Are Tattoos Bad For You? Natural Tattoo Safety Tips

Considering getting inked? Of course, it’s an important decision since you’re getting a design permanently tattooed onto your skin. But what’s oftentimes overlooked are the actual ingredients used in tattoo ink. Are tattoos safe? Are they toxic or bad for you? Let’s dive into all the natural tattoo safety tips that you need to be aware of. Most tattoo artists won’t share (or even know) the full risks associated with tattoos. Understanding the potential risks and safety measures can help you make a well-informed decision.

Keep reading to learn more about tattoo safety!

Are Tattoos Healthy?

Note: This article contains affiliate links, meaning In On Around will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps us maintain the site. As always, we value full transparency & only work with brands we love and trust.

This article is co-authored by Kathlyn Carney and Catherine Power

Summary: If you’re thinking about getting tattoo, you should be aware of all the potential risks. Make a conscious + informed choice. It’s essential to go to a hygienic shop that uses high-quality inks. Prioritize caring for the wound afterward to avoid infections.

Table of Contents

What's a Tattoo?

Getting tattoos is getting more and more popular these days. Many individuals prefer small, delicate tattoos on their fingers or ankles, or even full sleeves.

In fact, according to Pew Research, a little over 30% of people in the United States have at least one tattoo. Almost 70% of the people in the US with tattoos said that they got their tattoo to honor someone or something, so they definitely can hold a lot of meaning for people. But you may not know what tattoos are made of or how they become permanent additions to your body. 

A tattoo is a form of permanent body art created by injecting ink, dyes, or pigments into the second layer of skin, known as the dermis. The process involves using needles to deposit the ink beneath the surface, where it stays trapped as the skin heals over it. This results in a design that becomes part of the skin. Tattoos can come in various designs and styles, and a professional who creates these designs is called a tattoo artist. 

Before getting a tattoo, it is important to be informed about what a tattoo actually is made of and be sure that you want the design on your skin permanently. Tattoo removal is painful, expensive, and may not be great for you (but more on that later).

The History of Tattoos

Tattooing has a very rich and diverse history! It has been used in many different cultures to represent power or shame. Historical evidence has shown that cultures from Africa, Siberia, Polynesia, South America, and Greece practiced tattooing for many different reasons. Some cultures wanted to mark special events with tattoos and others used tattoos as a form of punishment. 

Early evidence of tattooing dates back thousands of years. The oldest known tattoos were found on the Iceman, discovered on the Italian-Austrian border, who lived around 5,200 years ago. 

Tattoos in Egypt

Ancient Egyptian female mummies from circa 2000 BCE also show tattoos, and small bronze tattooing tools dating back to around 1450 BCE were found in Egypt. It is interesting because there is not much evidence of Egyptian men from this time having tattoos. Historians suggest this could be because women got them for decoration or because women were given tattoos as a form of medical treatment. 

Tattoos in China, Greece, and Rome

There is also evidence of tattoos in China from 2100 to 550 BC. However, it is believed that people who were convicted of crimes received tattoos on their faces to let people know they were criminals. Similar to China, records in Greece and Rome from the 5th century BCE show that tattoos were given to criminals and prisoners of war. 

Tattoos in Samoan Culture

Tattoos have had a very different meaning in Samoan culture. Tattoos have been such an important part of their traditions for over two thousand years. Tattoos are handmade, and it is typical for fathers to teach their sons how to tattoo. For Samoans, tattooing can take a long time, and tattoo ceremonies are common. Tattoo ceremonies are “generally held to mark a younger chief’s ascension to a leadership role within society.” After enduring the long and painful process, the tattoo becomes a symbol of their dedication. 

A fun fact for you, the word tattoo in the English language may be derived from the Samoan word tatau! 

The Tattoo Process - How It Works

The process of getting a tattoo today involves several steps and the use of modern technology. This process has evolved over time. The first electric tattoo machine, patented by Samuel O’Reilly in 1891, revolutionized tattooing and increased its popularity. In the past, inks were made from geological or mineral sources, but today, organic pigments are more commonly used, along with preservatives, binders, and fillers.

Here is a summary of the tattooing process:

1 - Preparation

You’ll need to bring your ID to the tattoo shop to show that you are 18 or older. If you’re under 18, a parent or guardian must accompany you to sign a consent form.

2 - Design and Stencil

The artist will prepare the design you’ve chosen, either by tracing a standard design or creating a custom sketch. This design is then turned into a stencil.

3 - Setup

The artist will set up the workstation with items that may include petroleum jelly, ink, needles, a tattoo machine, ink caps, antibacterial soap, and a disposable razor.

4 - Skin Preparation

The chosen area for the tattoo is disinfected and shaved to prevent infection and ensure smooth needle operation.

5 - Stencil Application

The stencil is transferred onto your skin, ensuring the placement is correct.

6 - Inking

The artist fills the ink caps with the chosen colors and opens a new, sterile needle.

7 - Tattooing

The artist fills the ink caps with the chosen colors and opens a new, sterile needle.

8 - Shading and Coloring

Depending on the design, different needles may need to be used for outlining, shading, and coloring. This process can be time-consuming. 

9 - Completion

Once the tattoo is finished, the artist cleans the area with soapy water, applies ointment, and then bandages it to prevent infection.

10 - Aftercare Instructions

The artist will provide aftercare instructions, which are crucial for proper healing. The healing process involves several stages:

  • Stage One (Days 1-6): Oozing, swelling, and redness, with scabbing starting to form. During this stage, it is important to apply warm water and fragrance-free soap on the tattooed area with clean fingers (avoid rough napkins or washcloths).
  • Stage Two (Days 7-14): Itching and flaking as the dead skin and scabs fall away. During this stage, it is critical to keep the skin moisturized. A great moisturizer that you could use is jojoba oil! 
  • Stage Three (Days 15-30): The tattoo appears healed but may still be repairing deeper skin layers. Continue moisturizing to prevent dryness.

Following these steps carefully will help your tattoo heal properly and without complications. 

Most people are not informed about these risks before getting a tattoo. There should be no shame in having one!

What Chemicals Are In Tattoo Ink?

Tattoo inks are made up of various chemicals and ingredients, which can include both pigments and carrier solutions. The pigments provide the color, while the carrier solution helps deliver the pigment into the skin and can also control the ink’s consistency/solubility.

Tattoo Pigments

According to Tattify, pigments can contain various metals and compounds: [1]
  • White pigments: may contain lead, zinc, titanium, and barium.
  • Yellow pigments: often have lead, cadmium, and zinc.
  • Red pigments: can include mercury, cadmium, and iron.
  • Orange pigments: usually have cadmium.
  • Green pigments: may contain lead, chromium, aluminum, and copper.
  • Blue pigments: often have copper and cobalt.
  • Black pigments: typically contain nickel and iron.

Tattoo Carrier Solutions

Wellness Mama shared that carrier solutions can often include: [2]

  • Solvents: such as ethanol, isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), glycerin, and propylene glycol.
  • Emulsifiers: which can be a variety of esters.
  • Binders: such as polyethers, polyvinylpyrrolidone, block-copolymers, and shellac.
  • Anti-foaming agents: like polydimethylsiloxane.
  • Preservatives: including parabens, phenols, formaldehyde, methylisothiazolinone, and various petrochemicals.


As if the ingredients in the pigments and carrier solutions aren’t frightening enough, tattoos may be contaminated with: 

  • Microorganisms: including bacteria like “Staphylococci, Streptococci, and Pseudomonas species.”
  • Nanoparticles: these may be dangerous because they can make their way into the bloodstream and potentially cause toxicity.

Hidden Ingredients - Are Tattoos Toxic?

Recent studies, like the one done at Binghamton University, have shown that many tattoo inks, actually 83% of inks, contain substances not listed on their labels, such as pigments, additives, and even antibiotics. [3]

This lack of transparency can pose additional risks to those getting tattoos. If people were more informed about this issue, they may be less likely to get a tattoo or more likely to get a tattoo using the ink from a transparent brand. 

According to the study, the ink brand Dynamic was the only one they tested that was fully transparent. It’s also important to note that unless specified as “non-toxic” or “chemical-free,” tattoo inks can contain potentially harmful elements. [3]

Are Tattoos Safe- 4

Tattoo Ink Regulations

The FDA’s oversight of tattoo ink is not as stringent as it is for drugs or medical devices, but they do focus on the color additives used in the inks. The FDA has some oversight on the ingredients (some, not all), but not the entire final tattooing product. This means that while color additives must be approved for cosmetic use, the overall safety and efficacy of the inks aren’t evaluated. 

As a conscious consumer, you must do your due diligence. Do your research!

The Toxicity of Tattoos - Potential Health Risks

Tattooing can pose several health risks, primarily due to the potential contamination of tattoo inks with microorganisms. Studies have shown that tattoo inks can be polluted with various bacteria, including Staphylococci, Streptococci, and Pseudomonas species, despite the presence of preservatives. [4]

These bacterial contaminations can lead to infections, which might occur due to multiple factors: 

  • Contaminated Ink: The FDA found that inks can become contaminated with bacteria, mold, or other microorganisms. Even sealed containers labeled as sterile can harbor these contaminants, often due to non-sterile water used to dilute the pigments. [5]
  • Unhygienic Practices: Infections can also arise from unhygienic practices in tattoo studios, such as poorly disinfected skin or non-sterile equipment.
  • Aftercare Behavior: The risk of infection can be heightened by improper aftercare by the person getting the tattoo.


The FDA has also found that some tattoo inks contain pigments that they have not approved for injection into the skin. These pigments can be used in printer toner or car paint – yikes!

Given these risks, it’s crucial to do your research before getting a tattoo to find a tattoo place that you trust. Both tattoo artists and clients must follow strict hygiene practices, use high-quality and sterile inks, and be diligent with aftercare to minimize the chance of infections and other health issues.

Are There Healthier Tattoo Options?

There are other tattoo options like vegan, henna, and organic/biomechanical tattoos, each with its unique characteristics and considerations. Let’s dive into them! 

Vegan Tattoos

Vegan tattoos use inks free from animal-based and insect-based ingredients. This includes glycerin from animal fat. Instead, they rely on plant-based glycerin and natural plant or mineral sources for colors. 

According to Wellness Mama, vegan sources of colors can contain: [2]

  • Black dye: Carbon and logwood
  • White dye: Titanium dioxide
  • Blue dye: Sodium, copper, and aluminum
  • Green dye: Monoazo (carbon)
  • Yellow dye: Turmeric
  • Red dye: Naphthol


These natural ingredients may be less likely to cause allergic reactions or toxicity. Safe carriers for vegan tattoo ink include vegetable-based options like water, witch hazel, or ethanol.


Henna tattoos, originating from India, use a dye made from the henna plant, which is dried, ground into a paste, and applied to the skin. Henna tattoos are temporary. They only last a couple of weeks because they stain the epidermis. 

While traditional henna is generally safe, the FDA has warned that “black henna” can be dangerous. [6]

This is because black henna usually contains p-phenylenediamine (PPD), which can be used as a hair dye. PPD may cause severe skin reactions like redness, lesions, sensitivity to the sun, skin blistering, scarring, and more. Luckily, it is illegal to put PPD in cosmetics for the skin (but it doesn’t mean it’s not available). 

To be safe, make sure the henna used is pure from the plant and free from harmful additives, like PPD.

To learn more about black henna and PPD, check out our article on hair dye: Non-Toxic Hair Dye For Pregnancy – Is It Safe?

Organic and Biomechanical Tattoos

The term “organic” in tattooing refers to a style rather than the ingredients used. Organic tattoo designs incorporate natural elements from the earth or human anatomy. 

Biomechanical tattoos are a little different. They combine these organic elements with machine parts to create cyborg-like designs. While they don’t specifically use natural or organic ingredients, the style focuses on integrating natural and mechanical elements in the artwork. Unfortunately, there are no additional health benefits from getting nature tattooed on your body! 

Overall, while these additional tattoo options may offer various benefits, it’s crucial to research and ensure the safety and purity of the materials used to avoid adverse reactions.

Are Tattoos Safe- 3

What About Microblading? Is It Safe?

Microblading is a “permanent makeup” technique used to enhance eyebrows by creating the appearance of fuller or more evenly shaped brows. Microblading is technically semi-permanent – to prevent fading, you will need touch-up appointments every 1-2 years. 

Curious about what a microblading procedure is like? Microblading is performed by a cosmetic tattoo artist or doctor. The cosmetic tattoo artist or doctor outlines the desired brow shape and then uses a tool with tiny needles to deposit pigment into the top layer of the skin. The way that they work the needle should give the illusion of natural hair. The process is detailed and can take about two hours. 

Permanent Makeup Safety Considerations

  • Infection Risk: If there is irregular redness, oozing, crusting, or extreme swelling after the procedure, it could indicate an infection, requiring immediate medical attention. Talk to your doctor ASAP.
  • Regulation: The FDA does not oversee the pigments used in microblading, so there is a risk of allergic reactions and contamination.
  • Precision: The procedure must be done correctly because mistakes are difficult to correct and it takes a long time for the microblading to fade. 

There are also a lot of people who should avoid microblading, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • Nursing women
  • Those with heart conditions
  • People who have received an organ transplant
  • Men or women with skin conditions or very sensitive skin
  • People on Accutane


… it’s always best to chat with your doctor to make sure you’re a candidate beforehand.

Tattoos aren’t healthy, but as an informed customer you can choose for yourself. 

Does Removing Your Tattoo Remove The Heavy Metals?

Tattoo removal involves breaking down the ink particles in the skin so the body can naturally eliminate them. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are various methods to achieve this: [7]

  • Laser Tattoo Removal: This technique uses lasers to break the ink into smaller particles that the immune system can process and remove. It minimizes the risk of scarring.
  • Tattoo Removal Creams: These creams aim to fade the tattoo by breaking down the ink particles. It has a lower risk of scarring.
  • Dermabrasion: This method involves sanding down the top layers of the skin to remove the ink-containing skin, often resulting in some degree of scarring.
  • Chemical Peels: Chemicals are applied to the skin to peel off the top layers, taking the tattoo ink with them. This also tends to cause scarring.
  • Surgical Excision: This involves cutting out the tattooed skin and stitching the remaining skin back together, which usually results in noticeable scarring.

It is possible that tattoo removal could help lessen the heavy metals in your body. However, if you are getting laser tattoo removal or using creams, it is unclear if these methods truly remove heavy metals. 

These methods work to break down the ink particles so that your body’s immune system can process and remove them. This removal would be very dependent on your body’s ability to detox, the health of your liver, and the strength of your immune system.

Natural Tattoo Safety Tips

If you’re still looking to get a tattoo (again, no shame – you can choose for yourself), follow these best practices: 

  1. Strict Standards: Choose a studio that you trust and that has strict safety standards and hygiene practices – do not be afraid to reference this article and ask tough questions 
  2. High-quality Ink: Use Dynamic tattoo ink
  3. Disinfection: Make sure your skin is properly disinfected before the tattoo process begins 
  4. Aftercare: Be diligent with your post-tattoo care – Keep it clean and monitor for infection 
  5. Healing Time: Give your skin at least two weeks to heal – avoid direct sunlight during this time, pools, and jacuzzis
  6. Supplementation: Focus on detoxing heavy metals after you get your tattoo by consuming binders like activated charcoal (do not consume with meals or supplements), adding chlorella or milk thistle to your supplement routine, drinking lots of water, and eating leafy greens. 


Of course, talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement routine.

Products to Help With Injured Skin

If you recently got a tattoo and you want to heal the damaged skin, these may be able to help:

Final Thoughts: Natural Tattoo Safety Tips

All in all, getting a tattoo is your choice. The issue is that most people aren’t made aware of the risks vs. rewards when it comes to safety and health from their tattoo artist. Tattoo inks can include high levels of heavy metals and undisclosed additives, which can lead to infections, health issues, and toxicity. 

While the FDA regulates color additives, they don’t fully regulate the overall safety of tattoo products. To reduce risks, you should opt for trustworthy tattoo studios, opt for higher-quality inks, and prioritize aftercare. 

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Are Tattoos Toxic?

Do you have any tattoos?

Let me know your thoughts and key takeaways in the comments below!


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Want to read more? Check out our other articles here! 

Other references on Natural Tattoo Safety Tips:

Wellness Mama, FDA, UConn, Saved Tattoo, Live About, Smithsonian Magazine, AuthorityTattoo, Thoughtful Tattoos, ScienceAlert, Study Finds, Tattify, NIH, Dr. Axe, RealSelf, Woman’s Health Magazine, Cleveland Clinic

Copyright In On Around LLC 2024 ©. The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration). They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided by this website should not be used as individual medical advice and you should always consult your doctor for individual recommendations and treatment. The information contained in this site is provided on an “as is” basis. Related to this site, there are no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness. In On Around LLC assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site.

Frequently Asked Questions – Are Tattoos Bad For You?

Click on the below FAQs to learn more about: tattoos and skin cancer, scar tissue, skin infections, and tattoo health risks.

Many factors affect tattoo safety, including ink ingredients and hygiene practices. Infections, allergic reactions, and heavy metal toxicity are possible risks.

Yes, some tattoo inks contain toxic substances like heavy metals (e.g., lead, cadmium) and undisclosed additives, which can pose health risks over time.

Risks include infections from contaminated ink or unhygienic practices, allergic reactions to ink components, and potential long-term toxicity from heavy metal exposure.

Choose a reputable tattoo studio that follows strict hygiene standards, inquire about ink ingredients for transparency, and consider safer alternatives like vegan or henna tattoos. Vigilant aftercare and potential detoxification measures post-tattooing are also advisable.

About Catherine Power

Catherine Power is the Founder and CEO of In On Around. She is a Harvard-educated Ingredient Safety and Environmental Toxins expert. Catherine has a background in Food Science, Personal Care Quality, and Regulatory Compliance.

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