Colors inserted into the skin’s dermis are known as tattoos or dermal pigmentation. A practice traced back to Neolithic times, tattooing remains popular worldwide for body decoration, initiatory rites, religious observance, love vows, and identification, to name but a handful of uses. Tattoo inks come in nearly unlimited variations, the most popular being red, green, yellow, blue, and white, which is used as a tint.
Tattoo inks comprise of a variety of pigments in carrier solutions. The pigments may be organic-based, mineral-based, or plastic-based. The plastic-based pigments offer the most vibrant colors. “The inks used in tattoos and permanent makeup (also known as micropigmentation) and the pigments in these inks are subject to FDA regulation as cosmetics and color additives. However, the FDA has not attempted to regulate the use of tattoo inks and the pigments used in them and does not control the actual practice of tattooing.
Rather, such matters have been handled through local laws and by local jurisdictions. . . . Although a number of color additives are approved for use in cosmetics, none is approved for injection into the skin. Using an unapproved color additive in a tattoo ink makes the ink adulterated. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are not approved for skin contact at all. Some are industrial grade colors that are suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint”
How Permanent Are Tattoo Pigments?
Even severe burning often fails to obliterate them. However, tattoo pigments can fade over time, especially red and yellow. Lighter tattoo colors, such as pink, fade more quickly than darker ones. Tattoo colors typically fade with sun exposure, so sunscreen is recommended to keep them looking vivid. Over time, tattoo pigments drift deeper into the dermis, blurring their detail.
“At present, no one laser can remove all tattoo colors well. Black, blue, and green inks are all well absorbed by red and infrared light lasers,” says dermatologist Randall Roenigk. “Red inks are not well absorbed by red or infrared light lasers, but are well absorbed by green light lasers. . . . Purple, yellow, and orange pigments are often more difficult to eradicate and respond variably well to green, red, and infrared light lasers” (Roenigk & Roenigk’s Dermatologic Surgery, 1996).
Tattoo inks carry the risks of allergic reactions and toxicity triggered by sunlight exposure and heavy metals.