments that are mixed with the carrier. A variety of colors are available in tattoo inks. They can be combined or thinned to produce more shades and hues. Tattoo artists usually buy pre-made inks, which are also called pre-dispersed ink. Some artists also mix inks on their own with the carriers and pigments.

Tattoo inks are generally permanent, which makes the removal of tattoo painful and complicated, so you should make sure that when you decide on a design from millions of choices, it looks great for as long as possible.

It is ironic, though, that today where every 1 out of 5 adults have tattoos, not many people know what ingredients and chemicals go into making their tattoos. But we are here to give you all the information you might need about tattoo inks, what goes into making them, if they are safe or not, and which ink is better for you, and many other things.

What’s tattoo ink made of?

Tattoo inks are made of pigments that use a base substance and a carrier. Carrier is a solvent solution that is the same for almost all kinds of inks. It helps distribute the pigment from the needlepoint to the skin which surrounds it.

Composition of tattoo ink

Carriers help the ink by keeping it mixed evenly. It keeps it pathogen-free and helps in the application. When we use the base as alcohol, it increases the skin’s permeability and transports pigment easily into the skin or dermis. Other ingredients include:

  • Distilled water
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Denatured alcohols
  • Glycerine
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Methanol
  • Propylene glycol

Pigments: Pigments help in giving tattoos various colors. Originally, pigments were made of grounded ash or carbon for creating black ink. 

How does tattoo ink work?

Tattoo artists inject ink in a person’s skin through an electrical tattoo machine, which looks like a dentist’s drill. It punctures the skin while injecting ink in the second layer of the skin’s dermis, which lies under the epidermis.

The machine inserts a needle for puncturing the skin 50-3000 times in a minute and penetrates the person’s skin by a millimeter, depositing the insoluble ink in the skin. This process damages the skin. The body instantly releases white blood cells to absorb the ink particles and mixes them with the bloodstream. 

How many types of tattoo inks are there?

Blacklight or ink that glows in the dark:

Both these inks are used for tattoo purposes. The way glow in the dark ink works is that it retains and absorbs light, and when it is dark, it glows due to phosphorescence.

Black-light ink does not glow in the dark, and it reacts to the UV light, which is non-visible and produces a glow because of fluorescence. 

Although both the inks produce a glow, the result is majorly variable. If these inks are safe for human use or not, that has been a widely debated topic in the community of tattoo artists. 

These inks comprise 97.5% Polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) and 2.5% fluorescent dyes suspended in sterilized UV and distilled water.

Black henna

Black henna is a kind of tattoo ink that is temporary. It consists of (PPD) para-phenylenediamine, which is an ingredient used in hair dyes. Henna is usually applied externally on the skin when it is used as Mehandi. However, in a tattoo, the ink has to be inserted under the skin.

This is why medical professionals advise against using black henna as a permanent form of tattoo as PPD can cause itching, rashes, blisters, scarring, contact dermatitis, open sores, etc.

An alternative to black henna is Jagua, which is an ink based on fruits. It is a healthier substitute for black henna.

Removable tattoo ink

This type of ink has been introduced recently. It is developed because it is comparatively more comfortable to be removed by laser treatment from the traditional inks, which are very hard and painful to be removed.

Vegan tattoo ink

A lot of ink manufacturers have started producing inks that are vegan friendly. These are links that do not consist of by-products of animals like gelatin, glycerin, shellac, bone char.

How long does tattoo ink last?

The shelf life of a pigment varies with product storage, exposure to high temperatures, cross-contamination, opening, damage, radiation, UV rays, etc.

Unopened containers: The unopened pigments have a life of 3-5 years from the manufacturing date if they are kept in a dry and cool place and are not exposed to extreme temperatures.

Opened containers: these have a life of 12 months and should be thrown away after this time.

What tattoo ink lasts the longest, and which fades the fastest?

There are a variety of colors to choose from when getting tattooed. And because these are permanent tattoos, you want them to stay the same forever. But the color of a tattoo fades over time, no matter how vigorously you take care of it. 

The vibrant and lighter colors, like green, yellow, and pink, usually fade away faster than dark colors. Colors like gray and black are the best to choose if you want colors that don’t fade away quickly. These colors stay long because they are so bold and dense in appearance.

However, if the tattoo artist is not experienced enough, even blacks and grays could fade quickly. 

How far does tattoo ink spread?

A tattoo needle pokes the skin 100 times a second to deposit the ink 1.5-2 millimeters under the skin surface. This poking and puncturing is because the needle needs to penetrate the epidermis or the skin’s outer layer.

The epidermis is the part of the skin that keeps renewing itself. Every day the skin sheds a lot of epidermal cells and replaces them with new cells. Hence, if the tattoo artist injected the ink only in the outer layer, it would quickly get washed off in 3-4 weeks.

Hence, the needle is injected in the deeper layer, penetrating the epidermis so that the ink permanently stains the skin. The dermis or the more profound layer consists of blood vessels and nerves, which causes the skin to bleed and hurt while getting a tattoo.

The bleeding is the skin’s natural way of protecting the injury. Bleeding causes the cells that are immune to reach the place of injury to heal it faster.

What type of tattoo ink is best for sensitive skin?

For sensitive skin, an ink that is sterile with a vegan ink having organic pigments and no heavy metals is a safe option.

A sterile ink helps in preventing any skin infections. Still, the tattoo artist should also use equipment that is sanitized, like fresh needles. Other main things include knowing what the ink’s ingredients are and if they are safe for sensitive skin or not. And the ink shouldn’t have any heavy metals or contaminants.

Many ink manufacturers show the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) of their products so that people can check the pigments and suspensions or carriers used in making the tattoo ink. For instance, if you see ingredients like glycerin and witch hazel and have some problem with any of the ingredients, you can choose not to get inked from that ink.

Along with doing your research, the best thing would also be to talk to your tattoo artist because they would be more aware of the inks that they are using.

Why is tattoo ink leaking? And what should be done? 

It is usual for a tattoo to have ink dripping or leaking out of it for some days after getting inked. A good tattoo artist always packs as much ink as possible in the skin so that even after leaking and healing, the tattoo doesn’t lose its color and shade. Whereas when a tattoo artist doesn’t pack enough ink into the skin, then due to the leaking, the tattoo would be left faded and patched.

Hence, leaking and dripping just after getting a tattoo is expected. A person’s body naturally tries to push out the excess ink and plasma, and blood for a few days. The plasma and blood rise to the skin’s surface to activate the healing process; hence, the fluids mix along with the excess ink and flush it out. 

Usually, you can’t do anything to stop the leaking and dripping of blood and ink from your tattoo because it is a natural process. The body needs to ooze out this excess of ink in one way or other.

Although if your tattoo is often leaking, you can clean it gently. Otherwise, the constant leakage will start to harden on the skin’s surface and form a scab over the area. If it isn’t removed, then you can get an infection.

After cleaning, you can apply a tattoo lotion on the area to make it stay moisturized and nourished.

Why is tattoo ink bubbling up? And what should be done?

Sometimes when a tattoo is healing, things can go a little out of hand. One such common issue is the bubbling of tattoos. Tattoo bubbling is when the tattoo scab swells up and subsequently becomes gooey and soft. Tattoo bubbles up when the scab is very wet, which can happen when you don’t dry your tattoo correctly after taking a shower.

Hence, the scab gets saturated with water. And then, on top of it, you apply a lot of lotion or ointment. If your tattoo has a more significant surface area, then the chances of tattoo bubbling are more too. Although tattoos of any color and size can be prone to tattoo bubbling, it happens when the tattoo is in its healing stage.

They stick to clothes and can be accidentally pulled off while taking care of the tattoo.

Although the bubbling up of a tattoo is harmless, it can damage the tattoo’s appearance if you don’t take care of it. If you don’t get it treated, it can also cause an infection. 

Things to do when tattoo bubbles up:

  • Dry the tattoo as soon as possible
  • Do not apply any lotion or ointment for at least a day.
  • Please do not wash the tattoo till its completely dry
  • Do not touch the tattoo or let any clothes or accessories to come in contact with the bubbled up tattoo because that will rip off the scab and damage the tattoo.
  • Leave the tattoo to dry till you feel that the scab has become harder and is more attached to the skin. It might take a few hours.
  • You can go back to your routine of tattoo aftercare from the next day. But it would help if you were very cautious about drying the tattoo before applying any lotion or ointment.

Tattoo Ink vs Permanent make-up Ink

Permanent make-up and tattoo are two different things. Getting a tattoo is getting actual ink injected into your skin, whereas permanent ink consists of just pigments. The pigments mixed in permanent make-up are iron oxides, which are integrated with glycerin and water.

Whereas tattoo ink is made of carriers and pigments and chemicals like nickel, lead, chromium, etc. 

Permanent make-up comes in black pigments, pink shades for blushing of lips, and brown shades. At the same time, tattoo ink is available in every color.

Since tattoo ink consists of many problematic ingredients, it is more likely to give an allergic reaction than permanent make up as it only has pigments. Hence it is crucial to pick an experienced artist who maintains good hygiene in his salon or parlor and knows about the ingredients present in the tattoo ink they use.

Vegan Tattoo Ink vs Regular Tattoo Ink

The thing that makes vegan ink different from regular or non-vegan ink is that the ink’s black color is added with the bone char. Bone char is the one primary ingredient that makes an ink non-vegan. Other components are glycerin, which is animal-derived. It acts as a stabilizer and gelatin derived from cows and pigs and shellacs made from beetles’ crushed shells—this helps binds the inks.

A vegan ink uses logwood or carbon to form a black color. It uses a vegetable-based and witch hazel and ethanol glycerin.


These days getting a tattoo has become so popular, with one in every five adults getting tattooed and the average only keeps increasing. But with any such trend comes a few risks too. Hence, care should be taken after getting a tattoo because the ink in the tattoo may not always be safe for you. So it would be best if you always did your research before getting a tattoo about the tattoo artist, the place, the equipment they use, the ingredients in their ink, and the after-effects and care of your tattoo.