Tattoos are widely popular among all age groups, but are they safe? Many people believe that tattoo ink is made from vegetable dye but the truth is that most tattoo pigments are made up of metal salts and sometimes plastic that is dissolved in a solvent carrier solution that the pigment is suspended in to help move the ink through the needle to the skin.

The carriers (considered safe) can be made from:

  • Purified water, ethyl alcohol (ethanol) – can cause memory loss, inebriation, liver disease, cancer, witch hazel, glycerin, listerine, propylene glycol.
  • Denatured alcohols – are TOXIC and may be fatal if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through skin.
  • Methyl alcohol – repeated contact can cause skin cracking and dryness, possible liver damage, headaches, dizziness and even death.
  • Methanol – can effect the nervous system, but is water soluble so washes out fairly quickly
  • Isopropyl alcohol – the CDC suggests preventing skin contact. Can cause irritation to skin, eyes, nose, throat, dizziness, headache, dry cracking skin.
  • Ethylene glycol (antifreeze) – Is not intended for internal or topical use on humans. Can cause acute toxicity by dermal exposure, lesions, reproductive issues.
  • Formaldehyde – some individualsmay experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Possible carcinogen.

Any time you inject anything in to your skin you risk infection.

The shop might be spotless, the artist may do everything right…You can still get an infection from contaminated ink.

Tattoo machines puncture the skin 3000 times a minute with each poke leaving a hole 1/64th to 1/16th of an inch in diameter. Tattoo guns work much like a sewing machine piercing the skin over and over again depositing ink to achieve the desired design and effects. The wounds do scab over rather quickly but can still get infected during or after the healing process.

When pigments are injected into the skin because of the way the gun works it is possible that a tiny bit of the ink mixes with bodily fluids and gets sucked backwards into the machines themselves. The needles are changed but the machines motors can trap debris, which in theory could get passed on to the next client.


  • Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning it has detrimental effects on the nervous system, and can damage the brain and lead to physical and emotional disorders.
  • Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many of the body’s organs and tissues. In severe cases, lead poisoning symptoms can include seizures, coma and death.
  • Beryllium is listed as a Class A EPA carcinogen. Exposure can cause Chronic Beryllium Disease, an often-fatal lung disease.
  • Cadmium is a heavy metal that poses severe risks to human health, including kidney, bone, and pulmonary damage.
  • Arsenic is a known carcinogen, and new studies have also found that exposure to higher levels of arsenic leads to genetic damage.
  • Antimony exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, skin and lungs. As the exposure continues, more serious problems may occur, such as lung diseases, heart problems, diarrhea, severe vomiting and stomach ulcers.
  • Cobalt – in small amounts cobalt can be beneficial to the body. In larger amounts however, it can be dangerous causing nausea, vision issues, heart problems and thyroid damage.
  • Nickel – small quantities are safe. An uptake of too large quantities of nickel can increase the chances of development of lung cancer, nose cancer, larynx cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Aluminum has been linked directly to Alzheimer’s disease as well as heavy metal toxicity and sickness.
  • Glow in the dark inks may be not only toxic but radioactive.

Although most tattoo ink manufacturers consider their ingredient list proprietary information, some brands do release this information and make an effort to produce only nontoxic inks. Some of the tattoo ink manufacturers with the best policies regarding nontoxic inks, according to, include National Tattoo Supply, Eternal, Skin Candy, Dynamic and Kuro Sumi, all of which make significant efforts to ensure safe, as non-toxic as possible tattoo inks.

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