How to Ensure Your Body Art is Safe

Tattoos have been around for so long that their safety is often just assumed. Is that guaranteed? Unfortunately not, and that goes for both temporary tattoos and permanent ones. As with everything we consume, we must question the ingredients so that we’re not unwittingly inviting toxins into our precious bodies.

Today, a huge number of people in the US have at least one tattoo. But how many of them checked up on the ink ingredients? It pays to consider this for the sake of long-term health. Don’t worry; it’s still possible to get a permanent or temporary tattoo without damaging your body. Some tattoo inks and skin dyes are much safer than others.

The FDA doesn’t regulate tattoo ink ingredients

Although the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates foods and other substances designed for ingestion, it doesn’t do so for what you place under your skin, which includes tattoo inks. This is what the FDA has to say:

‘The FDA considers the inks used in intradermal tattoos, including permanent makeup, to be cosmetics. The pigments used in the inks are color additives, which are subject to premarket approval under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. However, the FDA traditionally has not exercised regulatory authority for color additives on the pigments used in tattoo inks. The actual practice of tattooing is regulated by local jurisdictions.’

Ink suppliers aren’t legally required to list what goes into their products. That means we need to do our homework on the ingredients to determine their safety.

What could be in your permanent tattoo ink?

All tattoo ink brands are different, and their products include different ingredients – there isn’t one ‘go to’ list for reference. However, it is still possible to find out what’s gone into the ink from any one brand. Generally, permanent tattoo inks contain the following:

Dyes and pigments

These might contain metallic salts such as sulfides, oxides, and selenides. There can be around fifty different types of pigments in tattoo ink, and they may also be industrial grade, meaning they’re used for painting cars.


These make the ink application easier and prevent pathogens from developing. However, they can contain antifreeze, denatured alcohols, methanol, formaldehyde and other aldehydes.

Heavy metals

Your tattoo ink may contain lead, chromium, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, mercury, nickel, carbon black and ash.


Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a form of heat-resistant plastic. It is ground down to make the inks, as it makes strong colors. Pigments that contain plastics can cause allergic reactions. Blue ink can contain cobalt or copper, yellow can contain cadmium sulfite, and red cinnabar can contain mercury. These colors can trigger an allergic reaction.


Benzo(a)pyrene (found in black tattoo inks). There are more chemicals and ingredients than we can go into here, so check out this more detailed listand ink color breakdowns if you would like to know more.

Ways to ensure your tattoos are safe

It is possible to find safe inks. You might even be able to acquire the inks yourself and ask your preferred artist to use them. Firstly, make sure your artist is a licensed professional who is open about their practices and products. Here’s what else you could benefit from doing:

Choosing safe carriers

Carriers that contain pure (e.g. distilled) water, glycerin and ethanol are better than those that contain chemicals.

Choosing non-toxic colors

  • For black tattoos, go for logwood and carbon
  • For blue tattoos, pick copper or sodium
  • For white tattoos, choose titanium dioxide
  • For green tattoos, opt for carbon-based monoazo
  • For yellow tattoos, you can use turmeric
  • For purple tattoos, use carbazole
  • For red tattoos, go for naphthol.

Whatever you do, don’t get neon pigment. It’s highly unnatural and therefore more toxic than other colors.

Going vegan

Vegan tattoo inks are made with compassion in mind, and that goes for both you and the animals. Cruelty-free pigment is generally made from less toxic/non-toxic ingredients. Vegetable dyes are much better for your body, for example.

This list of vegan inks will give you an idea of what to ask for, or to buy in before your tattoo. It also contains a list of US based tattoo artists who have confirmed that they use vegan ink and offer full disclosure on what’s in the products (MSDS).

Asking for Material Safety Data Sheets

Always ask your prospective artist for an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on their tattoo inks. A reputable artist will be happy to provide this for every pigment and carrier in the inks they use. The sheet will give you all the necessary information on the substances so that you decide if the ink is right for you.

Doing skin tests

It doesn’t hurt to have a spot test of all the inks you’re planning to use in your tattoo. This way you might find out if you’re likely to have a reaction.

Temporary tattoo dangers

When it comes to henna tattoos, if you choose a Body Art Quality (BAQ) henna, you should have no problems. Henna is a natural dye and has been used safely for over five thousand years. It doesn’t contain a range of different synthetic elements; however, you should always do research on your chosen products; check that no toxic ingredients have been added.

Black henna, it should be said, is not henna at all; henna is never black. It also goes by the name of kali mehndi or piko, so watch out for those names. Black henna contains the toxic chemical PPD (p-paraphenylenediamine) and it is used for both body art and hair dye. Although it might contain some natural henna (not always), it is not to be mistaken for natural henna.

There are many reports all over the net of allergic reactions, necrosis, hypopigmentation, burned skin and scarring, none of which is worth the risk. If you want a black temporary tattoo, you’re much better off with natural jagua gel, whichlooks similar to black hennabut is non-toxic and offers a beautiful blue/black, long-lasting stain.

Henna City takes your health and safety seriously, so we only offer the highest BAQ, pure, natural ingredients. We hope that you’ll make the best decisions for your health, while creating the most beautiful body art you can imagine!