Rian Othus

Should You Tip Your Tattoo Artist?

Tipping is customary in most places within the United States and most tattoo artists world wide love the extra cheddar after a day of hard work. You, the client who is overwrought with joy and a new piece of art that will last a lifetime may be asking yourself, “should I tip or should I go?”

The answer is, always tip your artist if it fits into your budget, you were happy with the work and you feel compelled to let them feel how grateful you are. We setup a quick and easy tipping calculator located at the bottom of the page to help you figure out what is considered a “good” tip when tipping your tattoo artist.

tattoo money

Here are a few reasons you may not have known that can help influence your decision on how much to tip your tattoo artist:

The whole system is setup like a barber shop

You may not know the in’s and out’s of tattoo business operations but most tattoo artists out there do not make every dollar you pay them. Much like barber shops, booths or chairs can come with a rental fee. In some places this is a flat daily rate, in other places artists are paid a percentage of your total bill.

Let’s say your tattoo cost $300. Well, in most places an artist may get a percentage of that total, somewhere around 40%-70% of the total. On the low end, your artist make $120 out of that $300 and the shop takes the rest. What a racket eh?! This is the most common reason tattoo artists like tips: The system is rigged for the shop an not the artist.

Learn more about the cost of an artist setup by following this link:

Cost of setup

Artists must purchase most, if not all of their supplies.

Tattoo shops do not purchase all the supplies for a tattoo artist. Some supply disposable items, others just gloves and paper towels. Everything else is covered by the artist, including their training and skill.

tipping your artist - they buy all the Art Kit - Wallpaper

Tattooing is very competitive and not all artists are booked 5 years into the future.

Have you see how many shops are in the Portland Oregon area? How about Austin, Texas? Even in the middle of nowhere tattoo shops are springing up and offering their own take on colorful modifications. with the increased saturation of shops globally there are less options for artists to book out long term. Due to this increase in competition, shop owners have been quick to lower artist pay rates, holding the clients as chattel owned wholly by the shop. With lower pay coming into an artists pockets, you can be assured they will find any form of gratuity very welcome.

The work they do for large scale projects far exceeds the time spent on the tattoo session(s)

If you are getting a back piece done, or a full sleeve, the work done before the tattoo can incur multiple hours. This work is something most clients never think about and even more rarely are a part of. I will personally spend tens of hours on a single design, sometimes the hours can reach 100+ if multiple redesigns are ordered by the client. If a tip is tossed onto the final sitting of the tattoo, I will thank that client and express the warm and fuzzy feelings that fill my black heart.

If you get more than more sitting to do the tattoo, choose when to tip (beginning, end or after every session)

If you really enjoy the service and want to tip every sitting, or if you have a fixed budget and don’t know if you will have enough to tip your artist, let them know up front. Most artists will be thankful for the upfront and direct way that you will talk to them. Just please, don’t lord a tattoo over them as if they were a dog begging for a treat. That habit is rude to dogs and definitely rude to a skilled artisan.

If you have a shop owner tattooing you, you can straight ask them what tip rate is good for them (shop big and fancy or small comparison)

Shop owners make more money than the artists they employ when a business is run under the barbershop model. If they are professional they will not be expecting a tip after service. If they do come asking for it… well that is just not kosher.

Gifts are great but cash is king

Love Text-printed Board Leaning on Wall

I have received books, clothing, shot glasses and a bunch of artwork from clients over my career. While I really have enjoyed the gifts I have only utilized 1 gift in 17 years more than once. If you will feel poorly if your nicknack gift isn’t well received, bring cash to brighten the mood in the shop. Or food. Tattoo artists love candy, coffee and tacos.

So that’s it. A few tips for the clients out there on how to tip your artist.

Below is an interactive widget that can help you figure out how much to tip if you are unsure.

Thanks for reading.

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Warning Signs That a Tattoo Shop May Not Be Clean.

Warning Signs That a Tattoo Shop May Not Be Clean.

Most people venturing out for a new tattoo are focused on the process of getting a tattoo, not how clean the tattoo shop is. The pain, the possible bad mood of the artist, how much to tip… it can be a crisis for some people. On top of that, you are permanently marking your body and in doing so, opening yourself up to possible infectious agents that can cause discomfort, illness, possibly hospitalization and worse yet, death.

Take one stressor off your plate and make sure the tattoo shop you are going to is clean before committing to that new tattoo. Here are a few things to look for when walking into a tattoo shop to determine if it is clean or not.

  • The tattoo shop looks dirty –

Dirty Tattoo Shop

https://i.imgur.com/BI7JXfH.jpg

If you walk into a tattoo shop and you see visible dirt, dust on surfaces, unwashed floors or overflowing garbage cans, it’s time to leave.

  • Food in the tattooing area –

Food is not permitted in work areas, regardless how small the shop is. 

  • It stinks, and not the good, clean stink –

Overflowing garbage dump

If you walk into a shop and the smell of something foul overtakes your senses, there is a good chance that shop has not been cleaned well enough to ensure safe tattooing.

  • Handling products without gloves –

Image result for tattoo no gloves

The use of disposable gloves are ubiquitous in the body modification industry and should be changed regularly. If you see artists setup for your tattoo without wearing gloves, or handle products to be used in a tattoo without gloves, something is afoot. Handling objects without proper barriers increases the chances of cross contamination, which in turn points to a dirty tattoo shop.

  • Their setup should include barrier films and plastic covers – 

tattoo barriers

Creating a barrier from potentially infectious materials coming into contact with commonly used products or tools are a minimum safe practice for tattooers. These barriers need to be new and freshly applied to all surfaces, machines, bottles, clipcords and other things during the tattoo process. If the shop you walk into doesn’t seem to use barrier films, chances are that it can be considered less clean than other tattoo shops.

  • Staff that are visibly ill – 

sick person

You don’t want to work with an artist who has diarrhea, is vomiting or is coughing all over the place. Healthcare can cost a lot so don’t put yourself in a position that costs you time and money. Stay away from shops that have fallen ill. It should go without saying that you should stay away from tattoo shops if you feel sick.

  • The shop should give you a full tour –

All tattoo shops should be appreciative of the discerning clients want to explore the shop. If they process items onsite (onsite sterilization), have them show you their machine, sterilization logs and explain their practices. If they refuse to do so, be wary of how clean the shop may be. 

  • Single use means single use – 

Image result for single use tattoo supplies

Most of the products that come into contact with your skin during a tattoo procedure are single-use. Ask to check the expiration dates on single-use items like needles, disposable supplies and ink. If a shop is willing to use products that are expired, or attempts to reuse single-use items, they may not take your health seriously.

  • Does your state have health code or licensing requirements?

If your state has licensing requirements for the shop or artist, make sure they are up to date. (Most cities/states/provinces require a business license at minimum. Check with your local authorities to see how they keep the public safe from unlicensed tattoo shops) 

  • Has your artist gone through Blood Borne Pathogens (BBP) training?

blood borne pathogens certificate

A certificate of completion in BBP is a requirement in most places for an artist to practice tattooing. This course trains people in the fundamentals of safe practices when biological contaminants are in play.

  • The rates are far below what industry standard for the area- 

Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good. If a deal looks to good to be true, it most likely is and you can wonder how they save money to make the product so cheap. Most likely from skimping on a cleaning budget. Be safe and never sacrifice your safety for a cheap tattoo.

  • Do they have sharps containers – 

sharps containers

Look for red containers with a biohazard symbol on them. These containers are where used needles and other sharp instruments are placed after use for safe disposal.  If a shop doesn’t have any,or if the sharps containers are overflowing, something may be seriously dangerous about getting a tattoo at that location.

  • The shop is difficult to find information about – 

We live in a digital world and most established shops have a digital footprint. If you can’t find any information on social media, or with a search online, chances are the shop may not be legit. If it is not legit, chances are it may not know how to operate in a sterile fashion.

  • Is the shop dark – 

How bright and light is the shop? By having light colored walls and floors, you are better able to see if blood or other substances have splashed out of the work area and are in need of cleaning. Light walls, accompanied with enough light to properly see what the artist is doing, ensure artists are able to keep you safe before, during and after the procedure.

  • When in doubt,  trust yourself – 

Never let yourself be pushed around when you are spending money. This is even more true when you are spending money on body modification. Trust your judgement and walk away from any place that doesn’t treat you as well as you deserve.

Thumbs Up!

Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

 

Tattoo Aftercare – Products

I have spent some time rolling around the great vastness of the internet looking up different articles on how to take care of your tattoo. There are a variety of protocols that have been put forth by artists and regulators but none of the methods I had found were focused on the individual. For the most part, all aftercare solutions have been rolled into a single process – Don’t pick it and keep it wet. 

This idea of tattoo care is blatantly wrong (apart from picking the tattoo).

There are so many variables that go into taking care of a tattoo: Your skin type, the climate that you live in, your daily activities or type of work you do, if you pick your scabs or not… We can put a definite etcetera on that list but, I am going to take a poke at how you should pick apart aftercare products. Hopefully you can figure out what is the most viable option for you and your skin..

Tattoo Aftercare And Healing Your Tattoo

First, let’s dismiss the idea that you are healing your tattoo. You are not healing your tattoo. You are not making it go faster by applying some magical topical ointment or lotion to your skin. There is no chance in this life that the $45 bottle of magical, salt-infused tattoo cream will magically imbue your body with healing powers comparable to Wolverine. I am sad to point it out but, it did make me feel kind of happy at the same time.

 

What science has shown us is that our body has an amazing ability to heal itself, regardless of our interference and wish to make things progress faster than they naturally occur. Our bodies are amazing machines and without proper knowledge or planning, our efforts to speed things up can result in annoyance, or at times, catastrophe.

Caring For Your New Tattoo – The Default Setting

In my experience, there is always a default for taking care of a tattoo. This occurs with both the artist as well as the client. 

Clients will always remember their first tattoo like it was yesterday. With the nostalgia of pain and process comes the memories of how tattoo aftercare is to be approached. Because the first experience is so discreetly unique, our memories of it become more readily ingrained in our habits. This process creates a default memory that will have a greater than presence in future accounts. It also creates a minefield where new information must be added to or amend the previously learned knowledge. This topic should probably be torn into as it is massively interesting to me but, as this topic has already been laser focused on tattoo aftercare products, I will walk away from it for now.

I am focused on the bad habits with types of products or a timeline for the care regimens which are hard to break.  The easiest way to combat this is to make it apparent that we have a shortage in knowledge surrounding this subject. In knowing that we can move forward developing new techniques that will increase the positive outcomes artists experience globally we can improve the user experience and hopefully make tattoo aftercare more targeted to the user.. We as an industry need to have a more comprehensive care routine for our clients, hence the efforts to write this article.

The artist is not always right

As artists, we all know a few tips and tricks when healing a tattoo. Some of us go so far as to toss a proverbial tattoo aftercare blanket on every client that walks through the door. We apply a universal qualifier to all clients healing a tattoo – “I” did the tattoo and “I” know how tattoos heal when I do them (on average) and you need to do it this way or you suck.

This solipsistic approach has worked for years, but I can’t imagine a place where an artists hasn’t had a tattoo come back from what we considered a fantastic session looking like absolute crap. When this happens, defenses come up on the artist’s side, as well as the client’s. When it comes to tattoo aftercare, rarely does the situation result in a way that both sides feel validated.

A quick explanation of what happens when an artist applies a tattoo

A tattoo is a medical procedure where pigment is permanently inserted into your skin. By creating openings in the skin for the pigment to enter, the body becomes more vulnerable to the possibility of infection. We develop aftercare procedures for clients to follow because the process is collaborative: We artists apply the tattoo to your skin in a way that we (hopefully) understand will limit the possibility of long lasting damage internally, scarring of the procedure spot as well as decreasing the chances of transmitting an infection. 

Sadly, our industry and the media created a blanket procedure that we utilize globally for taking care of a new tattoo. I fear that many artists have not thought critically about what they are being sold when confronted with new products “designed” for healing broken skin.

Now that I have effectively called out an entire industry, let’s take a look at some variable that effect your skin and how it heals.

Healing your tattoo

Moisture.

Your skin is the largest organ of your body and it acts as a barrier to the dangerous, pathogenic environment that surrounds us. While there is significant scientific information about the processes surrounding your bodies natural ability to keep your skin hydrated, we will avoid falling down these rabbit holes. Getting tattooed damages your skin and therefore damages your skin’s natural ability to hydrate itself.

In healthy undamaged skin, the human body naturally hydrates the upper layers of the skin through transepidermal water loss (TEWL).  It’s very complex, so for those interested in the many mechanical and chemical processes TEWL is comprised of, take a look around the reference section at the bottom of this page. To not shy too far away from the science, here is a brief description of how your body keeps the skin hydrated – Moisture moves through your skin starting at the bottom, or the part that is nearest to your internals. It moves up through your dermis to the epidermis where it is eventually lost due to evaporation. 

Regardless of the damages that may occur mechanically, we use moisturizers to increase the health of the skin. It has been shown that what we put on our skin has a lasting effect on the health of our body’s largest organ. If we think about how these products can harm your skin when it isn’t injured, you can imagine what happens when you apply a product that is “designed” to aid in the healing of an area that has been repeatedly stabbed with a needle for hours on end. At times it can result in a well healed tattoo, other times it can leave you with an extended healing time.

pH And Acidity Of The Skin

When measuring the difference between acidic conditions and alkaline conditions, scientists use a scale called the pH scale. A pH scale is the measurement of how acidic or basic a solution that is water based is (a solution is a dissolved mixture of substances. In this case it is a mixture dissolved in water).

At room temperature, this scale displays numbers that are lower (left hand side of the scale) are considered acidic, while those on the opposite (right hand side) are alkaline. A neutral state, which is neither acidic or alkaline is considered neutral. A neutral pH reading is somewhere around 7.

pH measures the molar concentration (not teeth but a chemistry-based measurement) of free hydrogen ions (hydrogen ions are positively or negatively charged hydrogen atoms- the atoms that have gained or lost electrons) are found in a solution. Here is a video from Crash Course Chemistry that explains it in further detail:

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The Acid Mantle

The very top layer of skin (called the Acid Mantle) on an average adult human’s skin has an approximate pH of 5.6-5.8 (averaging 5.7) but this number can be affected due to climate, elevation, pollution, nutrition or products which are applied to the skin. The acid mantle is very thin but has an incredibly effective way of keeping your body safe from pathogens by forcing adaptation to things that could otherwise cause illness.

Skin Acid Mantle

The acid mantle is created when secretions from your sebaceous glands mix with sweat and lowers the pH on the tissues involved. By doing this the body forces bacteria and other pathogens to become “comfortable” in this environment. When we are cut or have an abrasion, the opening in our skin and the blood that accompanies this break are relatively neutral, the change in pH creates an environment where the invading pathogens are not as “comfortable”, or less well adapted. This change in pH can actually kill the invading pathogens before they are able to establish a foothold and cause illness or infection.

Healing Stages

Misconceptions on the first peel of a tattoo

Most tattoos that I found online, that are deemed “healed”, have only gone through the first (initial) peel. After a sitting, your fresh tattoo goes through a dynamic process of being accepted and settling into your skin. This process ensures permanency and if taken care of properly, decreases the chances of scarring and infection. This initial healing process does not equate what the tattoo will look like in the years to come but only ensures the wearer is less likely to pick up an infection during life’s normal wear and tear.

I also have run across many articles giving a timeline of months for a tattoo to be through the first peel. While this timeline may be adequate with some artists who do not understand skin function or what happens when you overwork the skin, most first peels should occur within the first 7-10 days, not 4-6 weeks after the procedure.

After the first peel your tattoo will still look nearly fresh, as the pigment is located relatively high in the dermis layer of your skin. Regardless of your skin health as you age, your skin will become thinner and with time The pigment that makes up your tattoo will undergo changes in its appearance. Due to this evolution of the artwork, what you see in social media posts or in person as a fresh tattoo is not what the tattoo will end up looking like in 1 month, 1 year or in 1 decade.

The Stages of Healing a Tattoo

There multiple stages to the healing of your tattoo that are commonly broken down into 3 parts.

  • The first stage of healing is the first 7 to 10 days after your tattoo has been completed. During this time you will notice the pigment in the skin become less vibrant, be swollen and start to develop a mild, thin scab over the area that had been tattooed. Macrophages in the body (specialized cells that capture and destroy pathogens) contain the pigment particles introduced during a tattoo procedure. These specialized immune cells “eat” the pigment particles and hold them in place.
    • During the initial healing process your skin may ooze exudate for the first 24-48 hours (Exudate is fluid that leaks out of blood vessels into nearby tissues. The fluid is made of cells, proteins, and solid materials. This substance may ooze from abrasions or from areas of inflammation. like you may see after receiving a tattoo.) There may be redness radiating around the edges of the tattoo as well as a feeling of itchiness or irritation while the tattoo goes through this initial stage of healing. During this stage, the majority of surface healing is done with the tattoo. The scabs that collect on the skin surface should also fall off and your skin should have a glossy, thin looking sheen to it.

 

  • The second stage is a deeper healing, wherein the dermis rebuilds its structure to support and consolidate the pigment that has been introduced through the tattoo process. This process starts as soon as the scabs that have formed on the upper layers of skin start to fall off naturally and can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months. On average this settling of the skin and consolidation of pigment lasts around 2 months.

 

  • The final stage of healing is what we call in the business “settling”. During this stage, the skin has adapted to the newly introduced pigment and adjusts the saturation sections as macrophage interaction (dying off and being replaced with newer cells) redistributes the pigment is ways that eases the distributed skin tension. The settling process will cause the pigment to “bleed out” a little and make the tattoo look less focused as time passes. This process is continuous and will affect your tattoo for your lifetime (or the lifetime of the tattoo).
Aged Tattoo - Courtesy of BoredPanda.com

https://www.boredpanda.com/tattoo-aging-before-after/

Common tattoo aftercare products

Let’s cover the products used most commonly in aftercare regiments and toss out a few pros/cons with each type-

Lotions creams and gels

These are the most commonly recommended products for taking care of a fresh tattoo. Emollients are usually made up of lipid (hydrophobic compounds that repel water) and water emulsions that utilize a binding agent to keep them together. These products fill the gaps in your skin creating a more “full” stratum corneum layer (the outermost layer of skin) and cover the outer layer of skin to prevent TEWL. This increases the pliability, fullness, softness and moisture of the skin. These products are commonly produced  with additional products added for increased shelf-life and mechanical enhancements (ease of application, color, medications, natural products, smells etc.) Lotions are the thinnest of these mixtures. Creams usually have additional ingredients that create a thicker consistency. Gels will liquify when the contact skin.

Examples – Lubriderm

Pros- due to the decreased amount of oils in lotion, the maximum retained moisture is decreased. There is also a greater effect of excess moisturizer being evaporated so over moisturizing of the skin is less likely to occur with single applications. Given specific climates, lotions are a best bet for the aftercare of a tattoo if the preservatives and additives are considered beneficial for healing of damaged tissues.

Cons- In arid climates, there is a decreased ability of lotions to retain enough moisture in the skin to promote faster healing. You will need to reapply more often which may result in a mixed over-moisturized/under-moisturized situation with the affected area of skin. You may also unknowingly introduce pathogens to an open wound by touching it more often. This can result in a higher incidence of infection.

For larger areas of skin to be covered, there can be an inconsistent level of beneficial moisture applied. Along with the increased amount of damage that increases the amount of moisture lost by the skin, there can be a dehydrating effect that will increase the amount of discarded tissue collected on the surface of the skin (increased scabbing). There are also additives that are more often found in lotions that can cause allergic reactions and with a new tattoo, and when healing a fresh wound we want to avoid any possible reactions.

Occlusives

Usually an oil or wax based moisturizer that is applied to the skin. It acts in a way that stops the skin losing moisture due to evaporation by creating a barrier where the skin won’t be able to lose moisture due to TEWL.

Examples – A&D Ointment, Aquaphor

Pros- Less product must be consumed to create a high level of hydration. This is beneficial in moderately temperate climates to hot or arid climates and decreases the amount of product used to ensure proper skin moisture levels. In people who have dry skin or problems like eczema, the oil based moisturizers will soothe the skin and increase the body’s ability to heal before the tattoo procedure is scheduled.

Cons- In humid climates the skin can become choked with moisture when using ointments which results in excessive scabbing and delayed healing times. If you have oily or combination skin types, ointments can effectively over moisturize your skin, which in turn can increase the chances of contracting an infection. Using ointments can increase your chances of having acneiform eruptions (pimples) as well as contracting short bouts of contact dermatitis, especially if you have oily, sensitive skin or allergic responses to additives or the base ingredients. Another drawback to using occlusives is that the water content of the skin takes a long time to increase, as the water must be drawn from deeper levels of the skin before an improvement takes place

Humectants

Substances that attract and hold moisture in the skin. They are commonly used in conjunction with other products to increase skin health.(Honey, propylene glycol, hyaluronic acid). Humectants can be mixed with a simple moisturizer to enhance their effects.

Examples – Manuka honey, glycerol

Pros- If you have naturally dry skin, humectants have been shown to increase the natural moisture levels of the skin when applied correctly and in the correct environments. There are many “all natural” choices when selecting humectants. 

Cons- If used separately, these products underperform clinically developed emollients and occlusives, especially when the relative humidity levels are less than 70% (making them useless in arid climates). There can also be a concern for purity and controls when purchasing what could be considered less than regulated substances from producers.

Specialty Products

These products we will classify as those specifically made for healing tattoos. I will not be going out on a limb to give any review with these products. Not only do I wish to not be sued by blasting some of their claims, I also do not wish to sway any person who is currently using a product that is produced specifically for tattoos and having a positive result.

Below is a short list of product reactions that I will be adding to as more become available through your submissions.

 

Formulations – An expansion and explanation

The term “cream” traditionally refers to a product containing more occlusive ingredients, whereas a “lotion” contains primarily humectants.

Modern moisturizers often contain both occlusives and humectants that contribute to the efficacy but levels of each additive are not uniform among. Understanding the physiology of the skin barrier, and how a disease state or circumstance may contribute to dry skin, impaired barrier function or flaking of the skin can help us choose the best ingredients for a patient. The specific balance and combination of ingredients will help achieve a variety of outcomes depending on the desire of the consumer.

Pay attention to the additives and formulations of any product that you choose to utilize. Take the time to look up ingredients and potential reactions that may be experienced when using the products.

When in doubt – Lotions make for the best aftercare product

I admit that I have left out many variables that go into the best course for your tattoo aftercare but this article is a good introduction for those wanting a more focused aftercare regimen.

In my opinion, using a lotion in most, if not all occasions, makes the most sense. The possible complications that arise from overuse the of  humectants or occlusives make e default to that choice. It’s not some paid ideology but experience that has shown time and again that people will attempt to care for their tattoo in a way that doesn’t help it heal. People more often than not smother their pain with love and care and that doesn’t help a wound heal.

This article is just part 1 of an indepth look at tattoo aftercare. As they become available, we will link additional information for you, our discerning reader.

The Evolution of Western Tattooing

I’ve had a weird summer but things have been in flux for almost 2 years now. Most of this coincides with my having children (who are fantastic) and being forced to travel a lot for work.

Along with these major life changes, I have also been going to school and doing a lot of reading about philosophical ideas. Lately, I have been reading some of the works from Peter Singer (Act Utilitarian). He is famous for many different thought experiments over the past 40+ years but the one I felt compelled to toss into this article was the drowning child problem. (Rewritten for simplicity – Source)

This experiment has many aspects but I will take only a single part of it to make a point further on:

“If you were walking by a stream and saw a child had fallen into the stream, would you stop and save that child from drowning?”

If you were to answer, “Yes, I would stop and save that child from drowning!”, ask yourself: Why?

Why would you take time out of your day, when your happiness and energies could be better spent increasing the experiences you only have one chance to obtain in this lifetime? If you spend time helping this child in need, you will never get that time back. How can you be sure that the child is a good person (here and forever forward) or that they will have a life of value? You have no idea. Yet, in most people’s case, they would take action to save a child because they are not (or do not want to be considered) what society would label a monster or heartless person.

I may have taken a bit of a leap there but, as a society (local or global), we look to the children as something pure and malleable. They are something that has been untouched by the efforts of work-life balance or the politic that make up our daily existence.

So let’s take another run at the previous thought experiment:

What if you are walking by a stream and you see two children drowning. You only have the ability to save a single child at a time. In saving one child you may neglect the other so there’s a chance that the other could perish.

If confronted with this dilemma, how would you act? How would you triage this? Would you check to see if one was bigger than the other in hopes that the bigger one may be able to save itself? Do you go to the closer or further one? Do you save a child based on hair color? Do you let them both drown? What if one was your own child? Or both?

 

Dark lit lake

Regardless of any action taken in this situation, a rational person must always attempt the best possible outcome, for any and all involved. Their actions must result in what gives the greatest utility to those involved, regardless of how it affects themselves. Without this effort, society is prone to disruption as the efforts of the individual fracture from the cohesion necessary for mutual benefit in society. When removing the idea of an individual ego, we are forced to look outside our own worldview to see how our actions create positives or negatives. This can be applied universally among groups of people, or people and the environment that they exist within.

The practice of considering what is good and bad by picking apart our actions seems to be less organic than it had in the past. In more recent years, I have observed a loss of identity, a greater hive-mind collective and a less objective society. Given our thought experiment above, I think there would be a greater crisis among members of society when presented with the need for immediate action. I believe this is due, in larger part, to social networks and the identity manufacturing that accompanies the use of such technology.

 

Social Networks

Our use of technology has been of benefit in many ways. We have been able to advance progress in every field of study. Schools are offered via institutions that have gone online; We can send correspondence across the world in milliseconds and we are able to modify genetic structures to assume a godlike control of the physical world. In most ways, technology has been of benefit for society but when applied individualistically, our lives have become a shadow of what is required to be a social being. Our use of social networks has removed the social aspects of society and is leading to the destruction of individuality altogether.

There are a few aspects of ethics and social networks that we can go over. First I look at social network. What I think is absurd about it and what people can do to avoid being sucked into the marketing machine I assume it to be. After that, a bit about language and how we can never be confident when presented with written/texted/typed representations. Finally we will look at what it means to be a responsible person when using these forms of social connections. Throughout this essay I will point out how to critically examine this social network machine and why we should offer a harsh critique to this new aspect of society.

 

Social Media and Responsible Viewing – My perspective

Social media is a linchpin of interpersonal connectedness in our modern world. Global citizens focus large amounts of their lives on the assumptions others will make when viewing an online portfolio of statements, pictures or videos of their lives. This exclusive access (in some ways, depending on your security settings) gives voyeurs an insight into your life. Your followers and prowlers can choose to live vicariously through you and you never know what they are up to behind their digital device’s screen..

The idea of being a “follower” of a person or brand has always struck me as weird, maybe even a little awkward. In fact, as soon as I had written “follower” above, with those appended quotation marks, I felt a little sick. Why is it that without these markings I am less provoked by an emotional response but with them I feel more separate from the connection? If we look to the past, in our societies, the label of being a “follower” had been attached to something crazy like Purple Kool-Aid or compounds with militant weapon caches. It was a descriptor that labeled a person as being unable to think for themselves.

Followers were always an integral part of a larger mass that, while being led, shook the critical inquiry that accompanies life and disposed the efforts of free thinking while idolizing individuals that benefited from their obeisance. Our lives now fit perfectly into the idea of being a “follower” and we choose to propagate this lack of critical thinking.

 

From tattooing to social media

I work as a tattoo artist and part time as a thinker. My focus in the tattoo industry is putting what you think looks good into your skin. It is a permanent adornment that creates a myriad of emotions for some, and is quasi cathartic to me when doing a procedure. As tattooers, we utilize artistic skills and technical knowledge to make our clients happy – when they have the urge to make a permanent change to their body. As a free thinker I am always trying to understand what surrounds me and what my place in the world is. Combining these two efforts has been very difficult at times as I am forced to reconcile my want for understanding with the needs of my clientele.

As a tattoo artist, the focus for the business in modern times has been trying to figure out how best to adorn our clients body with an ageless piece of art. When we make a design for the skin we are always looking forward to ensure a tattoo looks great for the next 15+ years.
At least, this had been our effort in the past. We have slowly evolved away from this effort due to the amount of knowledge necessary when designing a piece. It is an insanely difficult endeavor.

 

Becoming a craftsperson

Growing as an artist combined the study and effort of generations who previously made mistakes so that the future could avoid them. The study of art, tattooing and the body was an immersive experience, wherein people wishing to achieve a mastery were forced to learn all aspects of the trade to become proficient. Once proficiency was obtained, a person practicing the craft was forced to understand their place in the industry. They developed their own “voice” in their artwork and honed this application so they could master their process. This process, once mastered, could be passed down to future generations and the art would evolve to fit a best practice that would ensure survivability and growth of the art form.

A mastery in tattooing included making pigment and needles; understanding and developing your tools of use; drafting and application of art to skin and the actual procedure; client management and running your business. Since the inception of regional and national supply companies, this practice of evolving a personal mastery has slowly devolved and an art-centric focus. The idea of mastery has shifted from the total knowledge accrued in a lifetime’s work to something that can be obtained through social media acceptance and a single applicable style of art. An artisan’s efforts can be so focused that mastery can be achieved in as little as a year.

 

Short term benefits

The industry has evolved away from mastery due to the inconvenience of time in everyday life. In many ways, it has become easier to learn with the invention of technologies that make designing a tattoo far easier. We also have the ability to capture lost hours with premade, pre dispersed pigments (although the safety of such products is of question), premade needles and, what are treated as disposable tattoo machines and supplies, that can be delivered to your door in a matter of days. Suppliers became an integral part of the operations and, in time, grew to service the entire industry, on demand.

With an increased amount of free time, what were tattoo artists in search of a mastery going to do to fill the time? Newly freed time was applied to becoming a better artist and learning how better to market their products. This is not as it always was…

This shift in free time occurred (in the west) at about the same time media started showcasing a new wave of personalities who sported tattoos. After that, television shows started to come out that introduced legions of captivated viewers the inner workings of a tattoo shop and, through careful manipulations and editing, humanized the tattoo artist. What was once considered an evil, drug-riddled trade for bikers and sailors, was being broadcast on networks across the globe. Viewers were given the chance to learn about the trade, become attached to the artist’s personal struggles and see that tattooing wasn’t occupied by fat-white-dudes riding Harleys. It was the normal folk that were getting tattooed.

This progress of acceptance was amazing for the wallets of those who were already established, competent artists. The influx of tattoo clientele created a ripple effect, where shops that were previously hidden in a basement or the back of a barber shop, were expanding into strip malls and large common areas. The money rolling in was exponentially greater than anything that had been seen before. It was like a biker rally on steroids, and it was happening everyday, all year long.

With the exposure granted by TV and massive marketing campaigns, most tattoo shops became a place where hopeful artists would flock so as to gain a chance to be like the new stars on TV. Walking into a shop in the early 2000’s was not comparable to how things looked in the 80’s and 90’s. Church groups getting a tattoo for God were sitting next to Hells Angels getting a tattoo for Satan, and the hopeful apprentices walked into a scene that secreted a different lifestyle than previous generations. The industry was in the midst of an evolution.

 

The evolution

The free time that had been granted by the supply companies was again absent from the lives of tattoo artists everywhere as clients packed tattoo shop floors. Demands for new and exciting artwork forced tattooers to evolve into offering custom designs, otherwise they would lose the newly found financial security granted to them. That peaceful nights and weekdays off had vanished. They were being replaced with something tattooers were not prepared for:

Artwork. Lots of artwork.

With this influx of new client demands, shop owners were hungry to open up apprenticeships so new tattooers could fulfil the wants of clientele. Contrary to the demand placed on shop owners, the industry did not become easier to break into. Even if they were desperate, shop owners were what we call now, “old school”, and they were prone to distrusting new people in their shops. They had learned a trade that was far different than the one they resided in and, being overrun with new demands, they were a little cranky about the swift evolution of the industry. It became very difficult to train a new apprentice as the traditional tools and tricks one needed to acquire in an apprenticeship were, at times, meaningless or outdated. Couple this with the shop owners having been thrust into a position of needing to develop new skills, the apprentices were in a unique position to advocate for an exchange.

As soon as they were done scrubbing the toilet.

 

The exchange and eventual breakdown of the system

Most apprentices were not being utilized to the best of their abilities during the great expansion (I think I will coin that term for this era of tattooing). With new art being demanded by the increased clientele, apprentices were chosen based on their artistic abilities, as well as how their personalities meshed with shop owners. Artists were chosen based on what they were capable of artistically, not on their drive to become craftspeople. Due to this change, shop owners were placed in a role where the power dynamic would become upended and the masters of old were placed on a pedestal next to their apprentices.

In traditional apprenticeships, the master has acquired all necessary fundamental knowledge that will be passed down, as well as their own individual expression of the craft the have mastered. The apprentice is forced to learn by watching and asking questions. The apprentice is forced to learn at their own speed by slowly learning the foundational elements of the craft. But when confronted with the great expansion, shop owners were forced to take a demotion (in a way).

The master’s skills in artistry were subpar in comparison to those their agreed to train. They were put in a place where the apprentice, who had been chosen solely on how much the master was able to learn from their association, held as much power as the shop owner. The master and apprentice had become equals, and in doing so, masters, in desperate need of education, instilled a level of competency that was unearned by the new apprentice. It became easier for a new apprentice to challenge the master and, when conflicts arose, the exit of the apprentice did not accompany their exit from the industry, as it had in the past.

 

Tattoo Artists – The new masters

As the industry evolved and apprentices were forced out of shops that had started their apprenticeship, many of these new talents had little background knowledge of how to obtain mastery in the trade. The trade master being labeled as a tattooers had vanished. The new masters were tattoo artists.

These new masters had been promoted through the apprentice ranks quickly due to the shop owners need to grow as an artist. Their skills were traded for acceptance in the industry and a basic training the encompassed enough to ensure a modicum of quality in the least amount of time.

The new masters had been brought up in a time where “custom was king” and all the efforts of a tattooers were based solely on their artistic abilities. As the industry evolved, the passing of knowledge to the new masters left behind skills necessary to fully understand the craft.

Suppliers came in and filled the want of freedom for time consuming tasks. Shop owners outsourced all aspects of the operations so they could focus on their growth as an artist to meet the demands of clientele. This shift in applied mastery created a new baseline for artists wishing to join the industry. Art comes first. You can learn by mistake. As the new masters evolved and opened shops, previous shop owners were being run out of business by these dismissed, art focused new masters.

 

A break in the chain

The apprentice leaving with a lack of complete understanding left a rift in place where, historically, the master was invested in the success of their apprentice and was a part of their future expressions of the craft. By creating a situation where apprentices had moved into independent operations before fully understanding the craft, and by granting apprenticeships based solely on what they could take from the new generations, the masters of the past were dismissed and labelled as the outdated problems inside an evolving craft. To the new masters, the artistic skills of the past couldn’t compete with their own and they did not know what had been missed due to an incomplete education. In driving their own need of evolution towards a new expertise, the old masters created an environment where they were made obsolete.

The new masters had come into the craft without a bridge to the past. They were thrust into a position of power in an industry that was growing at an alarming rate. The new masters were left without a foundation for how to educate the next round of apprentices as mastery was only focused on a single aspect of the craft. Their own lack of apprenticeship was now something that had the potential to ruin the industry.

As it happened before, the growth in the industry made it difficult for these new masters to succeed, as they did not have a complete knowledge of the craft. They were bound to the failures of the previous generation, unable to make growth built on a solid foundation, and were forced to adapt to a new way that would leave a large gap in knowledge moving forward. Social media.

 

The evolution continues

In the last 10 years or so, tattooing has become something that is a part of who we are as individuals and allows us to better define who we are inside society. The efforts of the new masters created an industry in which a client had the freedom to design something that fit their personality. To the new masters, the collaboration between clients and artists was always present in the manufacture of designs. It was their goal to do something unique as this would set them apart from their competition. Not having a master to help guide their efforts had a positive effect on many in the industry in this way as customization became king. The individual voice of artists worldwide became more pronounced and defined the culture of tattooing we see today.

Without being tied to the techniques of the past, artists were able to push the boundaries in how designs were made and how they were applied. Innovations in style were consistently being shown through access made possible via social networks and were supported by the industry suppliers that made increasingly vivid products. These amazing feats of artistic ability led hungry artists, new to the craft, in making attempts to replicate these newly displayed tattoos. We had superstars of art in the industry, sponsored artists and a lifestyle that was being sold as a way to become something bigger and better than what had been seen before.

For the adventurous artist, there had been little effort to guide or instill a sense of mastery in the techniques being developed. Efforts to spread the information to the new generation were being hampered by what some have identified as “trade secrets “that were able to be purchased by going online, attending trade seminars or paying those in control of such knowledge to give wanting artists a tattoo.

For those who were unlucky, or had little funds to chase the information that was for sale, the guidance given was separate from this practice. Those without time or funds were told: practice on paper so you don’t make a mistake in the skin; clients will willingly give you money to learn on them; you can make mistakes; this is how we learn now; you must sacrifice your client to improve; you can be the best if you focus on one aspect of tattooing.

 

Social media makes it mark

Those in modern tattooing were faced with the dilemma of training the next generation of masters as the industry continued to grow and evolve. Art was still at the forefront and artistic applications of tattoos were continually being developed. The next generation came into their training in the same way the previous generation had, with a skill that was unknown to their masters; the use of social media as a way to market your ability.

What had happened before with the new apprentices happened again. The new masters fulfilled their obligations by developing the new apprentice in the same way they had been brought into the craft. Their teachings were focused on personal development in art. The training was focused on learning by making mistakes. The imbalance in the exchange of information continued to grow as the new masters exchanged their knowledge and the apprentice gave new techniques to improve the masters business. While this exchange happens, the apprentice slowly becomes detached from the master who is grooming their entry into an industry devoid of the history that holds the fabric of understanding together. There is not enough information left to pass along to the new members of the industry and a greater separation from the past occurs. The new apprentices are pushing the boundaries of evolution and leading the industry in a new direction, just as their were shown by the new masters. Alone.

I fear that this may continue to occur for the foreseeable future. With new innovations that accompany the growth of a new generation, there will always be a tool that the new apprentice can utilize to level the master-apprentice interaction. This aspect of devolution is ever apparent in modern western tattooing. Social media became the new tool that the new masters did not understand and the apprentice was able to utilize these evolutions of society to their favor.

 

The new class – social networks

We have delved into the idea that modern apprenticeships are undertaken by a master who has less than the necessary experience to pass along an adequate foundational understanding. Now let’s look to the future.

In my opinion, this degradation of knowledge has accelerated in the past decade This is due to the influence of social networks and mass media representations of the tattoo industry. The media is a tool with great power over the populations that choose to enjoy its benefits. Our civilizations have evolved in magnificent ways that allow transfer of knowledge and ideas at lightning speed. We have evolved to know each other over great distances. Our lives are moving towards the true expression of a global society wherein our lives are inextricably intertwined. We will be forced to fight common threats together or face extinction.

While all of this is going on, a cult of personality is raging rampant in many industries. People are held aloft based on “likes” and “followers” and trends that define the generation are bought and sold as commodities to the highest bidder. The media giants have shifted from those who presented ideas on television or radio to those who sell space on portable devices. The new idols of a generation are those who sell lifestyles or products that guarantee – fame if emulated or happiness and longevity if purchased. The lifestyles of the rich an famous are at your fingertips. If you like and follow, you can be a part of it.

 

Social Media and Ethical Standards

We are confronted with images of what we want by large technology companies that sell advertising space. This spaces of influence are available for a price and are gobbled up by those in society that wish to extort a level of control or influence on others. Advertising is a monster that has adapted to the changes in society better than any industry. Billions are spent so that companies know how to get you, the potential client, to purchase things you do not need. Social networks are a culmination of this knowledge, spanning decades, that collectively alter our perceptions to influence our behavior. As the tech companies has evolved, the idea of social connections have deteriorated as well. Now, our societies are more comparable to the 1984 version of existence. We love the Company and they will tell us what to do.

These companies have little regard to change their practices, regardless of the pressure civilizations, politicians or global alliances put on them. Not to be separated from the global society of this new age, the new class of tattooers are fully entrenched in their grasp. They have mastered navigating this new realm of representation and are rewriting the idea of success hand-in-hand with the social networks and they have brought this mastery to the table when negotiating their apprenticeship.

 

Social networks and influencers

Since the inception of social networks, our focus has slowly turned towards what I interpret as instant gratification of our cult of personality. We are focused on building followers like a non-sanctioned church. To do this, we develop a personality that is far separate from who we are in reality and sell a story that falsely implies our mastery.

Most of our efforts inside the social network realm are focused not on stealing money or selling products that are misleading or fake; our efforts are focused on building an Image…(dramatic typing there). They are here to influence opinions and trends and to manipulate the followers that hold them aloft. For a price, they can select a product and deliver its benefit to millions of enrapt individuals with nothing better to do than look at a screen while waiting for a social update.

Social networking Influencers are forced to make a product that has a limited shelf life as the media, being delivered to billions globally, must adapt to keep people’s attention. The influencer’s focus is to bring in as many likes as possible and offer a service that is so exclusive that it has bloated industry. So many products are being represented by egocentric individuals who utilize their fame as a way to reconcile their high cost of service.

Influencers are skilled at building a persona that attracts people who are less than willing to think critically. Followers accept the image that is displayed on their phone/computer screen and seek validation of such images by evading critical inquiry. Validation is presented by agreements presented by influenced followers.

We see the numbers associated with an account and determine validity through insecurity. If numbers are great enough, those without mind enough to question will blindly follow representations put forth by the influencers to be a part of the “in crowd”. By denying inquiry, a person can be a part of something larger. They gain acceptance where otherwise they would be denied and, regardless if there is a physical presence to associate the person with the group, commenting on social networks allows users to segregate their ideals, likes, and beliefs to ensure less confrontation when interaction does occur.

 

Attempts to mislead

New apprentices or young artists in tattooing utilize social networks and media in the same way as influencers. Efforts made to display work that is impossible is a constant and misleads the public by imbuing a level of trust in clientele that is impossible to uphold, while misleading the populace under the guise of mastery. The new artists working towards mastery supplant the ideas of the past and extort a new version of true mastery. To obtain new mastery, follow these simple rules – The process and design are personal possessions of the artist. The client is no longer required to have input; they are canvasses utilized to impress or gain acceptance from competitors. This may seem Machiavellian in away but social networks are not a true representation of quality. The ability of a person to mislead the populace to increase personal value is theft.

We, as an industry cannot fault the new generation for taking such actions. This is our fault. We walked away from our responsibilities in search of fame and riches and were taken into the industry in the same vein. We are focused on personal growth rather than the growth of the industry collectively. The efforts of this new generation in utilizing ignorance to build a brand is reminiscent of how the new masters were used to gain artistic ability by previous generations. This epidemic is cyclic and the industry (as well as the majority of the world) is faced with a choice: Slow down and fix what is broken – or – kick it into high gear and get out before the ship sinks.

Sound familiar?

 

It’s all about appearance

When I go onto a social network, I am always presented with well groomed pages when searching for something entertaining. It is rare that I find many followers on pages that aren’t built to look a specific way and those that aren’t well groomed are not the first to appear in a search. When looking at my social networking pages, or those of some of my friends, we are not spending time developing an image or brand that represents our position in the world. Comparing our pages to influencers is like comparing fire and ice. Normal social media pages are utilized for updating close proximal relations and sharing statuses so friends and family can stay in touch with each other. Influencer pages are polished and are prime real estate for paying companies. I feel that this is due to grooming tactics these social networks have worked tirelessly to promote. In practice, you are attracted to a specific cult, or style, and the pages that have the most “followers” are delivering products more efficiently than others.

When a person joins a social networks, they only want to follow what mirrors what they feel mostly resembles who they are, what they like or who they wish to embody. In joining the ranks of a social media influencer, a person becomes attached to those who release entertaining material. Some wish to emulate it. For those who are bringing forth the next generation of tattooing, their ability to manipulate social networks has become key in their success and those who are not willing or able to competent on this new battlefield are left to fail.

 

Where the future lies

We are moving ever forward in society. Tattooing has evolved in so many ways that the art form it is today is a mere shadow of what it had once been, in some ways. Artists are marching forward towards a more efficient manner in delivering works of art to wanting clientele. Looking at social networks, tattooers are creating a platform wherein the “flash” of the past is what currently pays the bills. They are creating images, posting them online and clients are free to pick and choose the designs that hand on a digital wall. Social networking has turned our practices into a giant marketplace where social connections are ignored and the idea of customization is absent.

It’s funny when you look at it. We have come full circle and are reduced to the same practices that were commonplace before the great expansion. The only thing that is missing is the link to the past.

As the industry moves forward, they are confronted with a problem: Continue the march of progress and further remove themselves from the idea of mastery or, critically question the practices currently in use to rebuild the knowledge lost from the past.

 

Final Thoughts

I see the next generation of tattooers evolving in one of two ways:
One Way. I see the same mistakes being remade again. The master will need skills from the apprentice therefore creating an imbalance in power during training. Once the apprentice feels they have gleaned enough knowledge, they will break from the master and lose a little more of the past as the industry evolves. This will continue until tattooing becomes something lost in the translation of society’s evolution.
The Other Way. Tattooing slows down and becomes intertwined with the idea of mastery again. The new apprentices are given a full foundational experience when introduced to the industry and new knowledge is introduced as it becomes available. The industry works together in a way that promotes specialization and spreads knowledge effectively. Artists become attached to the process with their clientele. Insert a whole bunch of goodness!

This leads me back to the thought experiment we started with: If you come upon someone or something that is drowning, do you make an effort to save it?

Or do you just continue walking by?

Without our intervention in this industry, it will likely drown.

Hello and thanks for taking the time to read some of the ideas I have bouncing around in this
“gettin’ -older” head. I haven’t written in awhile due to the work that was being put into the pigment articles. Funny enough, the depth of work that went into that study put me into a bit of a crisis. Professionals around the world were taking the time to talk with me and I feel so much more informed about the safety and efficacy of products that are being used in the U.S.

 

Authors Note*

Regarding the efforts moving forward with the website, I will stick to describing the ethics and philosophy of tattooing in the west (in my interpretation), tattoo history and some aspects of technical tattooing. I will not be doing the in-depth science articles that have little effect on people’s actions or choices. This may seem like a defeatist attitude, which is not something that I espouse, but in the future I may revisit them. If anyone is interested in what was found during my pigment research, please feel free to send me an email and I will give you a link to the references I had collected over the past 6 months.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

The Evolution of Western Tattooing – My Perspective

I’ve had a weird summer but things have been in flux for almost 2 years now. Most of this coincides with my having children (who are fantastic) and being forced to travel a lot for work.

Along with these major life changes, I have also been going to school and doing a lot of reading about philosophical ideas. Lately, I have been reading some of the works from Peter Singer (Act Utilitarian). He is famous for many different thought experiments over the past 40+ years but the one I felt compelled to toss into this article was the drowning child problem. (Rewritten for simplicity – Source)

This experiment has many aspects but I will take only a single part of it to make a point further on:

“If you were walking by a stream and saw a child had fallen into the stream, would you stop and save that child from drowning?”

If you were to answer, “Yes, I would stop and save that child from drowning!”, ask yourself: Why?

Why would you take time out of your day, when your happiness and energies could be better spent increasing the experiences you only have one chance to obtain in this lifetime? If you spend time helping this child in need, you will never get that time back. How can you be sure that the child is a good person (here and forever forward) or that they will have a life of value? You have no idea. Yet, in most people’s case, they would take action to save a child because they are not (or do not want to be considered) what society would label a monster or heartless person.

I may have taken a bit of a leap there but, as a society (local or global), we look to the children as something pure and malleable. They are something that has been untouched by the efforts of work-life balance or the politic that make up our daily existence.

So let’s take another run at the previous thought experiment:

What if you are walking by a stream and you see two children drowning. You only have the ability to save a single child at a time. In saving one child you may neglect the other so there’s a chance that the other could perish.

If confronted with this dilemma, how would you act? How would you triage this? Would you check to see if one was bigger than the other in hopes that the bigger one may be able to save itself? Do you go to the closer or further one? Do you save a child based on hair color? Do you let them both drown? What if one was your own child? Or both?

Dark lit lake

Regardless of any action taken in this situation, a rational person must always attempt the best possible outcome, for any and all involved. Their actions must result in what gives the greatest utility to those involved, regardless of how it affects themselves. Without this effort, society is prone to disruption as the efforts of the individual fracture from the cohesion necessary for mutual benefit in society. When removing the idea of an individual ego, we are forced to look outside our own worldview to see how our actions create positives or negatives. This can be applied universally among groups of people, or people and the environment that they exist within.

The practice of considering what is good and bad by picking apart our actions seems to be less organic than it had in the past. In more recent years, I have observed a loss of identity, a greater hive-mind collective and a less objective society. Given our thought experiment above, I think there would be a greater crisis among members of society when presented with the need for immediate action. I believe this is due, in larger part, to social networks and the identity manufacturing that accompanies the use of such technology.

Social Networks

Our use of technology has been of benefit in many ways. We have been able to advance progress in every field of study. Schools are offered via institutions that have gone online; We can send correspondence across the world in milliseconds and we are able to modify genetic structures to assume a godlike control of the physical world. In most ways, technology has been of benefit for society but when applied individualistically, our lives have become a shadow of what is required to be a social being. Our use of social networks has removed the social aspects of society and is leading to the destruction of individuality altogether.

There are a few aspects of ethics and social networks that we can go over. First I look at social network. What I think is absurd about it and what people can do to avoid being sucked into the marketing machine I assume it to be. After that, a bit about language and how we can never be confident when presented with written/texted/typed representations. Finally we will look at what it means to be a responsible person when using these forms of social connections. Throughout this essay I will point out how to critically examine this social network machine and why we should offer a harsh critique to this new aspect of society.

Social Media and Responsible Viewing – My perspective

Social media is a linchpin of interpersonal connectedness in our modern world. Global citizens focus large amounts of their lives on the assumptions others will make when viewing an online portfolio of statements, pictures or videos of their lives. This exclusive access (in some ways, depending on your security settings) gives voyeurs an insight into your life. Your followers and prowlers can choose to live vicariously through you and you never know what they are up to behind their digital device’s screen..

The idea of being a “follower” of a person or brand has always struck me as weird, maybe even a little awkward. In fact, as soon as I had written “follower” above, with those appended quotation marks, I felt a little sick. Why is it that without these markings I am less provoked by an emotional response but with them I feel more separate from the connection? If we look to the past, in our societies, the label of being a “follower” had been attached to something crazy like Purple Kool-Aid or compounds with militant weapon caches. It was a descriptor that labeled a person as being unable to think for themselves.

Followers were always an integral part of a larger mass that, while being led, shook the critical inquiry that accompanies life and disposed the efforts of free thinking while idolizing individuals that benefited from their obeisance. Our lives now fit perfectly into the idea of being a “follower” and we choose to propagate this lack of critical thinking.

From tattooing to social media

I work as a tattoo artist and part time as a thinker. My focus in the tattoo industry is putting what you think looks good into your skin. It is a permanent adornment that creates a myriad of emotions for some, and is quasi cathartic to me when doing a procedure. As tattooers, we utilize artistic skills and technical knowledge to make our clients happy – when they have the urge to make a permanent change to their body. As a free thinker I am always trying to understand what surrounds me and what my place in the world is. Combining these two efforts has been very difficult at times as I am forced to reconcile my want for understanding with the needs of my clientele.

As a tattoo artist, the focus for the business in modern times has been trying to figure out how best to adorn our clients body with an ageless piece of art. When we make a design for the skin we are always looking forward to ensure a tattoo looks great for the next 15+ years.
At least, this had been our effort in the past. We have slowly evolved away from this effort due to the amount of knowledge necessary when designing a piece. It is an insanely difficult endeavor.

Becoming a craftsperson

Growing as an artist combined the study and effort of generations who previously made mistakes so that the future could avoid them. The study of art, tattooing and the body was an immersive experience, wherein people wishing to achieve a mastery were forced to learn all aspects of the trade to become proficient. Once proficiency was obtained, a person practicing the craft was forced to understand their place in the industry. They developed their own “voice” in their artwork and honed this application so they could master their process. This process, once mastered, could be passed down to future generations and the art would evolve to fit a best practice that would ensure survivability and growth of the art form.

A mastery in tattooing included making pigment and needles; understanding and developing your tools of use; drafting and application of art to skin and the actual procedure; client management and running your business. Since the inception of regional and national supply companies, this practice of evolving a personal mastery has slowly devolved and an art-centric focus. The idea of mastery has shifted from the total knowledge accrued in a lifetime’s work to something that can be obtained through social media acceptance and a single applicable style of art. An artisan’s efforts can be so focused that mastery can be achieved in as little as a year.

Short term benefits

The industry has evolved away from mastery due to the inconvenience of time in everyday life. In many ways, it has become easier to learn with the invention of technologies that make designing a tattoo far easier. We also have the ability to capture lost hours with premade, pre dispersed pigments (although the safety of such products is of question), premade needles and, what are treated as disposable tattoo machines and supplies, that can be delivered to your door in a matter of days. Suppliers became an integral part of the operations and, in time, grew to service the entire industry, on demand.

With an increased amount of free time, what were tattoo artists in search of a mastery going to do to fill the time? Newly freed time was applied to becoming a better artist and learning how better to market their products. This is not as it always was…

This shift in free time occurred (in the west) at about the same time media started showcasing a new wave of personalities who sported tattoos. After that, television shows started to come out that introduced legions of captivated viewers the inner workings of a tattoo shop and, through careful manipulations and editing, humanized the tattoo artist. What was once considered an evil, drug-riddled trade for bikers and sailors, was being broadcast on networks across the globe. Viewers were given the chance to learn about the trade, become attached to the artist’s personal struggles and see that tattooing wasn’t occupied by fat-white-dudes riding Harleys. It was the normal folk that were getting tattooed.

This progress of acceptance was amazing for the wallets of those who were already established, competent artists. The influx of tattoo clientele created a ripple effect, where shops that were previously hidden in a basement or the back of a barber shop, were expanding into strip malls and large common areas. The money rolling in was exponentially greater than anything that had been seen before. It was like a biker rally on steroids, and it was happening everyday, all year long.

With the exposure granted by TV and massive marketing campaigns, most tattoo shops became a place where hopeful artists would flock so as to gain a chance to be like the new stars on TV. Walking into a shop in the early 2000’s was not comparable to how things looked in the 80’s and 90’s. Church groups getting a tattoo for God were sitting next to Hells Angels getting a tattoo for Satan, and the hopeful apprentices walked into a scene that secreted a different lifestyle than previous generations. The industry was in the midst of an evolution.

The evolution

The free time that had been granted by the supply companies was again absent from the lives of tattoo artists everywhere as clients packed tattoo shop floors. Demands for new and exciting artwork forced tattooers to evolve into offering custom designs, otherwise they would lose the newly found financial security granted to them. That peaceful nights and weekdays off had vanished. They were being replaced with something tattooers were not prepared for:

Artwork. Lots of artwork.

With this influx of new client demands, shop owners were hungry to open up apprenticeships so new tattooers could fulfil the wants of clientele. Contrary to the demand placed on shop owners, the industry did not become easier to break into. Even if they were desperate, shop owners were what we call now, “old school”, and they were prone to distrusting new people in their shops. They had learned a trade that was far different than the one they resided in and, being overrun with new demands, they were a little cranky about the swift evolution of the industry. It became very difficult to train a new apprentice as the traditional tools and tricks one needed to acquire in an apprenticeship were, at times, meaningless or outdated. Couple this with the shop owners having been thrust into a position of needing to develop new skills, the apprentices were in a unique position to advocate for an exchange.

As soon as they were done scrubbing the toilet.

The exchange and eventual breakdown of the system

Most apprentices were not being utilized to the best of their abilities during the great expansion (I think I will coin that term for this era of tattooing). With new art being demanded by the increased clientele, apprentices were chosen based on their artistic abilities, as well as how their personalities meshed with shop owners. Artists were chosen based on what they were capable of artistically, not on their drive to become craftspeople. Due to this change, shop owners were placed in a role where the power dynamic would become upended and the masters of old were placed on a pedestal next to their apprentices.

In traditional apprenticeships, the master has acquired all necessary fundamental knowledge that will be passed down, as well as their own individual expression of the craft the have mastered. The apprentice is forced to learn by watching and asking questions. The apprentice is forced to learn at their own speed by slowly learning the foundational elements of the craft. But when confronted with the great expansion, shop owners were forced to take a demotion (in a way).

The master’s skills in artistry were subpar in comparison to those their agreed to train. They were put in a place where the apprentice, who had been chosen solely on how much the master was able to learn from their association, held as much power as the shop owner. The master and apprentice had become equals, and in doing so, masters, in desperate need of education, instilled a level of competency that was unearned by the new apprentice. It became easier for a new apprentice to challenge the master and, when conflicts arose, the exit of the apprentice did not accompany their exit from the industry, as it had in the past.

Tattoo Artists – The new masters

As the industry evolved and apprentices were forced out of shops that had started their apprenticeship, many of these new talents had little background knowledge of how to obtain mastery in the trade. The trade master being labeled as a tattooers had vanished. The new masters were tattoo artists.

These new masters had been promoted through the apprentice ranks quickly due to the shop owners need to grow as an artist. Their skills were traded for acceptance in the industry and a basic training the encompassed enough to ensure a modicum of quality in the least amount of time.

The new masters had been brought up in a time where “custom was king” and all the efforts of a tattooers were based solely on their artistic abilities. As the industry evolved, the passing of knowledge to the new masters left behind skills necessary to fully understand the craft.

Suppliers came in and filled the want of freedom for time consuming tasks. Shop owners outsourced all aspects of the operations so they could focus on their growth as an artist to meet the demands of clientele. This shift in applied mastery created a new baseline for artists wishing to join the industry. Art comes first. You can learn by mistake. As the new masters evolved and opened shops, previous shop owners were being run out of business by these dismissed, art focused new masters.

A break in the chain

The apprentice leaving with a lack of complete understanding left a rift in place where, historically, the master was invested in the success of their apprentice and was a part of their future expressions of the craft. By creating a situation where apprentices had moved into independent operations before fully understanding the craft, and by granting apprenticeships based solely on what they could take from the new generations, the masters of the past were dismissed and labelled as the outdated problems inside an evolving craft. To the new masters, the artistic skills of the past couldn’t compete with their own and they did not know what had been missed due to an incomplete education. In driving their own need of evolution towards a new expertise, the old masters created an environment where they were made obsolete.

The new masters had come into the craft without a bridge to the past. They were thrust into a position of power in an industry that was growing at an alarming rate. The new masters were left without a foundation for how to educate the next round of apprentices as mastery was only focused on a single aspect of the craft. Their own lack of apprenticeship was now something that had the potential to ruin the industry.

As it happened before, the growth in the industry made it difficult for these new masters to succeed, as they did not have a complete knowledge of the craft. They were bound to the failures of the previous generation, unable to make growth built on a solid foundation, and were forced to adapt to a new way that would leave a large gap in knowledge moving forward. Social media.

The evolution continues

In the last 10 years or so, tattooing has become something that is a part of who we are as individuals and allows us to better define who we are inside society. The efforts of the new masters created an industry in which a client had the freedom to design something that fit their personality. To the new masters, the collaboration between clients and artists was always present in the manufacture of designs. It was their goal to do something unique as this would set them apart from their competition. Not having a master to help guide their efforts had a positive effect on many in the industry in this way as customization became king. The individual voice of artists worldwide became more pronounced and defined the culture of tattooing we see today.

Without being tied to the techniques of the past, artists were able to push the boundaries in how designs were made and how they were applied. Innovations in style were consistently being shown through access made possible via social networks and were supported by the industry suppliers that made increasingly vivid products. These amazing feats of artistic ability led hungry artists, new to the craft, in making attempts to replicate these newly displayed tattoos. We had superstars of art in the industry, sponsored artists and a lifestyle that was being sold as a way to become something bigger and better than what had been seen before.

For the adventurous artist, there had been little effort to guide or instill a sense of mastery in the techniques being developed. Efforts to spread the information to the new generation were being hampered by what some have identified as “trade secrets “that were able to be purchased by going online, attending trade seminars or paying those in control of such knowledge to give wanting artists a tattoo.

For those who were unlucky, or had little funds to chase the information that was for sale, the guidance given was separate from this practice. Those without time or funds were told: practice on paper so you don’t make a mistake in the skin; clients will willingly give you money to learn on them; you can make mistakes; this is how we learn now; you must sacrifice your client to improve; you can be the best if you focus on one aspect of tattooing.

Social media makes it mark


Those in modern tattooing were faced with the dilemma of training the next generation of masters as the industry continued to grow and evolve. Art was still at the forefront and artistic applications of tattoos were continually being developed. The next generation came into their training in the same way the previous generation had, with a skill that was unknown to their masters; the use of social media as a way to market your ability.

What had happened before with the new apprentices happened again. The new masters fulfilled their obligations by developing the new apprentice in the same way they had been brought into the craft. Their teachings were focused on personal development in art. The training was focused on learning by making mistakes. The imbalance in the exchange of information continued to grow as the new masters exchanged their knowledge and the apprentice gave new techniques to improve the masters business. While this exchange happens, the apprentice slowly becomes detached from the master who is grooming their entry into an industry devoid of the history that holds the fabric of understanding together. There is not enough information left to pass along to the new members of the industry and a greater separation from the past occurs. The new apprentices are pushing the boundaries of evolution and leading the industry in a new direction, just as their were shown by the new masters. Alone.

I fear that this may continue to occur for the foreseeable future. With new innovations that accompany the growth of a new generation, there will always be a tool that the new apprentice can utilize to level the master-apprentice interaction. This aspect of devolution is ever apparent in modern western tattooing. Social media became the new tool that the new masters did not understand and the apprentice was able to utilize these evolutions of society to their favor.

The new class – social networks

We have delved into the idea that modern apprenticeships are undertaken by a master who has less than the necessary experience to pass along an adequate foundational understanding. Now let’s look to the future.

In my opinion, this degradation of knowledge has accelerated in the past decade This is due to the influence of social networks and mass media representations of the tattoo industry. The media is a tool with great power over the populations that choose to enjoy its benefits. Our civilizations have evolved in magnificent ways that allow transfer of knowledge and ideas at lightning speed. We have evolved to know each other over great distances. Our lives are moving towards the true expression of a global society wherein our lives are inextricably intertwined. We will be forced to fight common threats together or face extinction.

While all of this is going on, a cult of personality is raging rampant in many industries. People are held aloft based on “likes” and “followers” and trends that define the generation are bought and sold as commodities to the highest bidder. The media giants have shifted from those who presented ideas on television or radio to those who sell space on portable devices. The new idols of a generation are those who sell lifestyles or products that guarantee – fame if emulated or happiness and longevity if purchased. The lifestyles of the rich an famous are at your fingertips. If you like and follow, you can be a part of it.

Social Media and Ethical Standards

We are confronted with images of what we want by large technology companies that sell advertising space. This spaces of influence are available for a price and are gobbled up by those in society that wish to extort a level of control or influence on others. Advertising is a monster that has adapted to the changes in society better than any industry. Billions are spent so that companies know how to get you, the potential client, to purchase things you do not need. Social networks are a culmination of this knowledge, spanning decades, that collectively alter our perceptions to influence our behavior. As the tech companies has evolved, the idea of social connections have deteriorated as well. Now, our societies are more comparable to the 1984 version of existence. We love the Company and they will tell us what to do.

These companies have little regard to change their practices, regardless of the pressure civilizations, politicians or global alliances put on them. Not to be separated from the global society of this new age, the new class of tattooers are fully entrenched in their grasp. They have mastered navigating this new realm of representation and are rewriting the idea of success hand-in-hand with the social networks and they have brought this mastery to the table when negotiating their apprenticeship.

Social networks and influencers

Since the inception of social networks, our focus has slowly turned towards what I interpret as instant gratification of our cult of personality. We are focused on building followers like a non-sanctioned church. To do this, we develop a personality that is far separate from who we are in reality and sell a story that falsely implies our mastery.

Most of our efforts inside the social network realm are focused not on stealing money or selling products that are misleading or fake; our efforts are focused on building an Image…(dramatic typing there). They are here to influence opinions and trends and to manipulate the followers that hold them aloft. For a price, they can select a product and deliver its benefit to millions of enrapt individuals with nothing better to do than look at a screen while waiting for a social update.

Social networking Influencers are forced to make a product that has a limited shelf life as the media, being delivered to billions globally, must adapt to keep people’s attention. The influencer’s focus is to bring in as many likes as possible and offer a service that is so exclusive that it has bloated industry. So many products are being represented by egocentric individuals who utilize their fame as a way to reconcile their high cost of service.

Influencers are skilled at building a persona that attracts people who are less than willing to think critically. Followers accept the image that is displayed on their phone/computer screen and seek validation of such images by evading critical inquiry. Validation is presented by agreements presented by influenced followers.

We see the numbers associated with an account and determine validity through insecurity. If numbers are great enough, those without mind enough to question will blindly follow representations put forth by the influencers to be a part of the “in crowd”. By denying inquiry, a person can be a part of something larger. They gain acceptance where otherwise they would be denied and, regardless if there is a physical presence to associate the person with the group, commenting on social networks allows users to segregate their ideals, likes, and beliefs to ensure less confrontation when interaction does occur.

Attempts to mislead

New apprentices or young artists in tattooing utilize social networks and media in the same way as influencers. Efforts made to display work that is impossible is a constant and misleads the public by imbuing a level of trust in clientele that is impossible to uphold, while misleading the populace under the guise of mastery. The new artists working towards mastery supplant the ideas of the past and extort a new version of true mastery. To obtain new mastery, follow these simple rules – The process and design are personal possessions of the artist. The client is no longer required to have input; they are canvasses utilized to impress or gain acceptance from competitors. This may seem Machiavellian in away but social networks are not a true representation of quality. The ability of a person to mislead the populace to increase personal value is theft.

We, as an industry cannot fault the new generation for taking such actions. This is our fault. We walked away from our responsibilities in search of fame and riches and were taken into the industry in the same vein. We are focused on personal growth rather than the growth of the industry collectively. The efforts of this new generation in utilizing ignorance to build a brand is reminiscent of how the new masters were used to gain artistic ability by previous generations. This epidemic is cyclic and the industry (as well as the majority of the world) is faced with a choice: Slow down and fix what is broken – or – kick it into high gear and get out before the ship sinks.

Sound familiar?

It’s all about appearance

When I go onto a social network, I am always presented with well groomed pages when searching for something entertaining. It is rare that I find many followers on pages that aren’t built to look a specific way and those that aren’t well groomed are not the first to appear in a search. When looking at my social networking pages, or those of some of my friends, we are not spending time developing an image or brand that represents our position in the world. Comparing our pages to influencers is like comparing fire and ice. Normal social media pages are utilized for updating close proximal relations and sharing statuses so friends and family can stay in touch with each other. Influencer pages are polished and are prime real estate for paying companies. I feel that this is due to grooming tactics these social networks have worked tirelessly to promote. In practice, you are attracted to a specific cult, or style, and the pages that have the most “followers” are delivering products more efficiently than others.

When a person joins a social networks, they only want to follow what mirrors what they feel mostly resembles who they are, what they like or who they wish to embody. In joining the ranks of a social media influencer, a person becomes attached to those who release entertaining material. Some wish to emulate it. For those who are bringing forth the next generation of tattooing, their ability to manipulate social networks has become key in their success and those who are not willing or able to competent on this new battlefield are left to fail.

Where the future lies

We are moving ever forward in society. Tattooing has evolved in so many ways that the art form it is today is a mere shadow of what it had once been, in some ways. Artists are marching forward towards a more efficient manner in delivering works of art to wanting clientele. Looking at social networks, tattooers are creating a platform wherein the “flash” of the past is what currently pays the bills. They are creating images, posting them online and clients are free to pick and choose the designs that hand on a digital wall. Social networking has turned our practices into a giant marketplace where social connections are ignored and the idea of customization is absent.

It’s funny when you look at it. We have come full circle and are reduced to the same practices that were commonplace before the great expansion. The only thing that is missing is the link to the past.

As the industry moves forward, they are confronted with a problem: Continue the march of progress and further remove themselves from the idea of mastery or, critically question the practices currently in use to rebuild the knowledge lost from the past.

Final Thoughts

I see the next generation of tattooers evolving in one of two ways:
One Way. I see the same mistakes being remade again. The master will need skills from the apprentice therefore creating an imbalance in power during training. Once the apprentice feels they have gleaned enough knowledge, they will break from the master and lose a little more of the past as the industry evolves. This will continue until tattooing becomes something lost in the translation of society’s evolution.
The Other Way. Tattooing slows down and becomes intertwined with the idea of mastery again. The new apprentices are given a full foundational experience when introduced to the industry and new knowledge is introduced as it becomes available. The industry works together in a way that promotes specialization and spreads knowledge effectively. Artists become attached to the process with their clientele. Insert a whole bunch of goodness!

This leads me back to the thought experiment we started with: If you come upon someone or something that is drowning, do you make an effort to save it?

Or do you just continue walking by?

Without our intervention in this industry, it will likely drown.

Hello and thanks for taking the time to read some of the ideas I have bouncing around in this
“gettin’ -older” head. I haven’t written in awhile due to the work that was being put into the pigment articles. Funny enough, the depth of work that went into that study put me into a bit of a crisis. Professionals around the world were taking the time to talk with me and I feel so much more informed about the safety and efficacy of products that are being used in the U.S.

Authors Note*

Regarding the efforts moving forward with the website, I will stick to describing the ethics and philosophy of tattooing in the west (in my interpretation), tattoo history and some aspects of technical tattooing. I will not be doing the in-depth science articles that have little effect on people’s actions or choices. This may seem like a defeatist attitude, which is not something that I espouse, but in the future I may revisit them. If anyone is interested in what was found during my pigment research, please feel free to send me an email and I will give you a link to the references I had collected over the past 6 months.

Tattoo Pigment – Safety and Regulations

Intro:

From the beginning, this article seemed like a simple way to introduce an argument about safety and fair practices. In reality, the companies that sell tattoo pigments, the industry that produces the raw ingredients, and the artists in industry combined, led me to formulate a critique that became a monster, much larger than I anticipated. This article grew to around 10,000 words and is only still just scratching the surface of a debate that needs to occur.  Questions about the industry and its operations came more naturally after studying what was occurring and talking to insiders who manufacture pigments in the US. I slowly formed an opinion of what was happening to the industry and wanted to write this as a way to test these beliefs. 

In writing this article, I have spent hours of research, sent hundreds of emails and traveled many hours away from my family to try and create a framework for what I hoped could be accomplished by releasing any information. It was also an attempt to find the answers I knew were out there. In any event, the information listed in the reference section is not comprehensive, but a starting point for many out there who may wish to learn more.

Part 1 – My Opinion and analysis of the tattoo pigment industry

Currently, there are two sides debating the future of pigment production in the tattoo industry. On one side, the suppliers and distributors of the products tattoo artists use are confronted with questions about how safe their products are. They are confronted with the potential of regulations which will be handed down by regulators which focus on the health and long term effects of products used in tattooing. The suppliers and producers are actively fighting these potential new regulations. Their argument is that self-regulation has been successful and there is no need for any regulations. They have the clients best health interest as their primary focus. They argue that government regulators should stay out of private business as self imposed regulations are the best course of action.

On the other, questions are being presented by scientific researchers and regulators in the U.S. and the European Union. These questions are centered on the safety and efficacy of products being sold and will lead to regulations when enough data is collected about the health effects of tattoo products. Scientists are forced to ask these questions after testing results show that suppliers and distributors have released products that have been contaminated or produced with known harmful chemicals.

 

The efforts by scientists are progressing slowly and have been exacerbated by the lack of regulations and need for new testing protocol. For the past 20 years or so, companies producing new products for the market have been able to innovate away from the regular testing of products for safety. These innovations brought about more dynamic products for use in the industry but we know little of their long term health effects. Until recently, science was not interested in how products were being developed, but recent testing has shown that a healthy future for a large population on the planet may be at risk.

While new products are continually being developed, the gap in scientific testing has presented itself as something in need of innovation. The efforts of scientists globally have just begun developing ways to analyze and inspect products for tattooing, and in doing so, they are better able to determine what is in tattoo products and if they are safe or not. As testing has evolved, scientists have found new ways to analyze what is in tattoo artist’s supplies. They can tell us what is not listed on the label. 

Regulations

While writing this up, I drafted a tactical road map in the back of my mind. This road map was what to expect of the industry as time progressed. I go into scattered detail throughout the article of how I feel the companies in question will react to questions and based these tactics off of other companies who were confronted with the asme threat of regulations historically. (Special focus given to the cigarette companies in the U.S.)

Historically, companies facing new restrictions pushed the idea of regulators having an ulterior motive. Companies had previously argued that they being being victimised. Regulators were treating theses companies different than their competitors, AKA- singling them out.These companies argued that regulators attacked their ability to operate by imposing regulations which forced them to lose market viability; the the loss of profits during restructuring to meet these legal hurdles was impossible to overcome; non-scientists argued on behalf of these companies that regulations stood between them and the products that they demanded.  Companies argued that these new regulations were effectively decreasing the ability to innovate and to meet market demand.

While I agree that this may be a possible side effect of regulation, this argument pushes business interests and earnings ahead of public safety. If you knowingly produce a product that has been shown to create ill health in individuals, you have a responsibility to modify your products or remove them from circulation. In my opinion, the guarantee that new products are safe supersedes the want for innovation.

Because the push for regulations have already hit other industries, tattoo suppliers are in a unique position to exploit knowledge gained by others who have gone through the process before. The previous actions taken by other companies or industries give companies facing new regulation a way to prepare for how they will fight regulators. This attack focuses on creating a system of shifting blame to keep new regulations from being applied for as long as possible. 

I keep asking myself: Why are they fighting to keep regulations from becoming a reality and why should they care if they are forced to change?

I believe it comes down to money and looking to businesses fighting regulation the past, it always has been.

What companies are up against when facing regulation

New regulations create new process that must be taken by companies when they release products for the general public.

If you change your production or are forced to utilize new sources or raw materials, your costs will initially go up. There will be a period of time where you cannot produce any product and your profits will evaporate. Depending on the market you operate within, these costs of operation may stay increased for the future which puts stress on your product line to stay competitive, if you choose not to raise prices. Due to this, manufacturers argue that increased costs create a market in which they are unable to successfully operate in. Business thrives on stability.

Regardless of what a company may say is going to happen to their production costs, the price adjustments and lifetime value fall onto the consumer. If companies are forced to pay more to adapt new policies or produce things in an ethical way, they do not pick up the bill, regardless of what they say. We have been shown throughout time that these new costs always pass along to the consumer and have no bearing in successful sales. Businesses that do not make profits are prone to failure.

The Manufacture and Sale

Tattoo pigments are just paint for your skin… right?

Tattoo pigments are a product that is readily available in supply stores or via online marketplaces globally. They are a necessity for tattoo artist operations. Most pigments sold commercially are labelled as “vegan” or  “sterile” and come in a variety of mind-boggling colors. The chain of production is easily followed for companies who release products on a global level:

Manufacturers globally produce the raw materials used in mixing tattoo pigments. These manufacturers sell raw materials to the companies that mix and bottle pigments that are then sold to distributors. These distributors sell tattoo artists the bottles via online marketplaces or local supply shops. The companies that “mix” tattoo colors are not the same people you meet at conventions or in local supply shops.

Please remember, suppliers do no produce raw pigments, but only purchase them from large companies who do the production in bulk for all industries globally. The final product is distilled down through many channels until you purchase a bottle from an endpoint.

Suppliers in the tattoo industry buy raw pigments from these manufacturers, blend them with whatever they use to make the pigments. This is where regulators have begun their analysis into the safety of production.  In the US currently, there is zero regulation for tattoo pigments and cosmetic tattoo pigments. There is no law requiring companies to verify what is put into the bottles they sell. There is no in-house testing or out of house testing of the raw products before the mixing process starts. This is the same for the products that are lining your shelves/drawers right now. The only testing is completed before the product is initially released to the public, in which companies that do testing check to make sure the labels and ingredients match. There is no testing to ensure safety.

Once a product has passed the initial acceptance by the FDA (in the U.S.), companies can begin selling their product. After this initial inspection, companies can make changes to pigment mixes without additional approval. What has been shown by researchers recently is that what has been listed on the label of bottles of tattoo pigment is not all that is in a bottle.

Historically, the onus has been on distributors to release safe and effective products while the suppliers have evaded scrutiny. They (suppliers) have been trusted implicitly and, we assume, have lived up to their responsibilities. With unfettered freedom, these companies have gone forward mixing and selling pigments, as well as other supplies, while avoiding any outside critique or question as to how safe the product is. Tattooing as an industry has operated under the assumption that everything they use is considered safe because there have been no reports openly released stating otherwise. 

A question about quality and safety

For the most part, tattoo artists worldwide believe in the safety and efficacy of products made by these large supply companies. These supply companies have spent millions on marketing and endorsement deals to instill a sense of quality and safety for those who use choose their brands. Marketing the idea of quality is a wonderful idea, especially when quality is meant to describe safety. The idea of quality, to supply companies, is not meant to describe a level of safety, it is meant to denote a level of effectiveness.

When consumers think of quality, various images pop into their minds: Clean, safe, grand, effective… While this is not a full list of descriptors for products, the labels listed above (and many others) are being applied to tattoo products. When used independently, each word has a unique meaning that a person can visualize. When using multiple descriptive labels together, the visualization a person receives is much different. If manipulation of simple language structure create different interpretations when applied to a product, products must live up to these interpretations when being released to the public. It is essential when the safety of an individual who is undergoing a permanent modification to their body is reliant on a product that may not live up to how it is described.

Here is an explanation for what was stated above.

Patients require doctors to have quality training and tools when undergoing surgery. In this sense, quality embodies the feeling of safety. Compare that to a quality cut of meat; when we compare the use of quality to a food product, we expect it to be of substantial size, color and taste. It has little to do with the safety of such an item. Unless we attach a second descriptor like organic or grass-fed. When combining organic, grass-fed and quality we are given a different understanding of what quality means. It feels safer, cleaner and more responsible. This goes with most products that are marketed to us and is no different with tattoo pigments.

While products for tattooing may be listed as having quality ingredients (effective), they are also listed as organic, vegan and cruelty free. This manipulation of product labels falsely applies the sense of being honest, safe and responsible to a product that has been knowingly manufactured with only efficacy in mind. This false sense of security is a blatant violation of trust by suppliers. Combine that with the efforts to resist regulation and sell untested, potentially unsafe products under the veil of what they are not does not align with what the tattoo industry currently believe they are buying. This practice must stop, or be modified to ensure education about product efficacy and safety are well understood by consumers.

The idea of quality has evolved. Quality doesn’t only apply to the products tattoo artist use. It also applies to the people involved in the industry. Clients see REAL artists (real as in the graduated with a degree -Something that was uncommon 2 decades ago) joining the ranks of the industry. Young adults leaving their educational institutions are dreaming of becoming a tattoo artist. These artists are the new rockstars of a generation and have progressed the development of amazing tattoos available for the clientele that trust them with their body. While this progression has been an amazing evolution to sit back and watch, we have been left with a glaring hole in the knowledge of what the industry must know to be successful. Tattooing cannot wholly focused on art; it is an experience for a client that leaves them marked for a lifetime. We are only conduits for their acceptance of our artwork.

Cultural acceptance and this renewed renaissance in applying a tattoo artistically gave tattoo artists the ability to claim the title of being accomplished early in their career. The reality is, they have yet to learn enough to be considered a master when they wholly focus on a single artistic style in their field. Mastery demands a full knowledge of all aspects in a field of study. Beyond that, the person achieving mastery must understand their place in the craft and how they are able to aid in it’s evolution.

My worry is that the application of quality to these businesses and the products they release are a straw man in the industry.

The deficiency in tattoo artist mastery mirrors what the pigment companies face as the threat of new regulations puts them under scrutiny. These companies may be exposed as the inexperienced professional being represented as a master. They may not know as much as they claim, and when placed under examination about their practices, must provide exceptional proof to obtain the mastery which may be falsely applied.

The break in knowledge

When speaking to those who are still alive and remember the glory days of tattooing (old-schoolers), modern practitioners are confronted that what has occurred in such little time is unbelievable. (Good or bad, they usually have an opinion worth listening to.) These long standing veterans come from a time where mastery was a viable option and the critiques they offer should not be ignored. As the industry evolves away from the past, where self sufficiency was a normal practice of business, more reliance is placed upon the suppliers and distributors to release products that are safe and effective.

With scientific innovation tattooists are blessed with unbelievable color lines and new products that break from the clumsy production of the past. As products were developed, tattoo artists trusted their release without question. They were trusted because tattoo artists weren’t given a choice; because without these products, tattoo artists couldn’t do their jobs. They were held hostage as knowledge was slowly stripped away form the industry and held closely by few who made a profit off it. Tattoo artists were led to believe the future lies in innovation, not in mastery.  Because tattoo artists had never learned about manufacturing pigments , they never knew that they could ask if pigments are considered safe.

What was responsible or what harm could come if they continued to use these untested products? This overlooked aspect of operations created an imbalance, as trust in the producers outweighed the need for critical inquiry. Modern tattoo artists never understood they could manufacture these pigments themselves. Through clever marketing, they were led to believe mastery could come from the utilization of modern products and media sources, while sacrificing client experience. While this was occurring, a previous generations knowledge slowly slipped into obsolescence. 

Ethics or Profits

Some (it may be a majority, I am unsure) tattoo artists do not know how to make pigment, build a needle or tune a tattoo machine. In more modern tattoo business operations, local distributors were essential once mastery shifted focus towards art. When this happened, at least to me, they knowingly capitalized on it. While most suppliers or distributors may have started their business in an altruistic way, the money available inside sales globally has become obscene. This newly found growth in profits forced individuals to choose between ethical sales practices and potential fortunes.

Competition with these companies was the excuse to bend morality, as they had to evolve to take advantage of new markets. Whenever new growth opportunities present themselves in business, companies are forced to change their practices, cut costs and innovate to stay viable. They must produce products that could be labelled as unique, better and faster to stay ahead of their clientele’s demand.  In creating innovation, companies are allowed a sense of freedom, if the products delivered increase total utility for those that utilize them.

Pigment companies have had nearly 2 decades of freedom. That freedom has created innovation and helped establish some companies as being at the forefront of product development. These new labels brings additional stress to continue innovation and recently there have been… well… problems. Due to these “problems”, the European Union (EU) has started investigating the operations of pigment suppliers and distributors. They have also began testing their products.

In the U.S., regulators have presented suppliers with a chance to change classifications on products used in tattooing. The idea is to reclassify tattoo pigments as a cosmetic supply. If regulators are successful in doing so, a list of banned substances will be given to producers that will no longer be allowed in the production, manufacture and mixing of pigments. This has brought pigment companies forward in an effort to stop regulations.

An industry that lost control

Most tattoo artists are trained in infectious controls, safe operations; yet, they are unable to explain what is potentially one of the greatest threats to their clientele – what is put into their skin. As tattooing evolved, the industry shifted its focus towards art and left the manufacture of products they utilize daily to suppliers. With the help of marketing and brand management, tattoo artists began to see these companies as a more trusted name in the field. The suppliers gained control of a product that was essential in the operations of tattooing.

Currently, operating a tattoo shop forces owners to apply old-fashioned business management tactics to an evolving field. Mainly, these areas of focus are on growing artistically as an individual (if they tattoo), increasing visibility among those inside and outside the market, and maximising profits.

Shops split total revenues with artists (percentile basis) and, with the influx of clientele recently, have made a business model that requires little effort to grow. All you require is decent work being produced and a mildly acceptable level of customer service. This model was adapted from previous generations and has not evolved much in the past 30 years. What has happened is society accepted tattoos as a form of expression. When that occurred, tattoo artists globally were forced to make accommodations with their time or adapt to new products that allowed them freedom.

Tattoo artists no longer make needles (which really was horrible), or mix pigments (which was so, so messy); there are now suppliers who are willing to sell to professionals. What they sold to artists has been considered quality items, and they were available for a low cost in comparison with time saved. This adaptation was a necessity for many people who had established themselves before modern supply companies had the selections they do currently.

In the past, tattoo artists were forced to spend twice as much time (compared to actual tattooing time) or more making the tools to be used for daily operations. When clientele increased, the total time for preparing the shop increased. Tattoo artists were desperate for an escape and were given it as the market adapted to meet these demands.

Suppliers/Distributors

There is a core group of suppliers who maintain a sort of oligopoly over products released to the industry globally. This existence at the top of a market, with little competition, occurred as the tattoo shops globally demanded fast access to products necessary for operations. As the demand increased, and these businesses grew to support a global economy, distributors developed the local footprint needed to get the products to wanting artists.

In the modern market, connections between suppliers and distributors are codependent. There is no need for interpersonal connections with local artists and the suppliers; something that had been common practice in the past. With the development of the distributor as a middleman, suppliers were capable of keeping things intimate with their local clientele while growing to fit an expanding market. Their focus shifted to train distributors in their product benefits and sales tactics for new and existing clientele. This practice continued until the suppliers elevated beyond the normal levels of competition to become a supplier of something essential. They became brands, recognized by their logos and labels, and controlled the flow of all products globally. Tattooers stopped making pigments.

Safety

These products have little regulations inside the US, but do have regulations in other parts of the world. My worry, and it seems to be the worry of scientists across the globe, is that some of the products being manufactured may be unstable or unsafe.

In the past, we had more control over what we chose to utilize in our tattooing practices. We knew the people who sourced our pigment or we sourced them ourselves. When something went wrong, if a person got sick, the blame rested on our business. This operation seems more ideal to me. It’s like farm-to-table and more personal. This opinion may be sentimental and lacking a global ideology but, our work is personal. If we were in control of our products and developed them in tandem with people who source them, we could have better control over the quality of the products we choose to use on our clientele. 

This idea should not be relegated to just the pigment producing/mixing companies that sell to artists in the industry, but to all who choose to sell products that have the potential to cause undue harm to unwitting populations.

My efforts in this article may seem to unfairly point to the people who choose to make pigments, but I only utilize this argument as I feel they have the easiest route to ensure quality production. My opinion is that suppliers have a greater responsibility to inform the industry, distributors and clientele as to what their practices are; what they are giving us to put into our bodies. Hiding behind the guise of “proprietary blends” is not a way to ensure trust, especially if that blend is potentially harmful to its recipients. We need open dialogue wherein each party can discuss the safety and efficacy of the products they choose to use.

The Fight Against Regulations

Currently, distributors are facing new critique. They are facing the threat of new regulations and outside analysis of their products. In response to this, tattoo pigment producers have been quick to run to the industry for support. It almost seems like an outpouring of nationalistic sentiment, where these companies are gathering the “troops” to fight an offensive ruling party. These troops are artists and any outside regulator is treated like a sympathizer to the crown during the revolutionary war. 

What I have an issue with is the “troops”. Most, if all, are not scientists, nor educated  individuals who offer an objective view on the situation. These “troops” are considered experts and trotted in front of regulators to give an opinion about what is best for clientele. The opinions given are mostly centered on artistic benefit or some libertarian ideology. While I do enjoy the idea of responsible self critiques, these “troops” have a natural bias attached to their efforts.

While the previous paragraph may be centered on the “troops”, pigment producing companies are the ones that have brought them forward to speak on their behalf, and on behalf of the population at large. They offer up paid employees or sponsored artists to speak as experts. This is akin to the efforts of cigarette companies when confronted with regulations and national exposure of possible health effects for using their products. These sponsored artists and employees may be masters of their field inside art or tattooing, but they are not scientists or doctors. There is no way for them to tell regulators what is best for the health of clients.

The industry of tattooing needs to come out of the dark and focus on objective opinions. They need to stop the fight about who is right, or who can tell us what to do. Tattooing is not a shadow of the past reborn to give it to “the man”. Moving forward, tattooists should be asking questions like:

“How will these products affect the clientele and the industry?” Or, on a more personal level, “Am I doing my best to ensure the level of education I have is adequate to make informed decisions about my business operations and my client’s safety?”

What questions I had regarding pigment safety

Through the efforts of my research I ran into questions that were mostly philosophical in nature. While some in society look to the humanities with distrust or apply ignorant labels, I feel happy to find a ground footing in slowly developing a thesis and testing it before making any assumption.

A simple list of questions started my journey:

  • Why is so much effort being put forth by these companies to combat critique in the face of public safety?
  • Are we supposed to follow the giants of industry when they have so much to gain from us following them blindly?
  • What choices do we have in the products that are a necessary part of our jobs?

Ideally, I wanted to have an answer to this question:

What is safe and what is dangerous?

The tattoo industry currently 

According to online sources, the tattoo industry is currently valued at nearly 3-billion-dollars/year in the U.S. There is reportedly, nearly 20,000 tattoo parlors open in the U.S. as of 2018. 

If each one of those tattoo parlors has 1 to 3 people working inside of it, we could assume that there are nearly 45000 active tattoo artists, at legitimate, licensed shops, within the United States. I have no idea how many people are working privately or illegally in the US alone but, I imagine these numbers would add many tattooers to the total assumed.

All tattoo artists, professional or otherwise, must purchase pigments and tattooing supplies from a select number of companies that either distribute or produce them, directly or indirectly.

There has been murmurings that the safety issues we see result from suppliers who refuse to take the stance of  “for professionals only”. This idea seems logically inept and possess the power of secluding products that would otherwise be available in an open market. I believe this strategy (making the products exclusive), places a barrier between our understanding of how safe products are.

If tattoo suppliers removed the ability of researchers to purchase something on demand, these products would be less easily obtained for testing and give suppliers easy ways to obfuscate products. If a product is “leaked” onto the market, meaning it wasn’t sold through an approved seller, suppliers are given a way to shift blame. This practice works against the assumption that regulations, when utilized in a responsible and proactive way, increase the value of products and lead to an increased profitability.

To clarify a point made above, I am not making the assumption that all fake goods on the market are released by the companies that produce. I could argue that some are but there is no way to accurately depict the operations of all businesses globally. I only bring this up because, utilizing a profit maximising model, it would make sense to recoup lost expenses for unsold goods by releasing them to 3rd party distributors that purchase them for a discounted rate. You will decrease losses and waste by offering discounted products on an open, unregulated market. Look at “dollar stores” in the U.S. as a successful representation of this practice.

To continue with these logical failures I see, selling to “professionals only”, such practices will not result in safer products. By removing a product from open scrutiny you remove the ability of educated people providing feedback as to how to improve a product. Short term revenue gains do not offset ethical responsibility. Sadly, when given the choice to make profit or operate ethically, businesses have shown us time and again that they prefer to make a profit. I believe this occurs in the tattoo industry currently.

How Artists Make Choices

Tattoo artists in the U.S. are without relevant critiques or examination by scientists for the products they use on the job. For tattoo product sales in the U.S. it is not essential to have passed any testing that ensures the safety and efficacy. The only testing, is a trial by fire. Trial by fire, as in: we put our clients in the fire and see what happens.

This trial by fire with safety is of serious concern to scientists, especially those from countries with socialized medicine. In countries where the government picks up the bill for health care, they focus not only on immediate care but also what will affect a population in the future.

Practicing ethical thinking is of benefit to society. When businesses focus on safety before innovation, public health is taken into consideration before profits. This argument seems logical to most consumers but is derided among businesses as they claim it slows innovation. I agree that there must be a balance but, if ethics supercede the focus on profits, business and clientele can coexist in a way that is mutually beneficial.

On the consumer side of products, especially when dealing with a product that has heath consequences that are unknown, we require the ability to research and choose what is right without succumbing to influences from marketing, or recommendations from less than educated individuals. This is even more important when faced with sourcing goods that impact others health.

Herein occurs another question: Is it wise for consumers to base choices on advertising materials or personal recommendations when they are apart from scientific evidence?

We have become entrenched in the recommendations of our digital devices. Google tells us the best things to buy. Whatever places high in the search results has an intrinsic value and, regardless of how much proof can be given, reviews are bought and sold to elevate product listings.

Lifting the veil

In earlier times, society rarely acts with hesitation when introduced to new products but, not everything in technicolor was taken as gospel. Some in society took the time to critically analyze new ideas and products and waited a while until a a trusted confidant bought something and offered a verbal critique. If we were convinced a purchase held some utility, we ventured out and bought one ourselves.

Since the dawn of modern advertising, companies have focused much effort in developing techniques to make their products stand apart from their competition. Currently, there is a marketing machine pushing supposed high-quality products by showcasing the best in an industry, or people of fame,  vouching for their products. Suppliers worldwide utilize product endorsements as a way to boost sales and product recognition.While we see this as a pervasive method of marketing globally, the slogans and imagery attached to products emanate a sense of elitism into the tattoo industry. Examples of such statements are:

  • “**** Ink Supports Quality Artists”
  • “**** Ink. For Tattoo Professionals Only”
  • “**** Ink. The ORIGINAL Grey Wash”
  • “By Professionals for Professionals”

Normally, these slogans are attached to visual media with a well known artist. Some of these artists receive forms of funding from the brand they support. They are considered “sponsored artists” who receive products for use (either for a reduced fee or free of charge) so long as they push these products to fans. While this practice is not illegal, the products safety is tied to the artists who represent it.

When work is displayed with a well known name attached to it, the product becomes humanized and appeals to the masses by shifting the focus from the product to the person who recommends it. This misleading attempt to create brand recognition hides the fact that through manipulation of an industry, where no alternatives for sourcing products exist,  a lack of concern for the people who utilize them is expressed by the companies who produce these campaigns..

If you take the time to go to a tattoo shop, a convention, or walk into a supply shop, you will see such advertisements emblazoning the walls. Inside the industry, it is the product that makes the professional, not the skill of the artist alone. Artist inside tattooing are led to believe there are no alternatives. To be the best, you must use a single product.

Beyond sponsorships, the review process of a product has not been vetted for publishing on a website, regardless of what verifications process they claim to use. By seeing a star value, consumers are given a sense of security that the product they are purchasing is of a specific quality, not that it is safe. If artists venture past the faceless application of reviews and sponsorship they are left with few ways to receive confirmation of a product’s safety or efficacy. More often than not, artists turn to each other for validation of a product’s abilities.

The Choices We Make

Tattoo artists are in a difficult position when it comes to choosing which supplies to use. Most product use is wholly subjective, as the application of art is an extension of their person. If there is a need to find something new, how are artists going to make a decision? 

Most of the time, an artist will see something that they determine as quality; they see a happy client and they choose to use the same product that produced those results. This all boils down to something so simple: Artists want happy clientele. This helps them build their business and extend their influence. 

But, what about future repercussions if the products being used are not safe? What is the industry doing to increase its collective knowledge?

Choosing your supplies and offering critiques

New and established artists alike are unable to make decisions based on empirical evidence when choosing a company to source their products from. Instead of having proof that something works well and is safe, they are left with recommendations from the media, professional sponsorship or their trusted, fellow artists.

What we are unaware of, when asking our fellow industry insiders, is if they have any proof as to how safe or how well a product works. Their recommendation is purely subjective, and if we decide to use their recommendation when purchasing a new product, we are left feeling awkward if we do not agree with them after using it. 

By creating a system that places the subjective experience above scientific evidence, we preload bias into our choices. One one hand, we can express our negative experience by telling our coworkers, fellow artists locally, or the sponsored artists who recommend these products as the best quality, that we disagree with their critique of a product. In some cases this may result in a friendly discussion about how or why we came to this result, but the industry has shifted away from the idea of craftsmanship towards artistic ability.

If the person choosing to speak up does not have the same skill set, or social media influence; or if they are judged by the populations inside tattooing to be lesser an artist, or not as “good” as the people they are questioning, it is easy to dismiss their claims. The adoring fans or close friends to the person who is placed in a position of defending their recommendation, will defend the product by defending the person. The focus of any discussion is shifted and made personal. If a person makes an attack on a product, you make an attack on all of the professionals who support it.

With all the burden of proof being placed on artistic skill, and the quickly devolving possibility of critique, how can a person stand a chance in expressing their opinion? 

To start, we need to understand that our fellow artists are not basing their claims on scientific evidence. Those who rush to the defense and shift the focus on a product to a person have no value in the discussion. It is a smoke screen and I imagine that this same tactic will take place when scrutiny falls upon these companies to provide proof their products are safe.

Experience or proof

We know as a population that experience is not a valid identifier of quality. These two terms are mutually exclusive. Problems arise when artists are quick to pick up the latest, trendy item. This includes whatever has been elevated to prominence by those they idolize.

Let me be clear: I do not have any issue with the purchase of items that are supported by industry giants. I only want those products to be verified as safe by scientists who are better trained at identifying potential dangers.

If you are happy with the amount of reading you have done. Here is a pace to leave off and pick up whenever you choose. The next section is an explanation about tattoo pigments and what they are comprised of. 

Part 2 – Tattoo Pigment Chemistry

To understand why we need regulations, we first need to understand what is in pigments, how those ingredients interact with the body, and how these interactions may be harmful to us.

What is in tattoo pigments – preface to the chemistry

Tattoo pigments are mainly comprised of a pigment and a carrier solution. The raw pigments are manufactured by large companies and sold to smaller suppliers who mix and bottle the solutions.

Here is a video by How It’s Made that describes the process of making inorganic pigments.

https://youtu.be/zKFs2qX-Fkc

Differences in application

To add clarification to the term pigment; it is often interchangeable with descriptions like dyes, colors and inks. While we may use these terms colloquially, they stand for different things. We will get into the differentiation later on.

In tattooing, pigments are injected into the skin. That pigment is handled by an immune response that keeps the particles of ink stationery in our skin permanently. Different types of ink/pigments react differently with our bodies.

Photodegradation

All pigments go through photodegradation, whether it be in the skin, or outside of it. This unique mechanism between light and pigments increases our need for understanding how the chemicals released ay affect our bodies. We, as an industry, need to know that a pigment is safe or that we can accurately describe to our clients the potential health hazards that may occur from receiving a tattoo.

Modern AZO pigments (pigment found in some tested samples by recent analysis) are photoreactive in a way that releases carcinogenic compounds. Other pigments used have also been laced with inorganic compounds that cause disease. Moving forward. the industry should be able to acknowledge that all pigments are to be non-toxic or biocompatible at best. If that cannot be achieved, they should aim for pigments to be non-effective to tissues or systems inside the body.

The list of what we need to be safe for our applications of tattoos is different compared to the other industries that utilize pigment daily. There is little to worry about when comparing tattooing to commercial or industrial applications, where health effects are not limited to the individual, but to the environment at large, although some of the ingredients in tattoo pigments are known to be dangerous to aquatic life and have the potential to poison waterways.

Tattoo Pigments – Differences is composition

Dyes- Dyes are either a synthetic or natural substance that is suspended in a liquid carrier. Like pigments, a dye is a substance that is added to something to change its color. These are substances retain their color properties when reduced to individual molecules. The term is often used when altering the color of an article in which dyes or pigments are added.

Pigments- Pigments are organic or inorganic substances that are insoluble in a liquid carrier. Some dyes can be precipitated to create pigments (lake pigments). Pigments can also be, in a biological sense, colored molecules found in a cell, regardless of it’s solubility.

Pigments work by absorbing wavelengths of light, allowing only specific wavelengths to be seen. (overly simplified but, ya know…) This is why pigments look different under different light sources. If you look at a red or orange under a warm colored halogen light it will carry a certain hue, but under natural sunlight, it will look totally different.

Carriers

Raw, inorganic tattoo pigments are insoluble. This means that they are unable to be blended with a liquid (such as water). This trait is unlike what dyes are able to. To blend the colors we use in tattooing, pigments are mixed with a solution called a carrier fluid. These carrier fluids ensure the pigment’s ability to be transferred directly into the skin once picked up with a needle and tube. By utilizing carrier fluids and surfactants (which is described in a section below), a mixture is able to be transferred in the correct ratio, via dipping in a tattoo ink cap, before being injected in the skin.

Carrier fluids are inactive ingredients that act as vehicles for substances. In tattooing, a carrier is a substance that pigment is suspended in. Without the carrier, our pigments would be a dry powder which could not be injected into the skin.

Most modern tattoo pigment carriers are comprised of some, or all, listed here: Distilled water, glycerin, alcohol, ethyl alcohol, witch hazel, Listerine and/or glycerol.

There are also known additives used in some pigment carriers currently. Some of the known additives include surfactants (detergents, binding agents, fillers and preservatives). These additives are utilized to give the product used by tattoo artists, a specific feel, consistency and ease of use.

Organic versus inorganic – Tattoo Pigment Chemistry

The phrase organic has permeated our society in the west and we implicitly trust the idea of it. Organic is known as something safe, clean and healthy – but in the world of tattoo pigments, organic means something totally different. The term organic stands for any naturally occurring matter or compound that is carbon based. It is a scientific term that distinguishes the properties of a product molecularly.

Check that

–> Carbon Based <–

There is little to no application that this idea that should attach a sense of cleanliness, eco-friendliness or health. It is the most simple name-based application of the chemical structure.

Tattoo Pigments – Differences in applications

The tattoo industry, and its clientele, want a quality finished product. It ensures that the work put into a tattoo stays vibrant and legible for the lifetime of the person who wears it. All those involved also demand the best quality for their hard earned money. The price put on experience and talent far outweighs the physical cost of the tattoo setup, so why should artists and clients alike worry about a small increase in price to ensure a safer product.

Inside the industry, the need for bold, bright and lightfast colors pushed the pigment suppliers away from time tested solutions of raw, inorganic pigments. This push has moved artists towards synthetically derived, organic pigments. Some of the colors we use currently in tattoos are not significantly different when compared to what is used in commercial applications (like automotive or artists paints).

Tattoo pigments – Historically

Tattoo pigments have been around for thousands of years. The earliest known substances used in tattooing were ash and charcoal that were injected in the skin via crude tools. This practice continues, and in more modern times, (up until the last 20 years) pigments have been mainly made up of mineral sources. We have a large body of data that shows what to expect when using these pigments and how to deal with potential reactions, when they occur.

Most tattoo pigments were comprised of a carrier and some of the following inorganic mineral sources: Reds were sourced from cinnabar which is a mercury sulfide compound that shows red when hit with light. Cadmium compounds were used to create the warm tones (reds, yellows and oranges). Iron oxide and carbon black were used to create black pigments. Modern colors that are commercially available for tattoo artists are made up mostly of synthetic-organic pigments. There is still widespread use of some inorganic pigments, mainly whites and blacks.

Reactions are more likely to occur with inorganic pigments and the assumption is that the newer, synthetic-organic pigments are a safe, less reactive alternative in tattooing. Whether this is factual or not has yet have been observed.

Reactivity and allergic reactions

The reaction rate had kept consistent year over year, since recording began until the more recent use of synthetic-organics. This increased rate of reactions has been more common following the boom in tattooing that started in the early 2000’s. While one could argue that the rates and the change have only occurred due to increased reporting which is a result of more people getting tattooed, we could also attribute the increase to a change in the products used. In this same period tattoo artists had migrated from inorganic pigments to the new synthetic-organic pigments, as they became the new staple of artists globally.

In recent times, reports of known bacterial contamination in tattoo pigments have been reported. These contaminations make them unsafe for general use. You can find information about these on the FDA website, where they release recall information of the general public. These reports are also listed on pigment producing companies’ websites, when required by the FDA recall protocol.

Onto Chemistry

With a little grounding in what pigments are and how they are made, let’s take a quick look at the chemistry surrounding pigment mixing.

The role of viscosity and tattoo pigments

Viscosity is how thick stuff is and how easily it is manipulated by force. This definition is kind of simplified but, think of Ketchup, it is a viscous liquid that has unique properties when being dispensed from a bottle. This may not seem like something that matters to tattooing, but think about the products you currently use. How would you enjoy a thin, watery ink that fell off needles before the needles make it to the skin? Would you enjoy a thicker consistency? 

Break that idea down and apply viscosity to tattoo pigments: Viscosity determines how well the ink travels. Travelling can be taken a few different ways:

  • How it travels on the needles into the skin,
  • how it moves from dispensing bottle to cap
  • effectiveness of moving from cap to skin.

If the tattoo pigment is too thin, you won’t be able to transfer enough from the ink cap to skin. If it’s too thick, it won’t flow well enough down the needles into the skin.

All variances in travel are modulated by the type and use of surfactants added to a tattoo pigment.

Pigment Chemistry – Surfactants

This class of chemicals/solutions are compounds that modify the surface tension of liquids or liquids and solids (also solids and gasses). Surfactant is a simplification of the term Surface Active Agent. These active agents can be broken down into multiple categories, so let’s take a quick peek at what a few of them do.

Surface Tension – The tendency of a liquid to shrink to the minimum surface area – The water/liquid used in suspensions for tattooing need to have a high level of surface tension to be utilized properly. Increasing the surface tension of a liquid, such as water, ensures it won’t ball up.

  • Detergents – A group of compounds with a pos+, neg- or neutral charge that bind to specific elements or compounds easily. Detergents bind with water and can be used to ensure uniformity of particle distribution. (see PEG – Polyethylene Glycol –Pigment article Hazard Prediction)
  • Wetting agents – These compounds are used in pigment chemistry to increase the likelihood of a liquid staying in contact with a smooth/metallic surface. Wetting agents are used to increase a pigments ability to cling to needles. (see a brief article, 2nd page, about wetting agents –Materials used in Body Art)
  • Foaming Agents– These can either increase or decrease the amount of foaming that occurs with a mixture. Foaming agents are used to decrease the bubbles that form when the mixture of tattoo pigment is shaken to mix. These additives are also used to decrease shipping weights of products by requiring less pigment to achieve the same results (see a particular post rabbit hole article about a foaming agent alcohol ethoxylates  –HERA Risk Assessment of Alcohol Ethoxylates
  • Dispersants– While the dispersant is typically assigned to the water substance a tattoo pigment is held within, there are additional additives used to change the consistency of pigments. These additives are called plasticizers and are used in tattoo pigments to help in the dispersion/separation of pigments collected inside the mixture. They prevent clumping and collection at the bottom of a bottle. (see an article, or do aGoogle Search on Dibutyl Phthalate –Black Tattoo Inks)

Why surfactants matter

All of the above types of materials/compounds/agents are used in some pigments to increase the users (you) enjoyment of the product. If the pigment you are using is too thick, too thin, doesn’t transfer well into the skin or goes in too quickly, your idea of quality will be quick to change.

Tattooing is all about feeling and intuiting what is going on. If things don’t feel good, you want to keep doing it. Due to this very personal expression when using tattoo inks, mixers/chemists will add various surfactants to change the viscosity of the pigment.

There is also a ton of info about how viscosity affects the physical flow of pigment into skin but, I am not a physics major so I shall digress and move to the next bit.

Types of pigments used

This list and image is taken from BASF’s website. They are the largest chemical producer in the world with revenues in excess of 60 billion euros yearly. They produce pigments that are used in tattooing and have information about pigment safety available for download for the general public.

Source

Organic pigments 

  • Azo pigments
    Monoazo yellow and orange
  • Diazo
  • Naphthol 
  • Naphthol AS
  • Azo lakes
  • Benzimidazolone
  •  Diazo condensation
  • Metal complex
  • Polycyclic pigments
  • Phthalocyanine
  • Quinacridone 
  • Perylene and perinone
  • Thioindigo
  • Anthraquinone 
  • Dioxazine 
  • Isoindolinone and isoindoline
  • Diketo-pyrrolo-pyrrole (DPP)
  • Triaryl Carbonium 
  • Quinophthalone 

Inorganic pigments

  • Titanium dioxide white
  • Iron oxide
  • Carbon and vegetable black
  • Cadmium
  • Lead chromate
  • Chromium oxide green
  • Chrome green
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Iron blue
  • Phthalo chrome green
  • Manganese oxide (MNO)
  • Mixed metal oxide
  • Bi-vanadate

While I don’t have enough time to go into the exact nature of each pigment type, I will create additional articles describing the pigments listed above at a later time. Now, we will look into the use of azo pigments.

Azo Pigments

To start, here is a little video about azo pigments and where they come from. (it was hard to find any video that was like… useful)

While the results of azo based pigments are something beyond the natural world and lend themselves to tattooing well, we have evidence that some of these pigment sources are unhealthy for humans and animals.

There has been studies done more recently that showas much as 80% of pigments produced and released in Europe contained azo pigments. Findings of these studies show most dyes/pigments found in those samples collected may not cause issues with human/animal health, but that they were sourced and designed for purposes other than use in humans.

The pigments found from analysis were the same used in automotive and industrial applications (auto paint), or weren’t the most pure of samples (meaning they contain heavy metals to augment the effect of the pigments).

This is where I leave you. If you wish to find more information, check the link at the top of the page. It will take you to a folder with many articles about pigment safety, as well as the results of testing done by the Kanton Basel in Switzerland.

Thanks for reading!

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

Tattoo Pigment – Safety and Regulations

Intro:

From the beginning, this article seemed like a simple way to introduce an argument about safety and fair practices. In reality, the companies that sell tattoo pigments, the industry that produces the raw ingredients, and the artists in industry combined, led me to formulate a critique that became a monster, much larger than I anticipated. This article grew to around 10,000 words and is only still just scratching the surface of a debate that needs to occur.  Questions about the industry and its operations came more naturally after studying what was occurring and talking to insiders who manufacture pigments in the US. I slowly formed an opinion of what was happening to the industry and wanted to write this as a way to test these beliefs. 

In writing this article, I have spent hours of research, sent hundreds of emails and travelled many hours away from my family to try and create a framework for what I hoped could be accomplished by releasing any information. It was also an attempt to find the answers I knew were out there. In any event, the information listed in the reference section is not comprehensive, but a starting point for many out there who may wish to learn more.

Part 1 – My Opinion and analysis of the tattoo pigment industry

Currently, there are two sides debating the future of pigment production in the tattoo industry. On one side, the suppliers and distributors of the products tattoo artists use are confronted with questions about how safe their products are. They are confronted with the potential of regulations which will be handed down by regulators which focus on the health and long term effects of products used in tattooing. The suppliers and producers are actively fighting these potential new regulations. Their argument is that self-regulation has been successful and there is no need for any regulations. They have the clients best health interest as their primary focus. They argue that government regulators should stay out of private business as self imposed regulations are the best course of action.

On the other, questions are being presented by scientific researchers and regulators in the U.S. and the European Union. These questions are centered on the safety and efficacy of products being sold and will lead to regulations when enough data is collected about the health effects of tattoo products. Scientists are forced to ask these questions after testing results show that suppliers and distributors have released products that have been contaminated or produced with known harmful chemicals.

 

The efforts by scientists are progressing slowly and have been exacerbated by the lack of regulations and need for new testing protocol. For the past 20 years or so, companies producing new products for the market have been able to innovate away from the regular testing of products for safety. These innovations brought about more dynamic products for use in the industry but we know little of their long term health effects. Until recently, science was not interested in how products were being developed, but recent testing has shown that a healthy future for a large population on the planet may be at risk.

While new products are continually being developed, the gap in scientific testing has presented itself as something in need of innovation. The efforts of scientists globally have just begun developing ways to analyze and inspect products for tattooing, and in doing so, they are better able to determine what is in tattoo products and if they are safe or not. As testing has evolved, scientists have found new ways to analyze what is in tattoo artist’s supplies. They can tell us what is not listed on the label. 

Regulations

While writing this up, I drafted a tactical road map in the back of my mind. This road map was what to expect of the industry as time progressed. I go into scattered detail throughout the article of how I feel the companies in question will react to questions and based these tactics off of other companies who were confronted with the asme threat of regulations historically. (Special focus given to the cigarette companies in the U.S.)

Historically, companies facing new restrictions pushed the idea of regulators having an ulterior motive. Companies had previously argued that they being being victimised. Regulators were treating theses companies different than their competitors, AKA- singling them out.These companies argued that regulators attacked their ability to operate by imposing regulations which forced them to lose market viability; the the loss of profits during restructuring to meet these legal hurdles was impossible to overcome; non-scientists argued on behalf of these companies that regulations stood between them and the products that they demanded.  Companies argued that these new regulations were effectively decreasing the ability to innovate and to meet market demand.

While I agree that this may be a possible side effect of regulation, this argument pushes business interests and earnings ahead of public safety. If you knowingly produce a product that has been shown to create ill health in individuals, you have a responsibility to modify your products or remove them from circulation. In my opinion, the guarantee that new products are safe supersedes the want for innovation.

Because the push for regulations have already hit other industries, tattoo suppliers are in a unique position to exploit knowledge gained by others who have gone through the process before. The previous actions taken by other companies or industries give companies facing new regulation a way to prepare for how they will fight regulators. This attack focuses on creating a system of shifting blame to keep new regulations from being applied for as long as possible. 

I keep asking myself: Why are they fighting to keep regulations from becoming a reality and why should they care if they are forced to change?

I believe it comes down to money and looking to businesses fighting regulation the past, it always has been.

What companies are up against when facing regulation

New regulations create new process that must be taken by companies when they release products for the general public.

If you change your production or are forced to utilize new sources or raw materials, your costs will initially go up. There will be a period of time where you cannot produce any product and your profits will evaporate. Depending on the market you operate within, these costs of operation may stay increased for the future which puts stress on your product line to stay competitive, if you choose not to raise prices. Due to this, manufacturers argue that increased costs create a market in which they are unable to successfully operate in. Business thrives on stability.

Regardless of what a company may say is going to happen to their production costs, the price adjustments and lifetime value fall onto the consumer. If companies are forced to pay more to adapt new policies or produce things in an ethical way, they do not pick up the bill, regardless of what they say. We have been shown throughout time that these new costs always pass along to the consumer and have no bearing in successful sales. Businesses that do not make profits are prone to failure.

The Manufacture and Sale

Tattoo pigments are just paint for your skin… right?

Tattoo pigments are a product that is readily available in supply stores or via online marketplaces globally. They are a necessity for tattoo artist operations. Most pigments sold commercially are labelled as “vegan” or  “sterile” and come in a variety of mind-boggling colors. The chain of production is easily followed for companies who release products on a global level:

Manufacturers globally produce the raw materials used in mixing tattoo pigments. These manufacturers sell raw materials to the companies that mix and bottle pigments that are then sold to distributors. These distributors sell tattoo artists the bottles via online marketplaces or local supply shops. The companies that “mix” tattoo colors are not the same people you meet at conventions or in local supply shops.

Please remember, suppliers do no produce raw pigments, but only purchase them from large companies who do the production in bulk for all industries globally. The final product is distilled down through many channels until you purchase a bottle from an endpoint.

Suppliers in the tattoo industry buy raw pigments from these manufacturers, blend them with whatever they use to make the pigments. This is where regulators have begun their analysis into the safety of production.  In the US currently, there is zero regulation for tattoo pigments and cosmetic tattoo pigments. There is no law requiring companies to verify what is put into the bottles they sell. There is no in-house testing or out of house testing of the raw products before the mixing process starts. This is the same for the products that are lining your shelves/drawers right now. The only testing is completed before the product is initially released to the public, in which companies that do testing check to make sure the labels and ingredients match. There is no testing to ensure safety.

Once a product has passed the initial acceptance by the FDA (in the U.S.), companies can begin selling their product. After this initial inspection, companies can make changes to pigment mixes without additional approval. What has been shown by researchers recently is that what has been listed on the label of bottles of tattoo pigment is not all that is in a bottle.

Historically, the onus has been on distributors to release safe and effective products while the suppliers have evaded scrutiny. They (suppliers) have been trusted implicitly and, we assume, have lived up to their responsibilities. With unfettered freedom, these companies have gone forward mixing and selling pigments, as well as other supplies, while avoiding any outside critique or question as to how safe the product is. Tattooing as an industry has operated under the assumption that everything they use is considered safe because there have been no reports openly released stating otherwise. 

A question about quality and safety

For the most part, tattoo artists worldwide believe in the safety and efficacy of products made by these large supply companies. These supply companies have spent millions on marketing and endorsement deals to instill a sense of quality and safety for those who use choose their brands. Marketing the idea of quality is a wonderful idea, especially when quality is meant to describe safety. The idea of quality, to supply companies, is not meant to describe a level of safety, it is meant to denote a level of effectiveness.

When consumers think of quality, various images pop into their minds: Clean, safe, grand, effective… While this is not a full list of descriptors for products, the labels listed above (and many others) are being applied to tattoo products. When used independently, each word has a unique meaning that a person can visualize. When using multiple descriptive labels together, the visualization a person receives is much different. If manipulation of simple language structure create different interpretations when applied to a product, products must live up to these interpretations when being released to the public. It is essential when the safety of an individual who is undergoing a permanent modification to their body is reliant on a product that may not live up to how it is described.

Here is an explanation for what was stated above.

Patients require doctors to have quality training and tools when undergoing surgery. In this sense, quality embodies the feeling of safety. Compare that to a quality cut of meat; when we compare the use of quality to a food product, we expect it to be of substantial size, color and taste. It has little to do with the safety of such an item. Unless we attach a second descriptor like organic or grass-fed. When combining organic, grass-fed and quality we are given a different understanding of what quality means. It feels safer, cleaner and more responsible. This goes with most products that are marketed to us and is no different with tattoo pigments.

While products for tattooing may be listed as having quality ingredients (effective), they are also listed as organic, vegan and cruelty free. This manipulation of product labels falsely applies the sense of being honest, safe and responsible to a product that has been knowingly manufactured with only efficacy in mind. This false sense of security is a blatant violation of trust by suppliers. Combine that with the efforts to resist regulation and sell untested, potentially unsafe products under the veil of what they are not does not align with what the tattoo industry currently believe they are buying. This practice must stop, or be modified to ensure education about product efficacy and safety are well understood by consumers.

The idea of quality has evolved. Quality doesn’t only apply to the products tattoo artist use. It also applies to the people involved in the industry. Clients see REAL artists (real as in the graduated with a degree -Something that was uncommon 2 decades ago) joining the ranks of the industry. Young adults leaving their educational institutions are dreaming of becoming a tattoo artist. These artists are the new rockstars of a generation and have progressed the development of amazing tattoos available for the clientele that trust them with their body. While this progression has been an amazing evolution to sit back and watch, we have been left with a glaring hole in the knowledge of what the industry must know to be successful. Tattooing cannot wholly focused on art; it is an experience for a client that leaves them marked for a lifetime. We are only conduits for their acceptance of our artwork.

Cultural acceptance and this renewed renaissance in applying a tattoo artistically gave tattoo artists the ability to claim the title of being accomplished early in their career. The reality is, they have yet to learn enough to be considered a master when they wholly focus on a single artistic style in their field. Mastery demands a full knowledge of all aspects in a field of study. Beyond that, the person achieving mastery must understand their place in the craft and how they are able to aid in it’s evolution.

My worry is that the application of quality to these businesses and the products they release are a straw man in the industry.

The deficiency in tattoo artist mastery mirrors what the pigment companies face as the threat of new regulations puts them under scrutiny. These companies may be exposed as the inexperienced professional being represented as a master. They may not know as much as they claim, and when placed under examination about their practices, must provide exceptional proof to obtain the mastery which may be falsely applied.

The break in knowledge

When speaking to those who are still alive and remember the glory days of tattooing (old-schoolers), modern practitioners are confronted that what has occurred in such little time is unbelievable. (Good or bad, they usually have an opinion worth listening to.) These long standing veterans come from a time where mastery was a viable option and the critiques they offer should not be ignored. As the industry evolves away from the past, where self sufficiency was a normal practice of business, more reliance is placed upon the suppliers and distributors to release products that are safe and effective.

With scientific innovation tattooists are blessed with unbelievable color lines and new products that break from the clumsy production of the past. As products were developed, tattoo artists trusted their release without question. They were trusted because tattoo artists weren’t given a choice; because without these products, tattoo artists couldn’t do their jobs. They were held hostage as knowledge was slowly stripped away form the industry and held closely by few who made a profit off it. Tattoo artists were led to believe the future lies in innovation, not in mastery.  Because tattoo artists had never learned about manufacturing pigments , they never knew that they could ask if pigments are considered safe.

What was responsible or what harm could come if they continued to use these untested products? This overlooked aspect of operations created an imbalance, as trust in the producers outweighed the need for critical inquiry. Modern tattoo artists never understood they could manufacture these pigments themselves. Through clever marketing, they were led to believe mastery could come from the utilization of modern products and media sources, while sacrificing client experience. While this was occurring, a previous generations knowledge slowly slipped into obsolescence. 

Ethics or Profits

Some (it may be a majority, I am unsure) tattoo artists do not know how to make pigment, build a needle or tune a tattoo machine. In more modern tattoo business operations, local distributors were essential once mastery shifted focus towards art. When this happened, at least to me, they knowingly capitalized on it. While most suppliers or distributors may have started their business in an altruistic way, the money available inside sales globally has become obscene. This newly found growth in profits forced individuals to choose between ethical sales practices and potential fortunes.

Competition with these companies was the excuse to bend morality, as they had to evolve to take advantage of new markets. Whenever new growth opportunities present themselves in business, companies are forced to change their practices, cut costs and innovate to stay viable. They must produce products that could be labelled as unique, better and faster to stay ahead of their clientele’s demand.  In creating innovation, companies are allowed a sense of freedom, if the products delivered increase total utility for those that utilize them.

Pigment companies have had nearly 2 decades of freedom. That freedom has created innovation and helped establish some companies as being at the forefront of product development. These new labels brings additional stress to continue innovation and recently there have been… well… problems. Due to these “problems”, the European Union (EU) has started investigating the operations of pigment suppliers and distributors. They have also began testing their products.

In the U.S., regulators have presented suppliers with a chance to change classifications on products used in tattooing. The idea is to reclassify tattoo pigments as a cosmetic supply. If regulators are successful in doing so, a list of banned substances will be given to producers that will no longer be allowed in the production, manufacture and mixing of pigments. This has brought pigment companies forward in an effort to stop regulations.

An industry that lost control

Most tattoo artists are trained in infectious controls, safe operations; yet, they are unable to explain what is potentially one of the greatest threats to their clientele – what is put into their skin. As tattooing evolved, the industry shifted its focus towards art and left the manufacture of products they utilize daily to suppliers. With the help of marketing and brand management, tattoo artists began to see these companies as a more trusted name in the field. The suppliers gained control of a product that was essential in the operations of tattooing.

Currently, operating a tattoo shop forces owners to apply old-fashioned business management tactics to an evolving field. Mainly, these areas of focus are on growing artistically as an individual (if they tattoo), increasing visibility among those inside and outside the market, and maximising profits.

Shops split total revenues with artists (percentile basis) and, with the influx of clientele recently, have made a business model that requires little effort to grow. All you require is decent work being produced and a mildly acceptable level of customer service. This model was adapted from previous generations and has not evolved much in the past 30 years. What has happened is society accepted tattoos as a form of expression. When that occurred, tattoo artists globally were forced to make accommodations with their time or adapt to new products that allowed them freedom.

Tattoo artists no longer make needles (which really was horrible), or mix pigments (which was so, so messy); there are now suppliers who are willing to sell to professionals. What they sold to artists has been considered quality items, and they were available for a low cost in comparison with time saved. This adaptation was a necessity for many people who had established themselves before modern supply companies had the selections they do currently.

In the past, tattoo artists were forced to spend twice as much time (compared to actual tattooing time) or more making the tools to be used for daily operations. When clientele increased, the total time for preparing the shop increased. Tattoo artists were desperate for an escape and were given it as the market adapted to meet these demands.

Suppliers/Distributors

There is a core group of suppliers who maintain a sort of oligopoly over products released to the industry globally. This existence at the top of a market, with little competition, occurred as the tattoo shops globally demanded fast access to products necessary for operations. As the demand increased, and these businesses grew to support a global economy, distributors developed the local footprint needed to get the products to wanting artists.

In the modern market, connections between suppliers and distributors are codependent. There is no need for interpersonal connections with local artists and the suppliers; something that had been common practice in the past. With the development of the distributor as a middleman, suppliers were capable of keeping things intimate with their local clientele while growing to fit an expanding market. Their focus shifted to train distributors in their product benefits and sales tactics for new and existing clientele. This practice continued until the suppliers elevated beyond the normal levels of competition to become a supplier of something essential. They became brands, recognized by their logos and labels, and controlled the flow of all products globally. Tattooers stopped making pigments.

Safety

These products have little regulations inside the US, but do have regulations in other parts of the world. My worry, and it seems to be the worry of scientists across the globe, is that some of the products being manufactured may be unstable or unsafe.

In the past, we had more control over what we chose to utilize in our tattooing practices. We knew the people who sourced our pigment or we sourced them ourselves. When something went wrong, if a person got sick, the blame rested on our business. This operation seems more ideal to me. It’s like farm-to-table and more personal. This opinion may be sentimental and lacking a global ideology but, our work is personal. If we were in control of our products and developed them in tandem with people who source them, we could have better control over the quality of the products we choose to use on our clientele. 

This idea should not be relegated to just the pigment producing/mixing companies that sell to artists in the industry, but to all who choose to sell products that have the potential to cause undue harm to unwitting populations.

My efforts in this article may seem to unfairly point to the people who choose to make pigments, but I only utilize this argument as I feel they have the easiest route to ensure quality production. My opinion is that suppliers have a greater responsibility to inform the industry, distributors and clientele as to what their practices are; what they are giving us to put into our bodies. Hiding behind the guise of “proprietary blends” is not a way to ensure trust, especially if that blend is potentially harmful to its recipients. We need open dialogue wherein each party can discuss the safety and efficacy of the products they choose to use.

The Fight Against Regulations

Currently, distributors are facing new critique. They are facing the threat of new regulations and outside analysis of their products. In response to this, tattoo pigment producers have been quick to run to the industry for support. It almost seems like an outpouring of nationalistic sentiment, where these companies are gathering the “troops” to fight an offensive ruling party. These troops are artists and any outside regulator is treated like a sympathizer to the crown during the revolutionary war. 

What I have an issue with is the “troops”. Most, if all, are not scientists, nor educated  individuals who offer an objective view on the situation. These “troops” are considered experts and trotted in front of regulators to give an opinion about what is best for clientele. The opinions given are mostly centered on artistic benefit or some libertarian ideology. While I do enjoy the idea of responsible self critiques, these “troops” have a natural bias attached to their efforts.

While the previous paragraph may be centered on the “troops”, pigment producing companies are the ones that have brought them forward to speak on their behalf, and on behalf of the population at large. They offer up paid employees or sponsored artists to speak as experts. This is akin to the efforts of cigarette companies when confronted with regulations and national exposure of possible health effects for using their products. These sponsored artists and employees may be masters of their field inside art or tattooing, but they are not scientists or doctors. There is no way for them to tell regulators what is best for the health of clients.

The industry of tattooing needs to come out of the dark and focus on objective opinions. They need to stop the fight about who is right, or who can tell us what to do. Tattooing is not a shadow of the past reborn to give it to “the man”. Moving forward, tattooists should be asking questions like:

“How will these products affect the clientele and the industry?” Or, on a more personal level, “Am I doing my best to ensure the level of education I have is adequate to make informed decisions about my business operations and my client’s safety?”

What questions I had regarding pigment safety

Through the efforts of my research I ran into questions that were mostly philosophical in nature. While some in society look to the humanities with distrust or apply ignorant labels, I feel happy to find a ground footing in slowly developing a thesis and testing it before making any assumption.

A simple list of questions started my journey:

  • Why is so much effort being put forth by these companies to combat critique in the face of public safety?
  • Are we supposed to follow the giants of industry when they have so much to gain from us following them blindly?
  • What choices do we have in the products that are a necessary part of our jobs?

Ideally, I wanted to have an answer to this question:

What is safe and what is dangerous?

The tattoo industry currently 

According to online sources, the tattoo industry is currently valued at nearly 3-billion-dollars/year in the U.S. There is reportedly, nearly 20,000 tattoo parlors open in the U.S. as of 2018. 

If each one of those tattoo parlors has 1 to 3 people working inside of it, we could assume that there are nearly 45000 active tattoo artists, at legitimate, licensed shops, within the United States. I have no idea how many people are working privately or illegally in the US alone but, I imagine these numbers would add many tattooers to the total assumed.

All tattoo artists, professional or otherwise, must purchase pigments and tattooing supplies from a select number of companies that either distribute or produce them, directly or indirectly.

There has been murmurings that the safety issues we see result from suppliers who refuse to take the stance of  “for professionals only”. This idea seems logically inept and possess the power of secluding products that would otherwise be available in an open market. I believe this strategy (making the products exclusive), places a barrier between our understanding of how safe products are.

If tattoo suppliers removed the ability of researchers to purchase something on demand, these products would be less easily obtained for testing and give suppliers easy ways to obfuscate products. If a product is “leaked” onto the market, meaning it wasn’t sold through an approved seller, suppliers are given a way to shift blame. This practice works against the assumption that regulations, when utilized in a responsible and proactive way, increase the value of products and lead to an increased profitability.

To clarify a point made above, I am not making the assumption that all fake goods on the market are released by the companies that produce. I could argue that some are but there is no way to accurately depict the operations of all businesses globally. I only bring this up because, utilizing a profit maximising model, it would make sense to recoup lost expenses for unsold goods by releasing them to 3rd party distributors that purchase them for a discounted rate. You will decrease losses and waste by offering discounted products on an open, unregulated market. Look at “dollar stores” in the U.S. as a successful representation of this practice.

To continue with these logical failures I see, selling to “professionals only”, such practices will not result in safer products. By removing a product from open scrutiny you remove the ability of educated people providing feedback as to how to improve a product. Short term revenue gains do not offset ethical responsibility. Sadly, when given the choice to make profit or operate ethically, businesses have shown us time and again that they prefer to make a profit. I believe this occurs in the tattoo industry currently.

How Artists Make Choices

Tattoo artists in the U.S. are without relevant critiques or examination by scientists for the products they use on the job. For tattoo product sales in the U.S. it is not essential to have passed any testing that ensures the safety and efficacy. The only testing, is a trial by fire. Trial by fire, as in: we put our clients in the fire and see what happens.

This trial by fire with safety is of serious concern to scientists, especially those from countries with socialized medicine. In countries where the government picks up the bill for health care, they focus not only on immediate care but also what will affect a population in the future.

Practicing ethical thinking is of benefit to society. When businesses focus on safety before innovation, public health is taken into consideration before profits. This argument seems logical to most consumers but is derided among businesses as they claim it slows innovation. I agree that there must be a balance but, if ethics supercede the focus on profits, business and clientele can coexist in a way that is mutually beneficial.

On the consumer side of products, especially when dealing with a product that has heath consequences that are unknown, we require the ability to research and choose what is right without succumbing to influences from marketing, or recommendations from less than educated individuals. This is even more important when faced with sourcing goods that impact others health.

Herein occurs another question: Is it wise for consumers to base choices on advertising materials or personal recommendations when they are apart from scientific evidence?

We have become entrenched in the recommendations of our digital devices. Google tells us the best things to buy. Whatever places high in the search results has an intrinsic value and, regardless of how much proof can be given, reviews are bought and sold to elevate product listings.

Lifting the veil

In earlier times, society rarely acts with hesitation when introduced to new products but, not everything in technicolor was taken as gospel. Some in society took the time to critically analyze new ideas and products and waited a while until a a trusted confidant bought something and offered a verbal critique. If we were convinced a purchase held some utility, we ventured out and bought one ourselves.

Since the dawn of modern advertising, companies have focused much effort in developing techniques to make their products stand apart from their competition. Currently, there is a marketing machine pushing supposed high-quality products by showcasing the best in an industry, or people of fame,  vouching for their products. Suppliers worldwide utilize product endorsements as a way to boost sales and product recognition.While we see this as a pervasive method of marketing globally, the slogans and imagery attached to products emanate a sense of elitism into the tattoo industry. Examples of such statements are:

  • “**** Ink Supports Quality Artists”
  • “**** Ink. For Tattoo Professionals Only”
  • “**** Ink. The ORIGINAL Grey Wash”
  • “By Professionals for Professionals”

Normally, these slogans are attached to visual media with a well known artist. Some of these artists receive forms of funding from the brand they support. They are considered “sponsored artists” who receive products for use (either for a reduced fee or free of charge) so long as they push these products to fans. While this practice is not illegal, the products safety is tied to the artists who represent it.

When work is displayed with a well known name attached to it, the product becomes humanized and appeals to the masses by shifting the focus from the product to the person who recommends it. This misleading attempt to create brand recognition hides the fact that through manipulation of an industry, where no alternatives for sourcing products exist,  a lack of concern for the people who utilize them is expressed by the companies who produce these campaigns..

If you take the time to go to a tattoo shop, a convention, or walk into a supply shop, you will see such advertisements emblazoning the walls. Inside the industry, it is the product that makes the professional, not the skill of the artist alone. Artist inside tattooing are led to believe there are no alternatives. To be the best, you must use a single product.

Beyond sponsorships, the review process of a product has not been vetted for publishing on a website, regardless of what verifications process they claim to use. By seeing a star value, consumers are given a sense of security that the product they are purchasing is of a specific quality, not that it is safe. If artists venture past the faceless application of reviews and sponsorship they are left with few ways to receive confirmation of a product’s safety or efficacy. More often than not, artists turn to each other for validation of a product’s abilities.

The Choices We Make

Tattoo artists are in a difficult position when it comes to choosing which supplies to use. Most product use is wholly subjective, as the application of art is an extension of their person. If there is a need to find something new, how are artists going to make a decision? 

Most of the time, an artist will see something that they determine as quality; they see a happy client and they choose to use the same product that produced those results. This all boils down to something so simple: Artists want happy clientele. This helps them build their business and extend their influence. 

But, what about future repercussions if the products being used are not safe? What is the industry doing to increase its collective knowledge?

Choosing your supplies and offering critiques

New and established artists alike are unable to make decisions based on empirical evidence when choosing a company to source their products from. Instead of having proof that something works well and is safe, they are left with recommendations from the media, professional sponsorship or their trusted, fellow artists.

What we are unaware of, when asking our fellow industry insiders, is if they have any proof as to how safe or how well a product works. Their recommendation is purely subjective, and if we decide to use their recommendation when purchasing a new product, we are left feeling awkward if we do not agree with them after using it. 

By creating a system that places the subjective experience above scientific evidence, we preload bias into our choices. One one hand, we can express our negative experience by telling our coworkers, fellow artists locally, or the sponsored artists who recommend these products as the best quality, that we disagree with their critique of a product. In some cases this may result in a friendly discussion about how or why we came to this result, but the industry has shifted away from the idea of craftsmanship towards artistic ability.

If the person choosing to speak up does not have the same skill set, or social media influence; or if they are judged by the populations inside tattooing to be lesser an artist, or not as “good” as the people they are questioning, it is easy to dismiss their claims. The adoring fans or close friends to the person who is placed in a position of defending their recommendation, will defend the product by defending the person. The focus of any discussion is shifted and made personal. If a person makes an attack on a product, you make an attack on all of the professionals who support it.

With all the burden of proof being placed on artistic skill, and the quickly devolving possibility of critique, how can a person stand a chance in expressing their opinion? 

To start, we need to understand that our fellow artists are not basing their claims on scientific evidence. Those who rush to the defense and shift the focus on a product to a person have no value in the discussion. It is a smoke screen and I imagine that this same tactic will take place when scrutiny falls upon these companies to provide proof their products are safe.

Experience or proof

We know as a population that experience is not a valid identifier of quality. These two terms are mutually exclusive. Problems arise when artists are quick to pick up the latest, trendy item. This includes whatever has been elevated to prominence by those they idolize.

Let me be clear: I do not have any issue with the purchase of items that are supported by industry giants. I only want those products to be verified as safe by scientists who are better trained at identifying potential dangers.

 

If you are happy with the amount of reading you have done. Here is a pace to leave off and pick up whenever you choose. The next section is an explanation about tattoo pigments and what they are comprised of. 

 

Part 2 – Tattoo Pigment Chemistry

To understand why we need regulations, we first need to understand what is in pigments, how those ingredients interact with the body, and how these interactions may be harmful to us.

What is in tattoo pigments – preface to the chemistry

Tattoo pigments are mainly comprised of a pigment and a carrier solution. The raw pigments are manufactured by large companies and sold to smaller suppliers who mix and bottle the solutions.

Here is a video by How It’s Made that describes the process of making inorganic pigments.

https://youtu.be/zKFs2qX-Fkc

Differences in application

To add clarification to the term pigment; it is often interchangeable with descriptions like dyes, colors and inks. While we may use these terms colloquially, they stand for different things. We will get into the differentiation later on.

In tattooing, pigments are injected into the skin. That pigment is handled by an immune response that keeps the particles of ink stationery in our skin permanently. Different types of ink/pigments react differently with our bodies.

Photodegradation

All pigments go through photodegradation, whether it be in the skin, or outside of it. This unique mechanism between light and pigments increases our need for understanding how the chemicals released ay affect our bodies. We, as an industry, need to know that a pigment is safe or that we can accurately describe to our clients the potential health hazards that may occur from receiving a tattoo.

Modern AZO pigments (pigment found in some tested samples by recent analysis) are photoreactive in a way that releases carcinogenic compounds. Other pigments used have also been laced with inorganic compounds that cause disease. Moving forward. the industry should be able to acknowledge that all pigments are to be non-toxic or biocompatible at best. If that cannot be achieved, they should aim for pigments to be non-effective to tissues or systems inside the body.

The list of what we need to be safe for our applications of tattoos is different compared to the other industries that utilize pigment daily. There is little to worry about when comparing tattooing to commercial or industrial applications, where health effects are not limited to the individual, but to the environment at large, although some of the ingredients in tattoo pigments are known to be dangerous to aquatic life and have the potential to poison waterways.

Tattoo Pigments – Differences is composition

Dyes- Dyes are either a synthetic or natural substance that is suspended in a liquid carrier. Like pigments, a dye is a substance that is added to something to change its color. These are substances retain their color properties when reduced to individual molecules. The term is often used when altering the color of an article in which dyes or pigments are added.

Pigments- Pigments are organic or inorganic substances that are insoluble in a liquid carrier. Some dyes can be precipitated to create pigments (lake pigments). Pigments can also be, in a biological sense, colored molecules found in a cell, regardless of it’s solubility.

Pigments work by absorbing wavelengths of light, allowing only specific wavelengths to be seen. (overly simplified but, ya know…) This is why pigments look different under different light sources. If you look at a red or orange under a warm colored halogen light it will carry a certain hue, but under natural sunlight, it will look totally different.

Carriers

Raw, inorganic tattoo pigments are insoluble. This means that they are unable to be blended with a liquid (such as water). This trait is unlike what dyes are able to. To blend the colors we use in tattooing, pigments are mixed with a solution called a carrier fluid. These carrier fluids ensure the pigment’s ability to be transferred directly into the skin once picked up with a needle and tube. By utilizing carrier fluids and surfactants (which is described in a section below), a mixture is able to be transferred in the correct ratio, via dipping in a tattoo ink cap, before being injected in the skin.

Carrier fluids are inactive ingredients that act as vehicles for substances. In tattooing, a carrier is a substance that pigment is suspended in. Without the carrier, our pigments would be a dry powder which could not be injected into the skin.

Most modern tattoo pigment carriers are comprised of some, or all, listed here: Distilled water, glycerin, alcohol, ethyl alcohol, witch hazel, Listerine and/or glycerol.

There are also known additives used in some pigment carriers currently. Some of the known additives include surfactants (detergents, binding agents, fillers and preservatives). These additives are utilized to give the product used by tattoo artists, a specific feel, consistency and ease of use.

Organic versus inorganic – Tattoo Pigment Chemistry

The phrase organic has permeated our society in the west and we implicitly trust the idea of it. Organic is known as something safe, clean and healthy – but in the world of tattoo pigments, organic means something totally different. The term organic stands for any naturally occurring matter or compound that is carbon based. It is a scientific term that distinguishes the properties of a product molecularly.

Check that

–> Carbon Based <–

There is little to no application that this idea that should attach a sense of cleanliness, eco-friendliness or health. It is the most simple name-based application of the chemical structure.

Tattoo Pigments – Differences in applications

The tattoo industry, and its clientele, want a quality finished product. It ensures that the work put into a tattoo stays vibrant and legible for the lifetime of the person who wears it. All those involved also demand the best quality for their hard earned money. The price put on experience and talent far outweighs the physical cost of the tattoo setup, so why should artists and clients alike worry about a small increase in price to ensure a safer product.

Inside the industry, the need for bold, bright and lightfast colors pushed the pigment suppliers away from time tested solutions of raw, inorganic pigments. This push has moved artists towards synthetically derived, organic pigments. Some of the colors we use currently in tattoos are not significantly different when compared to what is used in commercial applications (like automotive or artists paints).

Tattoo pigments – Historically

Tattoo pigments have been around for thousands of years. The earliest known substances used in tattooing were ash and charcoal that were injected in the skin via crude tools. This practice continues, and in more modern times, (up until the last 20 years) pigments have been mainly made up of mineral sources. We have a large body of data that shows what to expect when using these pigments and how to deal with potential reactions, when they occur.

Most tattoo pigments were comprised of a carrier and some of the following inorganic mineral sources: Reds were sourced from cinnabar which is a mercury sulfide compound that shows red when hit with light. Cadmium compounds were used to create the warm tones (reds, yellows and oranges). Iron oxide and carbon black were used to create black pigments. Modern colors that are commercially available for tattoo artists are made up mostly of synthetic-organic pigments. There is still widespread use of some inorganic pigments, mainly whites and blacks.

Reactions are more likely to occur with inorganic pigments and the assumption is that the newer, synthetic-organic pigments are a safe, less reactive alternative in tattooing. Whether this is factual or not has yet have been observed.

Reactivity and allergic reactions

The reaction rate had kept consistent year over year, since recording began until the more recent use of synthetic-organics. This increased rate of reactions has been more common following the boom in tattooing that started in the early 2000’s. While one could argue that the rates and the change have only occurred due to increased reporting which is a result of more people getting tattooed, we could also attribute the increase to a change in the products used. In this same period tattoo artists had migrated from inorganic pigments to the new synthetic-organic pigments, as they became the new staple of artists globally.

In recent times, reports of known bacterial contamination in tattoo pigments have been reported. These contaminations make them unsafe for general use. You can find information about these on the FDA website, where they release recall information of the general public. These reports are also listed on pigment producing companies’ websites, when required by the FDA recall protocol.

Onto Chemistry

With a little grounding in what pigments are and how they are made, let’s take a quick look at the chemistry surrounding pigment mixing.

The role of viscosity and tattoo pigments

Viscosity is how thick stuff is and how easily it is manipulated by force. This definition is kind of simplified but, think of Ketchup, it is a viscous liquid that has unique properties when being dispensed from a bottle. This may not seem like something that matters to tattooing, but think about the products you currently use. How would you enjoy a thin, watery ink that fell off needles before the needles make it to the skin? Would you enjoy a thicker consistency? 

Break that idea down and apply viscosity to tattoo pigments: Viscosity determines how well the ink travels. Travelling can be taken a few different ways:

  • How it travels on the needles into the skin,
  • how it moves from dispensing bottle to cap
  • effectiveness of moving from cap to skin.

If the tattoo pigment is too thin, you won’t be able to transfer enough from the ink cap to skin. If it’s too thick, it won’t flow well enough down the needles into the skin.

All variances in travel are modulated by the type and use of surfactants added to a tattoo pigment.

Pigment Chemistry – Surfactants

This class of chemicals/solutions are compounds that modify the surface tension of liquids or liquids and solids (also solids and gasses). Surfactant is a simplification of the term Surface Active Agent. These active agents can be broken down into multiple categories, so let’s take a quick peek at what a few of them do.

Surface Tension – The tendency of a liquid to shrink to the minimum surface area – The water/liquid used in suspensions for tattooing need to have a high level of surface tension to be utilized properly. Increasing the surface tension of a liquid, such as water, ensures it won’t ball up.

  • Detergents – A group of compounds with a pos+, neg- or neutral charge that bind to specific elements or compounds easily. Detergents bind with water and can be used to ensure uniformity of particle distribution. (see PEG – Polyethylene Glycol – Pigment article Hazard Prediction)
  • Wetting agents – These compounds are used in pigment chemistry to increase the likelihood of a liquid staying in contact with a smooth/metallic surface. Wetting agents are used to increase a pigments ability to cling to needles. (see a brief article, 2nd page, about wetting agents – Materials used in Body Art)
  • Foaming Agents– These can either increase or decrease the amount of foaming that occurs with a mixture. Foaming agents are used to decrease the bubbles that form when the mixture of tattoo pigment is shaken to mix. These additives are also used to decrease shipping weights of products by requiring less pigment to achieve the same results (see a particular post rabbit hole article about a foaming agent alcohol ethoxylates  – HERA Risk Assessment of Alcohol Ethoxylates
  • Dispersants– While the dispersant is typically assigned to the water substance a tattoo pigment is held within, there are additional additives used to change the consistency of pigments. These additives are called plasticizers and are used in tattoo pigments to help in the dispersion/separation of pigments collected inside the mixture. They prevent clumping and collection at the bottom of a bottle. (see an article, or do a Google Search on Dibutyl Phthalate – Black Tattoo Inks)

Why surfactants matter

All of the above types of materials/compounds/agents are used in some pigments to increase the users (you) enjoyment of the product. If the pigment you are using is too thick, too thin, doesn’t transfer well into the skin or goes in too quickly, your idea of quality will be quick to change.

Tattooing is all about feeling and intuiting what is going on. If things don’t feel good, you want to keep doing it. Due to this very personal expression when using tattoo inks, mixers/chemists will add various surfactants to change the viscosity of the pigment.

There is also a ton of info about how viscosity affects the physical flow of pigment into skin but, I am not a physics major so I shall digress and move to the next bit.

Types of pigments used

This list and image is taken from BASF’s website. They are the largest chemical producer in the world with revenues in excess of 60 billion euros yearly. They produce pigments that are used in tattooing and have information about pigment safety available for download for the general public.

Source

Organic pigments 

  • Azo pigments
    Monoazo yellow and orange
  • Diazo
  • Naphthol 
  • Naphthol AS
  • Azo lakes
  • Benzimidazolone
  •  Diazo condensation
  • Metal complex

 

  • Polycyclic pigments
  • Phthalocyanine
  • Quinacridone 
  • Perylene and perinone
  • Thioindigo
  • Anthraquinone 
  • Dioxazine 
  • Isoindolinone and isoindoline
  • Diketo-pyrrolo-pyrrole (DPP)
  • Triaryl Carbonium 
  • Quinophthalone 

Inorganic pigments

  • Titanium dioxide white
  • Iron oxide
  • Carbon and vegetable black
  • Cadmium
  • Lead chromate
  • Chromium oxide green
  • Chrome green
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Iron blue
  • Phthalo chrome green
  • Manganese oxide (MNO)
  • Mixed metal oxide
  • Bi-vanadate

While I don’t have enough time to go into the exact nature of each pigment type, I will create additional articles describing the pigments listed above at a later time. Now, we will look into the use of azo pigments.

Azo Pigments

To start, here is a little video about azo pigments and where they come from. (it was hard to find any video that was like… useful)

While the results of azo based pigments are something beyond the natural world and lend themselves to tattooing well, we have evidence that some of these pigment sources are unhealthy for humans and animals.

There has been studies done more recently that show as much as 80% of pigments produced and released in Europe contained azo pigments. Findings of these studies show most dyes/pigments found in those samples collected may not cause issues with human/animal health, but that they were sourced and designed for purposes other than use in humans.

The pigments found from analysis were the same used in automotive and industrial applications (auto paint), or weren’t the most pure of samples (meaning they contain heavy metals to augment the effect of the pigments).

This is where I leave you. If you wish to find more information, check the link at the top of the page. It will take you to a folder with many articles about pigment safety, as well as the results of testing done by the Kanton Basel in Switzerland.

Thanks for reading!

Choosing Your Tattoos – Client Version

So many articles about choosing your tattoo to be found online. These fanciful jaunts into airy, photo laden websites give you a one-sided perspective that you, the client, need to treat your artist a certain way to enjoy you experience. This is an incorrect, albeit flattering, method of interaction.

I was honestly amazed at how pervasive the ideas about being careful with your words,  respectful with your actions and bringing treats to your artist are being thrown around. I mean, who doesn’t love that but… it’s kind of creepy getting treats before performing a tattoo. Plus, you should not be placed in a position where you, the paying client, are in an inferior position of power when first walking into a tattoo shop.

My take, as a professional tattoo artist, is a little different than what you find online and is stated below. Take it as a starting point for those of you who haven’t been introduced to shop life, those of you who have had a negative experience or those of you who want to know how another artist may expect out of you when coming in for work. Choosing your tattoo can be difficult but, if you are prepared and vocal, it can be a fun experience.

What Do You Want!?

Choosing a design.

When starting the process of choosing a tattoo, ask yourself a few questions:

What style do you like?

Are you into hair metal band logos? Do you enjoy simple geometric designs? Find something that you are believe you will enjoy through your life, not just today. I can guarantee your love of something trendy (getting Yeet or YOLO tattooed dropped out of fashion just like Kanji) won’t have the staying power you expect it will, unless you are a very special case. Who likes seeing Motley Crue logos on your uncle’s outer arm, surrounded by barbed wire armbands? No one. Don’t be like that uncle. 

Your Uncles tattoos aren't that cool. Here is an example of some bad band tattoos.
Click to follow to RateMyInk.com : The worst tattoos we have found.

Once you have taken the time to figure out what style you enjoy and think has the staying power to be impressive for your lifetime, look at the most common themes or images you see in that style. The most commonly tattooed images are the ones that will have small variations or nuances that you may not notice unless you look really closely. Being able to describe small nuances is a thing tattoo artists enjoy when critiquing tattoos. If you can spot small variations that you do not want to see in your tattoo, your tattoo artist will thank you and be better able to craft the tattoo that you want.

Think of other styles you enjoy

There are so many styles to choose from! Don’t limit yourself by thinking inside the box. Be open to both options of blackwork or color if you don’t have an image theme already picked out. Let your imagination roam free, you are working towards designing a work of art that will be on you for the rest of your life.

Take any combination of ideas and write them down. Bring those ideas in with you when you have a consultation. If what you want is not possible, the artist you will be working with will be quick to tell you it is not a good idea. Make sure that you ask why it won’t work! There has to be a good explanation for any dismissed idea. Just not liking the tattoo is not an option for a tattoo artist and if they give you this option, you know better than to get it done with that artist.

Are there any examples of artwork that you enjoy?

Having some form of visual reference to show your artist can help them understand your style wants much quicker than using descriptive words. For example, showing someone a picture of the Hulk is better than describing something “Big and Green”.

Use your words well and bring high quality photos that explain for you what you like to see. Be brave and have a simple hand drawn example to show. You would be surprised how much this helps when translating your idea. Don’t worry, we know that you are not a tattoo artist. If you were, you wouldn’t be having a consultation.

Finding an Artist

Once you have decided on a design, follow up by checking out artists near you. If there isn’t anyone close by, find one you are willing to travel to. Do some research before making the trek. Make sure they are versatile enough, or practiced enough, in the style of artwork you want to adorn your body with.

There are misconceptions about us tattooers and how invested we are in what you mark your body with. While tattoo bros worldwide enjoy the idea that they are marking you with their specific brand, most of us really don’t care how you choose to adorn your body. The lack of caring and detached persona you walk into when getting a consultation shouldn’t be taken personally as tattoo artists do this as a job

We seriously do this all day, every day. There is a good chance that the idea you found while surfing social media has been done before and it isn’t being done the way that we would prefer to do it. That doesn’t matter.

It is your body and your choice how you want to adorn it. If you get a negative reception from the artist when you share your idea, they may not be the best fit for your tattoo. All tattoo artists need to treat you with respect. You are paying them to mark you. They should be willing to treat you and your idea with respect.

If you walk into a tattoo shop and the artist you have been excited to meet is rolling their eyes and trying to change what you want to mark your body with, take a chance and walk out. This practice should be applied to any situation where you are planning on altering your body, as well as in everyday life.

Tattoo artists should approach your tattoo completely ambivalent about what you are getting. We should only be invested in the process and making it perfect.

What do they like to do?

Checking to see what “style” the artist puts up on social media is a good indicator as to what they enjoy doing. While I have a harsh critique as to why artists choose styles, it is still in your best interest to pick someone who has practiced a style when choosing your tattoo. If the artist enjoys what they are doing, or has a lot of experience in a specific style, there is less chance the final product will be opposite what you may ask for.

Work with the artist, if you feel comfortable. Ask questions. When choosing your tattoo, be involved in the process from start to finish.

During the design process, it’s your job to be available. Answer emails or text messages, and give input as they work up a design that you will be wearing permanently. If the artist has any issues with you working over their shoulder, give them some space and offer up critiques that are constructive, if needed. 

The artist should take the time and ensure all critiques are heard and understood. If any part of the process results in the tattoo artist acting in a way that is disrespectful, walk away from the tattoo.

Shadowy figure walking away.

Baggage. Do you have any?

Walking into a tattoo shop can be an experience that brings joy or, to some, terror. Needles, blood, crazy moustaches… It can be intense! If you have gotten any tattoo work before and have chosen a new artist, don’t walk in thinking all tattoo artists are a uniform breed. They are humans, just a bit more colorful.

Take the time to have a consultation and get a feeling for the artist. Your experience will be that much better and ensure you’re not strapped to a chair for 60 hours with a person you can’t stand. Suss out the artist’s vibe, energy and tact. If they don’t align with you, regardless of the final product, you should move on and find someone who you will mesh with better.

Also, when meeting with your artist, be very plain and direct about why you are getting the tattoo. If the tattoo is just rad and you have no deeper meaning attached to it, let them know. If this is a memorial for the sister you lost to cancer 2 weeks ago and the family would like to be there during the tattoo process, let the artist know.

Where do you want to get your tattoo?

The placement of the tattoo will influence how the design is made. Have at least 2 spaces prepared for the tattoo that you want to be. The process of getting tattooed is collaborative so take the ideas for you tattoo, and the placement, to your chosen artist. Talk to them about where the design is going to be placed and listen to their explanations about what is the best option for you. Also, bring up how it may connect with other/future tattoos will help create a congruent theme (if that is what you want).

How big should you go when choosing your tattoo?

In tattoos, size means everything.

Back tattoo of a ship and lighthouse.

Size will determine price, time to complete and limitations on location. Knowing how big you are willing to go (as well as how small) is essential when planning ahead. Most tattoo artists are going to want to make your tattoo as big as possible. Be prepared to stand your ground if you are set on a specific size. Leading with what your budget is, when choosing sizes, ensures the tattoo artist won’t push too hard to cover your entire thigh.

Do you want more tattoos?

If you are going for your first tattoo, try and put it in a place that isn’t at the high end of the pain spectrum. There is no reason to take an enjoyable process and mark it with a painful experience. If you have plans for multiple tattoos, you may adjust your ideas for the future due to the pain you may experience. To keep the process as quick as possible, which will decrease the total discomfort you experience, keep the first designs you get palm sized or smaller.

If you do want to plan ahead and really commit to the process, talk to your artist about how the tattoos you want to get are going to work together. Also discuss tactics for planning multiple sittings. If you have a theme or some ideas that may work well together, create a plan to make the final product cohesive.

How much time was spent choosing your tattoo?

A sick A F Lower back tatty. A butterfly T S with purple and black.

Is this a spur of the moment idea, or have you really put some thought into what you are planning to get? Regardless of the scenario, don’t go carrying bias into the tattoo shop when choosing your tattoo.

Leave that ego in check and be ready to actively collaborate with an artist. They have the training and expertise to get what you want on your skin.

Some additional points to consider

What local options are there for you?

Do you live in a major metropolis, or the middle of BF nowhere? Seeing what options are available near you may influence your decision if you are locked into a specific region with little ability to commute out.

Your buddy knows a guy named Dale at the 5 & Dime who shoots tattoos in his basement. Dale only spits out trad angel wings so it’s a good bet that you don’t want to go to him for that photo realistic tiger on your thigh.

Plan to venture out of your comfort zone if it ensures quality work. If you are truly unable to, keep the most sentimental tattoos on the backburner until you can get exactly what you want, from who you want.

What is your budget?

Pricing is usually non-negotiable.

Seriously, nothing good has ever come out of those arrangements where the artist is starving and sacrifices on price. When this does happen, people rush. The final quality will never be as great when compared to a properly paid for and prepared tattoo.

If you have a budget, and the work that you want to get is outside what that amount is, start saving. If you are not a person who enjoys the build up the anticipation, get something smaller that is inside your budget. Taking you time and not price shopping will give you want you deserve. Remember, you are in a place of business. Be respectable inside this person’s place of employment.

Artist Interaction

When choosing a tattoo, please, please, please… Don’t try and design the tattoo yourself. This is ultimately important if you are unsure about what you want the final product to be. There is a greater chance that your chosen artist will make something better than what you can imagine. Give them room to surprise you.

This above statement doesn’t stand if you know precisely what you want. Do you want your baby’s name in Scriptina font across your wrist?

Cool.

Choose that.

After that has been expressed, listen to your artists recommendations about how this chosen tattoo may age, tie in with future work and how much it might hurt. There is far more to the tattoo than the final design.

In closing

Hopefully you are in a better place now and have confidence about choosing your tattoo. You control the fate of what is put on your body.

But please… Do not tattoo your partner’s name on your arm.

PEACE OUT!
Not the author

Choosing Your Tattoos

So many articles about choosing your tattoo to be found online. These fanciful jaunts into airy, photo laden websites give you a one-sided perspective that you, the client, need to treat your artist a certain way to enjoy you experience. This is an incorrect, albeit flattering, method of interaction.

I was honestly amazed at how pervasive the ideas about being careful with your words,  respectful with your actions and bringing treats to your artist are being thrown around. I mean, who doesn’t love that but… it’s kind of creepy getting treats before performing a tattoo. Plus, you should not be placed in a position where you, the paying client, are in an inferior position of power when first walking into a tattoo shop.

My take, as a professional tattoo artist, is a little different than what you find online and is stated below. Take it as a starting point for those of you who haven’t been introduced to shop life, those of you who have had a negative experience or those of you who want to know how another artist may expect out of you when coming in for work. Choosing your tattoo can be difficult but, if you are prepared and vocal, it can be a fun experience.

What Do You Want!?

Choosing a design.

When starting the process of choosing a tattoo, ask yourself a few questions:

What style do you like?

Are you into hair metal band logos? Do you enjoy simple geometric designs? Find something that you are believe you will enjoy through your life, not just today. I can guarantee your love of something trendy (getting Yeet or YOLO tattooed dropped out of fashion just like Kanji) won’t have the staying power you expect it will, unless you are a very special case. Who likes seeing Motley Crue logos on your uncle’s outer arm, surrounded by barbed wire armbands? No one. Don’t be like that uncle. 

Your Uncles tattoos aren't that cool. Here is an example of some bad band tattoos.
Click to follow to RateMyInk.com : The worst tattoos we have found.

Once you have taken the time to figure out what style you enjoy and think has the staying power to be impressive for your lifetime, look at the most common themes or images you see in that style. The most commonly tattooed images are the ones that will have small variations or nuances that you may not notice unless you look really closely. Being able to describe small nuances is a thing tattoo artists enjoy when critiquing tattoos. If you can spot small variations that you do not want to see in your tattoo, your tattoo artist will thank you and be better able to craft the tattoo that you want.

Think of other styles you enjoy

There are so many styles to choose from! Don’t limit yourself by thinking inside the box. Be open to both options of blackwork or color if you don’t have an image theme already picked out. Let your imagination roam free, you are working towards designing a work of art that will be on you for the rest of your life.

Take any combination of ideas and write them down. Bring those ideas in with you when you have a consultation. If what you want is not possible, the artist you will be working with will be quick to tell you it is not a good idea. Make sure that you ask why it won’t work! There has to be a good explanation for any dismissed idea. Just not liking the tattoo is not an option for a tattoo artist and if they give you this option, you know better than to get it done with that artist.

Are there any examples of artwork that you enjoy?

Having some form of visual reference to show your artist can help them understand your style wants much quicker than using descriptive words. For example, showing someone a picture of the Hulk is better than describing something “Big and Green”.

Use your words well and bring high quality photos that explain for you what you like to see. Be brave and have a simple hand drawn example to show. You would be surprised how much this helps when translating your idea. Don’t worry, we know that you are not a tattoo artist. If you were, you wouldn’t be having a consultation.

Finding an Artist

Once you have decided on a design, follow up by checking out artists near you. If there isn’t anyone close by, find one you are willing to travel to. Do some research before making the trek. Make sure they are versatile enough, or practiced enough, in the style of artwork you want to adorn your body with.

There are misconceptions about us tattooers and how invested we are in what you mark your body with. While tattoo bros worldwide enjoy the idea that they are marking you with their specific brand, most of us really don’t care how you choose to adorn your body. The lack of caring and detached persona you walk into when getting a consultation shouldn’t be taken personally as tattoo artists do this as a job

We seriously do this all day, every day. There is a good chance that the idea you found while surfing social media has been done before and it isn’t being done the way that we would prefer to do it. That doesn’t matter.

It is your body and your choice how you want to adorn it. If you get a negative reception from the artist when you share your idea, they may not be the best fit for your tattoo. All tattoo artists need to treat you with respect. You are paying them to mark you. They should be willing to treat you and your idea with respect.

If you walk into a tattoo shop and the artist you have been excited to meet is rolling their eyes and trying to change what you want to mark your body with, take a chance and walk out. This practice should be applied to any situation where you are planning on altering your body, as well as in everyday life.

Tattoo artists should approach your tattoo completely ambivalent about what you are getting. We should only be invested in the process and making it perfect.

What do they like to do?

Checking to see what “style” the artist puts up on social media is a good indicator as to what they enjoy doing. While I have a harsh critique as to why artists choose styles, it is still in your best interest to pick someone who has practiced a style when choosing your tattoo. If the artist enjoys what they are doing, or has a lot of experience in a specific style, there is less chance the final product will be opposite what you may ask for.

Work with the artist, if you feel comfortable. Ask questions. When choosing your tattoo, be involved in the process from start to finish.

During the design process, it’s your job to be available. Answer emails or text messages, and give input as they work up a design that you will be wearing permanently. If the artist has any issues with you working over their shoulder, give them some space and offer up critiques that are constructive, if needed. 

The artist should take the time and ensure all critiques are heard and understood. If any part of the process results in the tattoo artist acting in a way that is disrespectful, walk away from the tattoo.

Shadowy figure walking away.

Baggage. Do you have any?

Walking into a tattoo shop can be an experience that brings joy or, to some, terror. Needles, blood, crazy moustaches… It can be intense! If you have gotten any tattoo work before and have chosen a new artist, don’t walk in thinking all tattoo artists are a uniform breed. They are humans, just a bit more colorful.

Take the time to have a consultation and get a feeling for the artist. Your experience will be that much better and ensure you’re not strapped to a chair for 60 hours with a person you can’t stand. Suss out the artist’s vibe, energy and tact. If they don’t align with you, regardless of the final product, you should move on and find someone who you will mesh with better.

Also, when meeting with your artist, be very plain and direct about why you are getting the tattoo. If the tattoo is just rad and you have no deeper meaning attached to it, let them know. If this is a memorial for the sister you lost to cancer 2 weeks ago and the family would like to be there during the tattoo process, let the artist know.

Where do you want to get your tattoo?

The placement of the tattoo will influence how the design is made. Have at least 2 spaces prepared for the tattoo that you want to be. The process of getting tattooed is collaborative so take the ideas for you tattoo, and the placement, to your chosen artist. Talk to them about where the design is going to be placed and listen to their explanations about what is the best option for you. Also, bring up how it may connect with other/future tattoos will help create a congruent theme (if that is what you want).

How big should you go when choosing your tattoo?

In tattoos, size means everything.

Back tattoo of a ship and lighthouse.

Size will determine price, time to complete and limitations on location. Knowing how big you are willing to go (as well as how small) is essential when planning ahead. Most tattoo artists are going to want to make your tattoo as big as possible. Be prepared to stand your ground if you are set on a specific size. Leading with what your budget is, when choosing sizes, ensures the tattoo artist won’t push too hard to cover your entire thigh.

Do you want more tattoos?

If you are going for your first tattoo, try and put it in a place that isn’t at the high end of the pain spectrum. There is no reason to take an enjoyable process and mark it with a painful experience. If you have plans for multiple tattoos, you may adjust your ideas for the future due to the pain you may experience. To keep the process as quick as possible, which will decrease the total discomfort you experience, keep the first designs you get palm sized or smaller.

If you do want to plan ahead and really commit to the process, talk to your artist about how the tattoos you want to get are going to work together. Also discuss tactics for planning multiple sittings. If you have a theme or some ideas that may work well together, create a plan to make the final product cohesive.

How much time was spent choosing your tattoo?

A sick A F Lower back tatty. A butterfly T S with purple and black.

Is this a spur of the moment idea, or have you really put some thought into what you are planning to get? Regardless of the scenario, don’t go carrying bias into the tattoo shop when choosing your tattoo.

Leave that ego in check and be ready to actively collaborate with an artist. They have the training and expertise to get what you want on your skin.

Some additional points to consider

What local options are there for you?

Do you live in a major metropolis, or the middle of BF nowhere? Seeing what options are available near you may influence your decision if you are locked into a specific region with little ability to commute out.

Your buddy knows a guy named Dale at the 5 & Dime who shoots tattoos in his basement. Dale only spits out trad angel wings so it’s a good bet that you don’t want to go to him for that photo realistic tiger on your thigh.

Plan to venture out of your comfort zone if it ensures quality work. If you are truly unable to, keep the most sentimental tattoos on the backburner until you can get exactly what you want, from who you want.

What is your budget?

Pricing is usually non-negotiable.

Seriously, nothing good has ever come out of those arrangements where the artist is starving and sacrifices on price. When this does happen, people rush. The final quality will never be as great when compared to a properly paid for and prepared tattoo.

If you have a budget, and the work that you want to get is outside what that amount is, start saving. If you are not a person who enjoys the build up the anticipation, get something smaller that is inside your budget. Taking you time and not price shopping will give you want you deserve. Remember, you are in a place of business. Be respectable inside this person’s place of employment.

Artist Interaction

When choosing a tattoo, please, please, please… Don’t try and design the tattoo yourself. This is ultimately important if you are unsure about what you want the final product to be. There is a greater chance that your chosen artist will make something better than what you can imagine. Give them room to surprise you.

This above statement doesn’t stand if you know precisely what you want. Do you want your baby’s name in Scriptina font across your wrist?

Cool.

Choose that.

After that has been expressed, listen to your artists recommendations about how this chosen tattoo may age, tie in with future work and how much it might hurt. There is far more to the tattoo than the final design.

In closing

Hopefully you are in a better place now and have confidence about choosing your tattoo. You control the fate of what is put on your body.

But please… Do not tattoo your partner’s name on your arm.

PEACE OUT!
Not the author

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

How long do hand tattoos last and can you do them?

Well, here is the persistently asked question from clients to us tattooers: Do you do hand and foot tattoos. And, do they last?

I am in a bit of a goofy mood while writing this post so the tone may be different than usual. I apologize if it makes the reading difficult.

Sweet Jesus, there is a plethora of misinformation out there as to how and why we do/don’t do finger tattoos. Today, I hope to put this to rest!

Hand tattoos – What Gives?

So you have a client that walks in and says,

               Client: Hey. Do y’all do hand tattoos?

You: **Nonsensical garbled answer because you really don’t want to do one but.. damn, you gotta pay them bills**

To dissect this problem, let’s dig right into the fucking dirt of what your skin looks like and how it’s different on the hands and feet. Then we will jump into why finger tattoos may or may not heal up, what to look for in your fingers/feet that help make a good choice about placement and how the healing is different for these areas of the body.

“Boom”

God

That means, let’s get onto the science!

Skin Composition – What’s the skinny on them layers?

I was am going to skip all the technical mumbo-jumbo about skin layers and what not but I ended up writing all about it.

Here is what people who are not tattoo artists thinks their hands look like. It may also be what we all assume every person’s hands will look like when they come in to get a tattoo blasted on the digits:

probably younger hands

In all reality, here is what we tattooers deal with on the daily:

old ass hands

If you look at your hands (just do it) and compare the skin on them to the rest of your body, you will notice a few things that are different.

  1. The backs of your hands have very little fat (adipose tissue)
  2. The palms of your hands are thick (Like…what if your whole body was like that?)
  3. There are transitional areas that line the sides of your fingers and palms.
  4. The skin takes a ton of abuse and you may have some rad scars.

What does that have to do with the tattooing procedure and how can I accurately assess the possible healed tattoo from people who want their hands/feet tattooed?

It’s easy young padawan. You just must understand the why’s before getting to the how’s.

Skin Construction

So, let’s have a short primer for all those out there who may not have taken an A&P class in college.

Here are the layers of your skin, broken down Scooby style for ease of reading.

  • Epidermis – about 0.1 mm in thickness.
    • Water proofing and barrier for the body. Made up of basal cells and keratinocytes.
      • Keratinocytes – a bunch of different proteins, enzymes, lipids and defense peptides that protect the body. They absorb water and don’t divide like normal cells do after they have been “selected” during a maturation stage. (more information found by following this link)
      • Basal Cells – Keratinocytes that are found in the basal layer of the epidermis.
  • Dermis – on average about 2 mm in thickness
    • The living part of your skin in that it supplies all the cells for the epidermis. It also contains vascular bodies, structural cells that give skin its physical properties, immune cells and specific fat cells called adipocytes.
  • Subcutaneous tissues – anywhere from 2 mm in thickness up to greater than 18 mm (> 18 mm)
    • This is fat. The subcutaneous tissues give structure like your dermis but is made up of loose connective tissues to underlying structures. Its like the dermis but is like…loose.

Here is a table that breaks down the layers in a more scientific way –

Skin LayerStructureRole in Viscoelasticity
Stratum corneum—outermost layer of epidermisStructure of up to 25–30 rows of corneocytes; includes fibrous keratin; “brick and mortar” arrangement, in conjunction with other stratified layers in the epidermis, increases tensile strength (resistance to longitudinal stress), and resistance to damage ()
Water content is 15–30% ()
Supports pliability (ease in change of shape from baseline)
Promotes strength, elastic behavior, and resistance to loss of skin integrity with movement, stretching, and application of force
Basement membrane zone (BMZ)Collection of three cell layers between the epidermis and the dermis (lamina lucida, lamina densa, and lamina propria; ; ); comprised of proteins (primarily laminins, proteoglycans, and types IV and VII collagens; )
Desmosomes (cells responsible for adhesion) serve as binding cells between basal layer of skin and upper lamina lucida (; )
Anchoring fibrils and a matrix of fibers at varying stages of maturity connect thicker lamina densa layer to upper layer of dermis (; )
BMZ semipermeable to water; limits water passage to maintain skin hydration and support viscoelasticity
Lamina layers extremely flexible due to construction of multiple-microfibrillar subdensa and protein-based supra-lamina desmosomes (; )
Supports epidermis and provides strong adhesion between the epidermal and dermal layers to protect against shearing forces (); when force applied on parallel plane to skin, it has a viscoelastic response of expanding and then contracting fiber matrix and associated fluids
Serves as an anchor to surrounding layers; disruption of BMZ leads to amorphous structure within epidermis and dermis causing skin structure breakage and reduced viscoelastic response
Dermis—layer between the epidermis and subcutaneous tissuesWithin papillary region (uppermost layer of dermis), a networking of thin elastin protein fibers (oxytalan fibers and the elaunin fibers cross-linked via desmosomes) is in loose matrix with procollagen (a precursor to collagen that originates within ground substance) and ground substance (; ; ; )
Reticular region (below papillary region and above hypodermis) is comprised of ground substance and a thicker mesh of collagen fibers wound among thicker elastic fibers assembled from elastin and microfibrils (; ; )
With force, elastin molecules stretch in linear pattern, cross links maintain structure; quick elastic reaction provides immediate response to force, followed by slower viscous response and then full return to baseline
Elastic fibers are thinner in papillary region and used for quick response but break more easily; elastic fibers in reticular region thicker, more bundled with collagen, and provide slower, viscoelastic behavior and greater tensile strength (; )
Hypodermis—innermost and thickest layer of skin; connects dermis to bone or connective tissueAdipose tissue is present in the hypodermis, but thickness of this layer may vary (; ; )Thickness of adipose deposits maintains shape of skin, protects it from underlying (bony) structures, and is positively correlated with skin strength and elasticity (; ); positive and protective effects may negated in obesity ()
Problems with obesity include impaired skin barrier repair, decreased lymphatic flow, decreased strength of collagen structures, impaired circulation, decreased wound healing, and skin disorders that change the structure and impair the function of the skin ()

Borrowed from source: Everett, J. S., & Sommers, M. S. (2013). Skin viscoelasticity: physiologic mechanisms, measurement issues, and application to nursing science. Biological research for nursing15(3), 338–346. doi:10.1177/1099800411434151

Let’s move on with a look at the subcutaneous tissues and why this layer of skin is so thin on your hands.

No fat, What up with dat?

The back of your hands and the tops of the feet are what every 80’s-90’s supermodels hoped their entire body could be like. Nearly fat free! (that was awful)

(I am going to stop putting in a separator and use hands as interchangeable with feet for now. That repetitive explanation is getting tiring)

The back of your hands look like crêpe paper stretched over a turkey skeleton. There is little to no fat on the hands of most people and, as anyone who has had their hands tattooed, the shock and vibrations you get from a tattoo make the hands hurt a lot. They tend to blow out, heal hard and take more of a beating through your normal day, in comparison with other parts of the body.

All over your body, the fatty layer (also known as the hypodermis or subcutaneous layer) exists to absorb blows and gives easy-access pathways for blood vessels to connect through your body. It also stores/releases energy, insulates your body and connects the tissue (skin) to underlying fascia which connects the skin to muscles, tendon and other stuffs.

One additional part of this amazing part of the skin is that it contains fibroblasts and macrophages, which if you had read the skin article (out soon), are key in getting the pigment to become “permanent” .

Fancy scientific mechanisms aside, the fatty tissue (in tattooing) keeps the skin supple and helps absorb some of the force that is emitted by the tattoo machine (via a needle). It also helps smooth out the dermis when you pull a stretch, making the layers under the epidermis more consistent thickness wise.

Imagination time!

Place a dish outside on a concrete slab and hit it with a hammer… what happens? It explodes!

Now take another plate and place it on a pillow and smack it with a hammer… what happens? …It still blows up, but the shock you feel from swinging a hammer is greatly decreased.

Hand and foot tattoos for thick skin – Yes everyone has thick skin

This may seem like a weird idea that we all have thick skin but, in essence, we do. That thick skin is on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet. Its there because we need additional protection from our environment with the feelers that we utilize to interact with our world.

Our hands and feet are what we use to interact with our environment. It is what gets us to work and allows us to do the jobs we choose to do. Our feet go through an immense amount of stress every day. Each step you take is an opera of stress distribution and pressure. Your weight, with what speed you are going, is absorbed by a complex network of bones, muscles, connective tissues… and a bunch of magic! (not really) Those stressors increase the pressures to a value that can be multiple factors higher than what your physical weight is. 

nasty feet

Why are the fatty parts so important for tattooing?

The fat helps create a less volatile surface for you to tattoo. The needles that are being driven by a tattoo machine will have a little cushion when they strike the bottom of the machine stroke. This is supremely important as the cushion not only helps the client feel less pain (initially) but also enables the skin to settle evenly when stretched.

What’s that you say? Stretching is influenced by the amount of fatty tissue underlying the skin?!

skin layers

It’s super important to get the stretch down right!

(Upcoming article on stretching will be linked HERE when it is completed)

SubQ – Skin on the hands and feet

The subcutaneous layer (SubQ or fatty layer, like stated before) that all but missing in the hands and feet make things difficult to tattoo but serve a function that is unique to these parts of the body.

Due to the lack of fatty tissue, there is less connection to the underlying structures in the hands and feet. This makes it easy for the fingers and feet to bend and move with less restriction but it also has an effect when getting the hands and feet tattooed.

Yes, your magnificent biceps can take a tattoo and look amazing when oiled up! But, could you imagine how it would feel if the skin on your hands were attached to the muscles the same way your arms or thighs? That would be weird and restrictive.

Walking or grasping something would become very difficult, in the beginning, but as your muscles developed those movements would be even further restricted. Larger muscles needed to move the resticed joints would cramp the area that they occupy and the idea of dexterity would be absent from the species.

Next up on the block for tattooing hands and feet is the uppermost layer of your skin, the horny layer.

The Horny Layer – Not what you think

Image result for stretched skin diagram hand and foot tattoos - Austin powers style. oh behave!

Another aspect that is unique to the hands and feet on a body is the excessively developed horny layer of skin. No, your hands don’t want to get down ya dirty, or maybe they do? The horney layer is another name for the uppermost layer of your epidermis, the stratum corneum.

The stratum corneum (which will be called the horney layer from here out because…I am like a teenager at heart) is made up of all those dead skin cells that are slowly sloughing off when new ones are made. The skin all over your body is always dying but there is a greater sloughing that happens on your hands and feet because they are constantly in use.

One other aspect of these areas on your body is an additional layer of skin called the stratum lucidum.

Ahhhh, the circle of life!

The upper most layer of skin is comprised of mostly dead cells, they had to get there somehow. These dying or dead cells are migrated up through the skin by newly formed cells further down and once they reach the top, they fall off.

Working our way into the skin, and looking at something that is totally unique to these body parts we end up at the stratum lucidum. It is located between your epidermis and dermis on the hands and feet. It’s a collection of specialized cells that give your hands and feet a waterproof, protective layer. Much like a rain slicker in inclimate weather, this layer adds additional protection to these parts of your body and help to keep pathogens out of the parts of your body that interact with your world.

You may have noticed this specialized layer of skin if, like myself, you have gone for a long walk and come home to some swollen, soaked socks. You can also see this layer in action when you take a nice hot bath and get all pruney!

The keratin cells in your hands absorb water and swell, but only the dead/dying layers on your hands above the stratum lucidum! neat eh! This specialized layer is great at protecting your most precious digits and, to be honest, aren’t we glad that our backs don’t wrinkle like that in the tub!

Next, onto the dermis!

The dermis. The real target of hand and foot tattoos

Ok. This article has become more about the skin rather than focusing on tattooing. I understand if you need to go but, I promise, after this section we will move onto the real meat and potatoes you came for!

The dermis is what lies between the epidermis and the subcutaneous tissues of the skin. It is made up mostly of collagen and elastin. These two proteins are what gives your skin it’s bouncy resilience. Your nerves, blood vessels, lymph vessels and sweat glands are also crammed into this space!

We are not ignoring the blood and lymph vessels, which help with thermoregulation and supply oxygen and nutrients to surrounding cells. We are moving past them quickly to talk about more specialized cells.

Another type of cell that makes up the dermis is a mast cell. These specialized cells are a part of the inflammatory response that helps the body deal with intruders (infectious materials like viruses or other things that shouldn’t be there). I’ll leave you a link that explains it all in a much better fashion than I can.

Dermis Explained

Why is the dermis important?

The dermis is where the pigment stays and becomes “permanent”. Your epidermis is constantly sloughing off and is composed of dead/dying cells (mostly keratinocytes). These cells that are being pushed out are not capable of “holding” pigment. The pigment holding cells are the macrophages that are summoned up from the lower layers of the dermis.

These specialized cells deal with infections and foreign particles (like ink). The macrophages consume/engulf the pigment particles that have been injected into the skin and hold it in place. These cells, like all others in our bodies, slowly die off and dump their contents (tattoo pigment) back into the skin before being transferred up to be sloughed off.

What happens to the pigment when that occurs, you ask?

ink life cycle after tattooing

The body sends more macrophages in response the the released foreign particle. The newly formed macrophages come forth, engulf the pigment and lay in wait until they meet their inevitable end.

This process continues during your livable existence and ensure that your tattoo is going to last a lifetime. (for now… mwahahahaha SCIENCE! – more on this later)

What’s up with hand and foot tattoos?

How about you, dear reader take this one. I know you can probably answer this question pretty well after all that typing that occurred above! (at least I hope so…)

hand structure
  • With a layer of subcutaneous tissue that is less evident, the body can experience greater trauma when being tattooed. Higher degree of trauma = lower chance of healing cleanly.
  • Lower levels of subcutaneous tissue create a more difficult stretch which creates a more uneven dermal layer. This makes it nearly impossible to place the pigment consistent into the skin so it shows an even tone and doesn’t “blow out”.

(A blow out is where the pigment is placed in a way that causes it to spread in an unpredictable way under the skin. The pigment placed into the body can roll along the capillary pathways, along soft spots of less dense skin or be carried into less dense areas by the inflammatory/immune response that occurs during a tattoo.)

  • Higher levels of stress from normal daily use increase the amount of shedding that needs to occur as more cells are destroyed from use.
  • Being constantly in use, the environmental stresses are greater than other parts of the body so an increase in healing time may occur.
  • The thicker horny layer creates a longer pathway for ink and needles to travel. this travel will dislodge pigment at different depths that can create an illusion of a well done tattoo. When the tattoo heals, and the misplaced pigment is shed (not absorbed) the finished product could be much lighter than anticipated.

So this list is going to left and added to at another time. I have shit to do and I am running out of time!

How can we tell who would be a better candidate for a hand or foot tattoo

This one is simple. You do a consult and touch their hands/feet after washing your hands and putting on a set of gloves.

Look at the skin. Is it very thin looking? If so, you will need to adjust your machine speed to ensure quality injection of pigment.

Give the skin a little push and pull. Does it feel tight or strongly attached to the underlying structure? If it does, there is a better chance that the SubQ layer is thicker than average and should be easier to tattoo. If the skin is very loose, there is a better chance that the tattoo will fall out or blow out if your needle depth is not set shallow and run on a slower machine setting.

WHen doing a consultation, ask the person who wants the tattoo what they do for a living. If you are going to tattoo a bakers hand, or a mechanics hand, there is a greater than average chance the tattoo will heal like total crap. Why you ask? BECAUSE THEY WORK WITH THEIR HANDS!

The type of work and what the skin is introduced to in a daily grind are what we consider environmental stresses. If you were to apply those same stresses to any other part of the body, what would you expect? (This wasn’t rhetorical)

How evident is the vascularization of the hand? If it seems very prominent, located near the surface, the epidermis will be thinner than normal (maybe they don’t use their hands for work or have a light duty job). If this is the case, you will have to adjust your hand and machine speed to ensure good saturation and less trauma.

In closing for now…

There is more information that needs to be added to this so let’s leave this article as a primer for those of you who need more.

Thanks for reading.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus

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