Tattooed Greenies – What’s Really Lurking Under Your Skin? post image

Tattooed Greenies – What’s Really Lurking Under Your Skin?

Several of my friends have gotten inked throughout the years – all for distinctly different reasons. Whether to honor their inner rock star, defy their middle class (possibly) pedestrian upbringing, dive head-first into the elite cool-club status or some variation therein, they’ve all shared one thing in common – they’ve all braved the chair and that scary, buzzing, bloody needle. I’ve become somewhat of an unintentional rebel for willingly retaining the alabaster canvas that Mother Nature gave me (“Seriously, you have NO tats? No holes or mutilations, either?? Really? Even granny has a *$#@ on her *$#@…”) – but truth be told, any sharp, shiny, metallic ink-delivery system designed to puncture the deeper layers of my dermis instantly becomes my arch enemy. And by that, I mean that I instinctually run far, far away. In my world, needles are best left for holy sock repairs, torn shirts and buttons that have jumped ship.

vegetarian tattoo

A significant portion of the tattooed population are Unaware

In spite of my needle phobia, I take my hat off to those who have undergone the transformation. I realize that it is a very personal decision that ultimately commemorates a certain mindset, a particular event, and even a distinctive point along the journey of one’s life. But, what if the components traditionally used to give your old-school Casper the Friendly Ghost tattoo its vibrancy and crispness are a modern-day greenies’ worst nightmare? Uh-oh. To this day, a significant portion of the tattooed population are unaware of the fact that inks and the pigments in them have been unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s only within the last several months that the FDA has begun to launch several long-overdue studies (estimated to take several years) surrounding the potential safety risks associated with tattoo inks, with a particular focus on the following issues:


If the name rings a bell, you may have noticed this common preservative in your favorite eye drops or contact lens solution. Normally used to kill the bacteria and fungus that may be present in countless vaccinations, medicines and over-the-counter preparations, thimerosal happens to be great at preserving tattoo inks. Unfortunately, this organic element also happens to contain mercury, which is a neurotoxin capable of harming the central nervous system.


Amazingly, tattoo inks have never been approved by the government as safe for humans – these are the very same pigments commonly used to tint automobiles and printers’ ink. Scientists have identified that over time, pigment does migrate from the tattooed area to the lymph nodes, potentially leading to health risks down the road – but they’re not yet sure precisely what those issues could be. What they are certain of is that many of the common ingredients in those pigments have been officially been linked to birth defects and cancer.


Green butterfly tattoo

Well, it depends on the manufacturer or tattoo artist, but generally speaking, tattoo ink consists of a color (either a toxic metal salt or plastic) suspended in a carrier fluid (a combination of glycerin and/or formaldehyde, propylene glycol, vodka, witch hazel, Listerine, anti-freeze, etc.). Metal salt pigments literally are metals that have oxidized to produce a color change. If you have a glow-in-the-dark tattoo, then you have plastic-based-ink under your skin. White ink is generally lead-based carbonate or zinc oxide, while green pigment consists of lead chromate which is profoundly toxic and a known carcinogen. Crimson ink is commonly made out of iron oxide, cadmium red and/or cinnabar – also highly toxic. The American Environmental Safety Institute claims that an average sized tattoo (3 inches by 5 inches) contains 1.23 micrograms of lead!!


Black pigments, derived from kerosene soot and burned animal bones, are considered to pose minimal health risks (if you don’t mind having carrying those kind of elements under your skin forever and aren’t a vegan). Blue and green copper salt pigments, purple dioxazine/carbazole pigments, and brown iron oxide pigments are also believed to be safe. But, if you are really concerned about what is being injected under your skin, it seems that your first line of defense should be to seek out a trusted tattoo artist who pursues more eco-friendly options and is open to showing you what ingredients are being used. I found this interesting article on toxin-free/heavy-metal-free tattoos that are available on the horizon (here) but as always, I must turn to Agriculture Guide readers to share their insights. Please speak up. I know you’re out there.

  1. Are you familiar with more eco-safe options for tattoo aficionados?
  2. Have you heard of any reputable companies that produce truly safe tattoo ink?

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