Are Tattoos Vegan?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 8, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

When contemplating your first or next tattoo, a common question this day and age is whether or not the ink, as well as the rest of the tattooing process, is vegan. Ink is composed of pigments, dyes, resins, lubricants and several other materials. Surely, none of those come from animals, right?

What lots of people don’t know is many tattoo inks do include animal products. We’re not talking meat or dairy, but glycerin, gelatin, charred bones and insect parts. It’s safe to assume that your tattoo ink isn’t vegan unless stated otherwise.

Tattoos aren’t automatically vegan. However, you can get a vegan tattoo by:

  • Finding a vegan parlor or artist
  • Specifying that you only want vegan ink used during the process
  • Bringing your own vegan ink and products to the appointment

What Are Tattoo Inks Made From?

Typical tattoo inks may be made from substances like:

  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Distilled water
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Methanol
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Propylene glycol
  • Glycerine
  • Various metals

The metals are used to make the basic colors. Although nickel is often used to make black ink, charred animal bones are also used. This makes your tattoo not vegan.

In food products, glycerine is usually made from plant matter. In tattoo inks and cosmetics, this isn’t the case. You should assume your tattoo inks are made from animal glycerin unless stated otherwise. Below is an insightful video detailing various types of tattoo inks.

Are Tattoo Inks Safe?

Except for home tattooing, tattoos and their inks are generally safe, aren’t they? Well, most people don’t wind up with complications after getting a tattoo. Still, very little is known when it comes to toxicity in tattoo inks.

The FDA hasn’t approved any pigments used in tattoo inks. This doesn’t mean they’re unsafe — just look how many people have tattoos — but it means there’s a risk involved.

You can do yourself a favor by researching the tattoo artists and parlors in your area. Ask your friends and family where they went, check out independent reviews and social media channels. If you’re sensible, you’re less likely to get tatted by someone not above-board.

What Are the Risks of Regular Tattoo Ink?

When you get a tattoo, you’re opening thousands of tiny wounds on your skin and letting ink settle in. Naturally, this can cause complications.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to tattoo dyes could take minutes or years to develop. A sign of this reaction is a rash around the site of the tattoo.

Infection and Disease

Staph infections and tuberculosis are skin infections that may occur after getting a tattoo. Blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B and C, HIV and tetanus can be contracted if the needle used hasn’t been sanitized.


Growths of scar tissue called keloids may form around the tattoo site. Ordinary scars can also appear if your tattoo artist was too rough with the needle during the procedure.

Are Vegan Tattoo Inks Better?

Since vegan tattoo inks contain mostly the same ingredients as regular ink, we can’t say it’s the better option. It’s the more ethical option, though, if that’s what you care about.

Vegan ink is superior in the way that it doesn’t contain shellac, which is a risky substance often used in tattoo inks. Still, it’s unlikely you’ll suffer any ill-effects after getting a tattoo — vegan or otherwise. 

Despite the apparent lack of difference, some people say vegan tattoos are better for your skin and health.

What Elements Need to Be Vegan?

If you want to go vegan for your tattoo, there’s a lot you should know, and it’s not just the ink that’s the issue. Most stencil paper is made with lanolin from sheep’s wool, and the moisture strip on razors to shave your tattoo area usually contain gelatin.

Many tattoo artists use vaseline or petroleum jelly during the process. Petroleum jelly is animal-free, but vaseline can contain bone char. Vaseline is also tested on animals, a big vegan no-no.

Be careful, and do your research before you book a specific studio/artist. You never know where unexpected animal by-products could be hiding.

How to Get a Vegan Tattoo

Nowadays, vegan tattoo parlors are cropping up all over the place. Lacking one, you could bring your supplies, if the tattoo artist allows it. Here’s what you’ll need:


The ingredient we’ve talked about most, vegan inks are plentiful. If you wish to purchase and supply your own, there are many vegan inks available online. Alternatively, your tattoo artist should be able to source some for you if you ask.

Transfer Paper and Gel

Most transfer papers aren’t vegan, but some vegan ones are cropping up on the market. Spirit is a popular transfer paper choice, while Stencil Stuff is a popular stencil gel.

Aftercare Products

The tattoo journey doesn’t end when you walk out the door. Check the ingredients of whatever you plan to care for your tattoo with. Try to look for something non-toxic, too.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.


Getting a vegan tattoo these days is easier than it ever was. It may be more challenging to achieve than a regular tattoo, but it’s the more ethical choice. There’s a lot to be aware of during this process, but it’s all worth it.

You may find a high-quality studio that doesn’t offer vegan tattoos; however, that isn’t to say that they won’t be happy to supply alternative products or use the products you bring with you. Don’t assume, but do ask. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.

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