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Are Tattoos Vegan? | Guide to a Vegan Tattoo

We vegans can be an expressive and passionate lot.  And a number of us–like any number of any grouping of people–like to express that passion with visual representations in the form of tattoos. Of course, given that we often express our passion for animals, it’s important to ask, are tattoos vegan?  Well, I can tell you one thing–if they’re not…This is going to be quite awkward… [tweet this]

Being vocally vegan and amply tattooed, the question of tattoos’ vegan-ness is posed to me quite often.  Though still not as often as where I get my protein.  My tats have also inspired some of the more creative personal attack comments on my channel like:

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Now that last one has a point–in some instances.  And maybe the first one does too. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

If you want to know more about my personal tattoos and their significance, check out my vegan tattoo tour in this video post.  And, just to let you know, I’m hoping to get my leg piece finished at the end of May after over a year of waiting, so I’ll be sure to take a camera with and show you the process.  Stay tuned for that.

So, what is it that makes tattoos not vegan?  What do we vegans need to look out for and is it possible to get a 100 percent vegan tattoo?  And how do you find a vegan tattoo shop or artist? Let’s find out! [tweet this]

First off, a little about tattoo ink: Tattoo ink is formed of a pigment, which gives the ink its color, suspended within a carrier solution.  The pigment is usually derived from plants or metal.  Now, what my astute commenter was referring to with the bone bit of his comment, however, is black ink, also called “bone black” which can–but doesn’t always–contain charcoal and soot derived from the charred bones of animals.

The suspension in which this pigment is…well…suspended keeps the ink evenly mixed and aids in the ease of application.  Carrier solutions generally contain purified water, ethyl alcohol, propylene glycol and glycerine and may also contain witch hazel.  For vegans, it’s the glycerine we have to watch out for.  It can be from either plants or from animal fats depending on the company.

Aside from bone char pigment and glycerine carrier solutions, there are other animal bits in tattoo inks to keep an eye out for.  Some inks also use gelatin, which is extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish, and shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac beetle.

So what’s a vegan to do ink-wise?  Well, luckily there are plenty of vegan inks on the market, some of which have the bonus of being non-toxic.  I've supplied a list of vegan ink brands below along with other resources and links for further information.

Outside of the ink itself, other elements of the tattoo process can be animal-laden.  Many artists use vaseline or petroleum jelly during tattooing to help their tattoo machine glide more easily. petroleum jelly itself can by and large be considered animal-free, although it’s a byproduct of the oil industry, which is a bit concerning, and the vaseline brand itself can contain bone char depending on the country and definitely tests on animals.

There are a number of alternative you can use to lube up your skin during your session, but of course it will be up to the individual artist as to whether they are comfortable using them.  Some options I’ve come across were shea butter, jojoba oil or olive oil.  Personally, my artist just dry-runs on me (not as filthy as it sounds) and it works out just fine.

Another lovely element of tattooing is that you get to be shaved by another person.  This can be an issue for vegans, or people with boundary issues–but that’s for a completely different reason– because disposable razors may contain a glycerin “moisturizing strip” and are by and large almost always tested on animals.  Which doesn’t make any damn sense…but then again, what element of animal testing does?

So, as an alternative to animal fat-lined razors, you can always shave yourself prior to coming with your own cruelty-free razor like the lovely preserve brand and/or bring it with you if you really want that stranger-shaving-you-in-public experience.

If being shaved by another person wasn’t invigorating enough for you, they will also partially bathe you by soaping up the area to be worked on.  Most shops use what’s referred to as green soap, presumably because it’s green.  However, the vegan society has not been able to get confirmation for green soap producers as to their glycerin sources and potential animal fat content, and the information online is highly conflicting.

The best alternative I’d recommend for this is Dr. Bronner’s Soap, the baby mild kind, ideally.  It’s hypoallergenic and tattoo friendly.  Just grab some and bring it with you.

One lesser-known hidden animal product in the tattoo experience is the lanolin in transfer paper, which comes from sheep’s wool.  If you’re not sure what the big deal is about sheep’s wool, be sure to check out this video post.

You see when you get a tattoo, unless you have a badass free-hander, your artist will draw the image out on what looks like tracing paper and apply it to your glistening moist skin to leave an outline to follow.  This allows you and your artist to work out ideal positioning and allows you a bit of a preview.

Luckily, there is a vegan transfer paper out there by Reprofx.  You can ask your artist to order some if they don’t use that brand or be a dear and purchase some form a tattoo supply shop online.  (Just visit their site and go here.)

So now that we’ve gone over the whole process, what about aftercare?  Many aftercare lotions and ointments include beeswax, lanolin, like A&D ointment, or cod liver oil.  There are plenty of vegan aftercare alternatives, which are also listed bellow.  What i tend to do is dry-heal for the beginning, and once it gets to that really nasty, flaky, itchiness, I’ll use some organic coconut oil for moisturizing.

So there you go: the whole tattoo process from start to finish.  As for finding a vegan tattoo artist, I’ve included a list of vegan tattoo shops below. there are more and more cropping up all the time, but with this video guide, you can get a vegan tattoo at any shop.  Just work with your artist and err on the side of providing as much as you can to make it less of a hassle for them. [tweet this]  A lot of time you’ll find artists are already using vegan ink without really knowing it as a lot of the vegan ink brands are highly used and respected.

Now I’d love to hear from you: Do you have tattoos?  If you’re vegan, did you know about the animal products within the tattoo process?  have you found your ideal artist?  What ink are you sporting?  Let me know in the comments.

If you liked this tatted-up video, give it a big thumbs-up and share it around to help other vegans looking to get inked.  If you’re new here, be sure to hit that big red subscribe button down there for more awesome vegan content every Monday, Wednesday and some Fridays.  To help support Bite Size Vegan in continuing the mission of effective vegan education, please see the support links in the video description below or for perks and rewards for your support, click on the Nugget Army icon there or the link in the iCard sidebar.  Now go live vegan, get inked up, and I’ll see you soon!

See ya next nugget!

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Videos Mentioned:

My Personal Tattoo Tour

Is Wool Vegan?

The Animal Testing Series

Where DO I Get My Protein

And More on Protein

TATTOO RESOURCES:
Vegan Tattoo Inks*
[list provided by atoastonyourgrave on Tumblr] Electric Ink USA
Dermaglo
Kuro Sumi
SkinCandy / Bloodline
Eternal Ink
Silverback Ink
Waverly Color Co. [Dark Black is also vegan] Alla Prima Ink
Stable
Starbrite
Fusion Tattoo Ink
Classic Color Systems
Good Color
Intenze Tattoo Ink
Feldman INK – by Brandyn Feldman (tattoo artist) | 1
Unique – Perma Pro (no website)
Pelikan -black-
Dynamic Ink -black- (colors not confirmed yet)
I Max Tattoo Inks are vegan
I Max brands includes: Makkuro Sumi Blacks, Makkuro Sumi Colors, Azayaka Live Tattoo Colors, Universal Blacks, Cobra Inks, Flashing Colors, Glam Colors, Pure Colors.
*[confirmed by companies, but always best to contact them again in case they've changed their ingredients]

Vegan “Skin Lubes” [my term] for Tattoo Machines
Shea Butter
Jojoba Oil
Olive Oil

Vegan Razor
Preserve

Vegan Soap
Dr. Bronners (baby mild recommended)

Vegan Transfer Paper:
ReproFX [find a store that carries it]

Vegan Aftercare Products
[list provided by atoastonyourgrave on Tumblr] Ultrabalm by Lush | 1 | 2
Missy LePink’s Tattoo Tonic
Dr. Bronner’s (Bronner’s Tattoo balm contains beeswax but most other Dr Bronner products seem to be vegan, like lotions, check ingredients lists to be sure!)
Lush Dream Cream | 1
Merry Hempsters Tattoo Balm
Black Cat Tattoo Aftercare (the Black Cat Unscented Tattoo Lotion contains cetyl palmitate which is palm oil also the Black Cat Super Healing Salve contains palm wax, which comes from palm oil)
Tattoo InkGuard
Rose Tattoo Care
After Inked
Out To Sea
Stay True Organics Tattoo Aftercare
Serf To Surf – Phat Tat
Tattoo Tonic
Ohana Organics – Tattoo Butter
St Ives Lotions
Jason Natural Cosmetics Lotions
Masada Spa Lotions
Natures Gate Lotions
After Inked | 1
Protat Natural Aftercare

Tat2Butt'r by Punk Medics
Tattoo Med (German brand has a range of after care, cleansing gel and color protection)
Any vegan Calendula cream/balm works like a charm too, or coconut oil for pure moisturizing.

Some Vegan Tattoo Shops
White Rabbit
Scapegoat Tattoo
Gristle Tattoo
Alchemy Tattoo
Damask Tattoo
Brainwave Tattoo
Vegan Tattoo Shop Directory [not an exhaustive list- missing some from above- & i have not personally verified them, fyi]

Further Info
helpful post about vegan tats
Search for the Vegan Tattoo Post

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17 Comments

  1. sally anne hubbard on 04/27/15 at 3:20 pm

    Wow, I did not know that about tattoo ink.
    I knew of gelatin but not glycerin.
    It takes a lot of work for vegans, we have to check every ingredient but it is well worth it not to hurt animals.
    Thanks for the info.

  2. Sean on 04/27/15 at 6:04 pm

    love your tattoos. I think they’re beautiful.
    Thank you for providing this information. I don’t have any yet, but if I get any I’ll be sure to get vegan ones. I’m excited to see the updated tattoo tour once You’ve completed this one.

  3. Friderike Hirsch-Wright on 04/28/15 at 8:35 pm

    Dear Emily,

    Great post – as always – always. Thank you so much. I found the post very interesting even though I am not big on tattoos myself.
    I am so sorry to hear that you got insulting messages. That makes me really sad. I just wanted to remind you that I think that you rock.
    As always, thank you so much for all that you are doing. I am sending lots of love to you and Oobi,
    Friderike

  4. Kala on 05/8/15 at 3:33 pm

    Love Your tatoos. Don’t listen to silly talk. Keep up the good work You do Emily! Greets!

  5. Matou on 08/8/15 at 8:11 am

    I just wanted to thank you so much for this very useful post. I live in Japan (which is freaking difficult as a vegan), I want my first tattoo and after a lot of mail exchanges with the artist, calling the japanese companies to hear that there were animal bones in the ink, he told me that he can also use the “Dynamic” ink brand. Which is on your list for the black (I want black so perfect).
    I’m trusting you on that girl! Thank you so much for your work, it is so helpful :)

  6. epiphany on 11/2/15 at 5:57 am

    Oh how ive had to educate others on this same subject. :) btw your are beautiful inside and out! nothing more than showing whats important to you, aside from your actions. marking permanently what you love and what your about on your skin. your a doll :) great video btw.

  7. Julia Hornbrook on 11/21/16 at 3:12 pm

    Which inks are vegan and non toxic?? Please help me! And no I didn’t know ink wasn’t vegan till a few months ago when I was looking into getting another tattoo.

  8. Amy on 05/1/17 at 12:22 pm

    Don’t forget the iffyness about humane practices and coconut oil. Looks like Vita Coco is an okay brand, but some others may or may not be.

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 01/25/18 at 11:57 am

      Very good point, Amy. I do have a video planned for coconut oil. I can’t say when I’ll finally get to it (there’s are so many things to cover!) But you are absolutely correct. So far I’ve only done preliminary research and there’s a lot of misinformation out there and false assurances from companies. There are two possibly ethical sources I’ve come across but having not researched extensively, I’m not comfortable mentioning them at this point. Thank you for adding this point.

  9. Heather Bendele on 09/5/17 at 8:43 am

    Hey, there! Thanks for what you do! You are an incredible human being!!!

    I wanted to let you know that the “Nugget Army” icon isn’t working, and I also wanted to let you know that “dairy” as accidentally corrected to “diary” a multitude of times throughout the article on wool.

    Thanks for being awesome! Have a great day!

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 01/25/18 at 12:13 pm

      Oh no! Thank you so much for letting me know about this and so sorry for the delay. Man, the website has needed an overhaul for a LONG time.. I’m hoping that can happen soon! It’s one of the many things I’ve been working on. I’ll look into these issues. ALYWAYS appreciate knowing what’s not working! Many, many thanks and for your kind words as well!

  10. Edwin Rivero on 12/21/17 at 7:56 am

    Thanks a lot Emily for this valuable info ?

    Help me a lot for my new tattoo (vegan theme)

    All the best for you!!!!

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