Are Heavy Metals Contained Within All Tattoos?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on January 17, 2022
    Last Updated: January 17, 2022

The art of tattooing is becoming more popular than ever before, with around 45 million Americans having at least one tattoo. However, many people would like a tattoo but are concerned with the safety element of them. They’re not just worried about the needles and the permanency of the tattoo, but how safe the tattoo ink is.

There have been many reports regarding the ingredients of tattoo inks and whether the pigments in them contain toxic, harmful metals, such as lead and mercury. These heavy metals are thought to cause allergic reactions in some people and can also cause more severe reactions and illnesses.

We’ll let you know what heavy metals are contained in tattoo ink and just how concerned you need to be about these. We’ll let you know the dangers and how you can choose a safer option.

Tattoo Ink

Tattoo ink is added into the dermis layer of the skin using needles. It will then sit here for many years, creating your permanent piece of body art. Some colors will fade over time, and in order to get the best results, strong ingredients are sometimes used.

Many of these ingredients can cause allergic reactions, and these may only be detected several years after you have your tattoo. The heavy metals in tattoo ink colors, especially red, have been known to cause allergic reactions, scarring, and eczema.

In 2022, the European Union banned color tattoos due to the risks of genetic mutations and cancer that heavy metals have been linked to in the past.

Are There Heavy Metals Like Lead and Mercury in Tattoos?

There can be heavy metals included in tattoo inks, such as lead and mercury. These are generally used in brighter colors like red to give you a more vibrant color that will last a long time without fading.

You can also find other metal ingredients in red tattoo inks. A couple of these are cadmium and iron oxide and while it’s red ink that causes the most problems, there are heavy metals included in other colors of tattoo ink. Some of these metals are lead, beryllium, chromium, arsenic, and cobalt-nickel.

These ingredients are thought to have possible connections with causing cancer and also birth defects. Studies are continuing to find out exactly what dangers there are of having heavy metals in tattoo ink.

Tattoo Ink Regulations

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) doesn’t currently regulate tattoo inks. This is the same for many cosmetics and personal care products. The lack of regulation means that you’re left to do your own investigative work into the safety of tattoo ink ingredients.

State and local authorities regulate the tattoo procedures in their areas but don’t check the ingredients used in the tattoo inks. The FDA has recently started to take an interest in the safety of tattoo ink. As manufacturers aren’t required to list the ingredients in the tattoo inks, there’s only so much the FDA and local authorities can do.

Colored Tattoo Ink

The pigment in tattoo ink is where the color comes from. This pigment gives you the long-lasting vibrant color that you want in your permanent tattoo. To create these colors, potent ingredients are required. 

Many colors are now made using vegetable or plastic-based ingredients. However, these don’t always give you the vibrant colors that you need. You can see below the tattoo ink colors, and the metals included to create these:

Red – Iron, mercury, cadmium.

White – barium, lead, titanium, zinc.

Black – nickel, iron.

Blue – copper, cobalt.

Green – lead, chromium, aluminum.

Yellow – zinc, lead, cadmium.

Brown – iron.

Orange – Cadmium.

Studies are being done to understand the long-term effects of having these heavy metals in your body. The FDA is also looking at what happens to the pigment when the tattoo color fades. Does it get absorbed into the body, or is it flushed out, leaving no dangerous traces of the heavy metals?

These studies will continue, and until there is a clear understanding of the dangers of heavy metals in tattoo inks, they will continue to be used.

Vegan and Organic Tattoo Inks

Many vegan and organic tattoo inks are available that don’t contain the harmful and toxic heavy metals that are included in other inks. 

However, this doesn’t mean that all vegan or organic inks are entirely safe. Many brands continue to use traces of heavy metals such as titanium oxide to give the ink color more depth.


There are several risks when you’re getting a permanent tattoo. You’re having needles inserted into your body and ink added for effect. You need to make sure that the tattoo artist you choose is reputable and discuss your worries with them before starting the process. 

Heavy metals are included in most tattoo inks, but the safest color tattoo ink available would be black. This color contains less toxic ingredients than others and rarely causes any allergic reactions.

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