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Is It Actually Possible To Get a Vegan Tattoo?


Is it actually possible to get a vegan tattoo blog post article cover

January marks the start of a new year, symbolises fresh starts, and encourages opportunities to make a positive change (“new year, new me” if you will, sorry!). It's a month often associated with resolutions and commitments to a healthier lifestyle. Perhaps most synonymous with this month is "Dry January", where individuals embrace the challenge of abstaining from alcohol for the entire month. However, January also signifies "Veganuary", a global movement that encourages people to adopt a vegan lifestyle for the month and beyond.

 

The campaign originated in the United Kingdom in 2014, and has gained widespread popularity, inspiring individuals worldwide to explore plant-based diets as a means of promoting health, reducing environmental impact, and preventing animal cruelty. Veganuary has not only become a yearly tradition but also an incentive for long-term dietary changes, promoting a greater awareness of the ethical, environmental, and health-related aspects of plant-based living.

a logo by veganuary.com

Image credit: veganuary.com


So, as individuals embrace the principles of Veganuary, they may find themselves pondering a unique aspect of their lifestyle choices, asking, "Can tattoos be vegan, too?"

 

In recent years, tattoos have become a mainstream phenomenon, with people from all walks of life adorning their bodies with inked artwork. While getting a tattoo is often seen as a personal choice, there is a growing concern among the vegan community regarding the ethical aspects of tattooing. Some tattoo artists now describe themselves as ‘Vegan Tattooists’ or offer ‘Vegan Tattoos’, but is this green-wash marketing? And what does ‘Vegan Tattooing’ actually mean?

In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of tattoo ink and equipment to explore whether it's possible to get a vegan tattoo and the ethical considerations that come with it.


Understanding Veganism

Before we dive into the world of vegan tattoos, let's first clarify what veganism is. Veganism is a lifestyle and dietary choice that seeks to avoid the use of animal products in all aspects of life, from food to clothing, and beyond. Vegans avoid not only meat and dairy but also items like leather, fur, and cosmetics tested on animals. The underlying principle is to reduce harm to animals and promote ethical treatment of living creatures.


Tattoo Process Breakdown

We’ve chosen to split the tattooing process up into three areas, to aid understanding of how far vegan principles can be applied. 

We’ve called the categories ‘Primary Materials’, ‘Secondary Materials’, and ‘Equipment & Environment’. 

‘Primary Materials’, we define as the products and items which come into direct contact with the skin of the customer during a tattoo. 

‘Secondary Materials’ we define as the wider products and items essential during the process. 

And lastly, ‘Equipment & Environment’ we define as the things that are necessary to run the tattoo studio itself day to day. 



infographic on whether tattoos can be vegan. Contains primary, secondary materials and equipment used in the tattoo process

1.Primary Materials. Yes-ish.

a photo of tattoo ink bottles lined up on a worktop

If the correct brands are chosen, it’s possible for many of the Primary Materials to be vegan. 


Vegan friendly brands of ink, razors, tattoo lubricant, stencil transfer cream, and stencil paper are all available. 


Cosmetics, perfumed products, and cleaning products can contain lecithin, glycerine, tallow dimethyl, and ammonium chloride usually taken from animal fats. Even razors can use glycerin from animal fat within the soft moisture strip intended to make shaving more comfortable for example.  Scented products may use musk (the secretions from animals like otters, deer or beavers), as a fixative to make fragrance last longer.


Tattoo Ink

Traditional tattoo ink contains a mix of ingredients, some of which may derive from animals or involve animal testing. These components include:

 

a. Pigments: Pigments are the colourants used in tattoo ink. The pigments used in tattoo ink are generally vegan-friendly, as they are often made from plant-based or synthetic sources. These sources include carbon, iron oxide, and various minerals, which are generally not derived from animals.


b. Carrier solutions: Carrier solutions are used to suspend the pigments and enable the application of ink to the skin. These solutions can contain glycerine, propylene glycol, or other substances, which may be derived from animal fats or plant sources. It's crucial to inquire about the specific ink being used and whether it contains animal-derived glycerine. Many tattoo artists, aware of vegan concerns, offer vegan-friendly inks, which use glycerine from plant sources or other animal-free alternatives.

 

c. Preservatives and stabilisers: Many tattoo inks contain substances like glycerine or alcohol to preserve and stabilise the ink. These ingredients may come from both plant and animal sources.

 

d. Binders: Binders help to keep the ink consistent and easy to work with. They can also be derived from animal sources.

 

e. Additives: Various additives can be used to modify the consistency, drying time, and other properties of tattoo ink. Some of these additives can be of animal origin, such as bone char or shellac. Vegan-friendly tattoo inks are formulated without these animal-derived additives.

 

Tattoo ink manufacturers are not required to list ingredients, making it challenging for vegans to determine whether their ink is cruelty-free. This lack of transparency raises ethical concerns among individuals who strive to live a vegan lifestyle.

 

While not all tattoo ink ingredients are animal-derived, some may raise ethical questions for vegans. Here are a few examples of animal-derived tattoo ink components:

 

a. Bone char black: Bone char black ink is made from charred animal bones, typically cattle or pigs. It is used to create deep black pigments in tattoo ink. Vegans who wish to avoid animal-derived products would typically steer clear of this type of ink.

 

b. Glycerine: Glycerine is a common ingredient used in tattoo ink. While it can be derived from plant sources, it can also be sourced from animal fat. The source of glycerine in a particular ink may not always be disclosed.

 

c. Shellac: Some inks may contain shellac, which is a resin secreted by the lac bug. Shellac is often used as a binder in inks. For vegans, the use of insect-derived products is a point of contention.

 

d. Gelatine: Gelatine, a protein derived from animal collagen, is another ingredient that may be found in tattoo inks. It is used as a stabiliser and thickener in various products.


e. Cochineal: Cochineal is a type of insect from which the red dye ‘carmine’ is produced. The insect produces a type of acid which can be extracted and mixed with aluminium or calcium salts to make the dye. The dye has been used as a colorant in food, cosmetics, and tattoo ink. 


As the demand for vegan products and services continues to grow, the tattoo industry has begun to respond. Many manufacturers are now offering vegan-friendly alternatives to traditional tattoo ink. These inks are made without the use of animal-derived ingredients, and they are typically cruelty-free. Here are some of the key components of vegan-friendly tattoo ink:

 

a. Synthetic pigments: Vegan tattoo inks use synthetic pigments that do not involve animal products or by-products. These pigments are often made from non-animal sources and are formulated to achieve vibrant and long-lasting colours.

 

b. Plant-based carriers: Vegan inks use plant-based carrier solutions, such as vegetable glycerine, rather than animal-derived options like animal glycerine or propylene glycol.

 

c. Natural binders: Instead of animal-based binders, vegan tattoo inks use plant-based or synthetic binders to maintain consistency and workability.

 

d. Ethical additives: Vegan inks avoid the use of animal-derived additives and focus on using ethical alternatives to modify the properties of the ink.


Tattoo Needles and Equipment

Tattoo needles in themselves are typically not an issue when it comes to veganism. They are usually made from stainless steel, which is not derived from animal sources.


Kirstie & Ivy at KTREW Tattoo studio in Birmingham (Photo credit: @morrallofthestory)


However, the manufacturing process for stainless steel requires an energy source to create heat within a blast furnace. Using animal products for producing energy is not uncommon.  Biomass generation and anaerobic digestion are two processes used to generate electricity which can exploit animals. The processes can use manure, slurry, and animal by-products taken from slaughterhouses or animal testing sites. 


The tattoo cartridges that house the needles, can often be made from plastic, which is not usually considered to be vegan (see below..)


2. Secondary Materials. Maybe. 


We’re talking containers, barriers, sterilisation products, bottles, and a collection of disposable items used during the process. The problem here is that many of these items are plastic, and they are so for good reason. They need to be non-porous, robust and stand up to frequent sterilisation. 

Some plastic items such as ink caps and cartridges are single use. And those items which are re-used must be able to be cleaned to a high standard either using an autoclave machine which reaches extremely high temperatures, or using medical grade disinfectant which is strong enough to eat away at less robust materials. 


Tattoo studios need to ensure that high standards or hygiene are maintained, and there’s no risk of contamination and infection between customers. So any re-usable items or containers must be properly sterilised and must not degrade over time. 


High density plastic containers are commonly used for the soap, alcohol, lubrication, and plastic bags and cling film are commonly used as barriers to cover furniture, containers, and the tattoo machine during the process. 


It’s common for animal products to be used in the manufacture of plastics. Many plastic items are made using a ‘slipping agent’ which stops polymers sticking together during the process. Slipping agent is also used on plastic bags and cling film to reduce static. All these materials will also have been manufactured in bulk, and therefore come up against the same ‘energy source’ problems mentioned above for tattoo needles. 

Even the packaging that the items come in may use animal products for their glues and dyes. 


Thankfully, it is possible to find plastic free options for ink caps, barriers, containers. It’s worth saying here that there is some crossover between ‘environmentally friendly or plastic free’ products and vegan ones - but something being plastic free or biodegradable does not necessarily guarantee it will also be vegan. 


3. Equipment & Environment

 

Here we’re talking about the essentials needed to create and run a tattoo studio in general. A studio will need furniture, cleaning products and equipment, tech equipment, and utilities in order to run. 


The disposal of tattoo ink and equipment raises environmental concerns. Some inks, especially those with heavy metals or toxic substances, can be harmful to the environment and therefore animals. Ethical tattoo artists are conscious of these issues and take steps to minimise their impact. In the UK, tattoo waste is classified as “Offensive/Hygiene Waste" by the Department of Health. Any sharps (used tattoo needles) must be disposed of by a professional waste collection company. Responsible tattoo studios can ask their chosen waste company to ensure that all their tattoo waste (not just the sharps) is incinerated rather than sent to landfill.


In terms of tech, you won’t be surprised to learn that the majority of it will include plastics. Surprisingly, LCD screens on TVs, computers, phones or tablets can also use animal cholesterol in the liquid crystals in the screens. 


Often tattoo studios won’t have the option to choose their utility providers (electric, gas). So this can also impact on their ability to make environmentally friendly and vegan friendly choices. 


OK so…are tattoos vegan?!

It’s a complex question, and one that depends on varying factors! 


While we’d caution against anyone claiming to offer ‘100% Vegan Tattoos’, if artists are mindful of the products they use, and they prioritise using vegan ink, vegan aftercare products, and cruelty-free practices in their studios, it’s possible to minimise animal exploitation to some extent. 


There is a growing community of tattoo artists who are committed to providing ethical and cruelty-free tattooing services. So vegan tattoo seekers have more options than ever before to express themselves while aligning with their ethical principles.


Many tattoo artists are happy to discuss their use of vegan-friendly products and their commitment to ethical tattooing. Why not share our diagram, and ask which products, items and equipment they use are vegan. They should be happy to tell you about their ink choices and studio practices. 


Private studios and independent artists are much more likely to have control over all their materials and practices, than large studios or chains. They also tend to be more conscientious and intentional about their impact - it’s one of the reasons they choose to be independent in the first place. 


It’s realistic to mention the cost aspect at this point. Many vegan and environmentally friendly options will unfortunately mean a large cost increase for the tattooist. In some cases, they will be cost prohibitive. You may need to consider offering to cover some of the cost of vegan materials if your chosen artist doesn’t routinely use them. 

 

Here at KTREW Tattoo, the majority of our Primary Materials and some of our Secondary Materials are vegan. Where possible we use biodegradable plastic free alternatives. We also make sure that all our tattoo waste is incinerated to try and minimise environmental impact. 


However, it’s important to be aware that it’s almost impossible to have a ‘100% vegan tattoo’ whilst maintaining the strict hygiene measures needed for the process, and setting up a tattoo studio environment in general. 

 

Ultimately, the decision to get a tattoo as a vegan is a personal one. It involves a balance between individual expression and ethical values. As the tattoo industry continues to evolve, it's likely that more vegan-friendly products and practices will become available, making it easier for vegans to make choices that align with their principles.


We hope this has been both informative and helpful!









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