Many people don’t realize that tattoo inks, equipment and aftercare options are filled with animal derived products and by-products, meaning your new permanent commitment to veganism may not be so vegan after all.
What is it that makes tattoos not vegan? What do vegans need to look out for and is it possible to get a 100 percent vegan tattoo? And how do you find a vegan tattoo shop or artist? Let’s see!
First off, let’s talk about tattoo ink: tattoo ink is formed of a pigment, which gives the ink its color, suspended within a carrier solution. The pigment is usually derived from plants or metal. For example black ink, also called “bone black” which can–but doesn’t always–contain charcoal and soot derived from the charred bones of animals. The suspension in which this pigment is…well…suspended keeps the ink evenly mixed and aids in the ease of application. Carrier solutions generally contain purified water, ethyl alcohol, propylene glycol and glycerine and may also contain witch hazel. For vegans, it’s the glycerine we have to watch out for. It can be from either plants or from animal fats depending on the company. Aside from bone char pigment and glycerine carrier solutions, there are other animal bits in tattoo inks to keep an eye out for. Some inks also use gelatin, which is extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish, and shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac beetle.
So what’s a vegan to do ink-wise? Well, luckily there are plenty of vegan inks on the market, some of which have the bonus of being non-toxic. There is a list of vegan ink brands below along with other resources and links for further information.
Outside of the ink itself, other elements of the tattoo process can be animal-laden. Many artists use vaseline or petroleum jelly during tattooing to help their tattoo machine glide more easily. Petroleum jelly itself can by and large be considered animal-free, although it’s a byproduct of the oil industry, which is a bit concerning, and the vaseline brand itself can contain bone char depending on the country and definitely tests on animals.
There are a number of alternative you can use to lube up your skin during your session, but of course it will be up to the individual artist as to whether they are comfortable using them. Some options are shea butter, jojoba oil or olive oil etc.
One lesser-known hidden animal product in the tattoo experience is the lanolin in, which comes from sheep’s wool.
You see when you get a tattoo, unless you have a badass free-hander, your artist will draw the image out on what looks like tracing paper and apply it to your glistening moist skin to leave an outline to follow. This allows you and your artist to work out ideal positioning and allows you a bit of a preview. Luckily, there is a vegan transfer paper out there. You can ask your artist to order some if they don’t use it or purchase some form a tattoo supply shop.
So now that we’ve gone over the whole process, what about aftercare? Many aftercare lotions and ointments include beeswax, lanolin, like A&D ointment, or cod liver oil. There are plenty of vegan aftercare alternatives.