Did you know that the tattoos, and the process by which they are created, are not naturally vegan-friendly?! Yeah, unfortunately animal by-products manage to find their way into every stage of tattooing. However there are plenty of vegan options out there.
So if you’re considering getting a permanent artwork on your body, get informed before you get inked! Be sure that your tattoo won’t be permanently embedding animal remnants in your skin with these 3 reasons why your tattoo may not be vegan.
It begins with the tattoo prep
So you have your design all worked out and it’s time to get the needles going! Woah, not so fast.
First your skin has to be prepped with a clean and shave. This is usually done with rubbing alcohol and a disposable razor.
Problem 1: Disposable razors often have glycerin or lanolin in the lubricating strip.
We can’t be sure where the glycerin comes from (synthetic, animal or plant), but lanolin is certainly from sheep’s wool. Either way, you may want to freshly shave the skin in advance using products you’re happy with, or take a vegan-friendly razor and foam with you.
Ok, so now your skin is ready, it’s time for step 2.
Creating the template
Unless you’ve hired the Michelangelo of tattooists, you’re likely going to need a stencil transferred onto your skin. These are cleverly printed using a thermal printer onto special paper. This sticks to your skin, and peels away leaving the lines of the design behind.
Problem 2: Transfer/stencil paper is usually made from lanolin (and may also contain bone char).
Sheep get a tough deal here. It may seem benign as lanolin comes from wool, but it isn’t. If you aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of sheep farming, just bear in mind for starters that sheep are notoriously mistreated through the shearing process and a good chunk of that wool will come from the slaughterhouse. I’ve written more on this in “what vegans don’t wear“, but there’s plenty more beyond that.
However, there is a vegan alternative made by Spirit, which uses vegetable-synthetic blend to replace the lanolin. So it is possible to get your design transfered onto your skin ready for inking without animal by-products.
But wait, there’s more!
Problem 3: The ointment used to cover the design transfer may not be vegan.
This is used to both help the transfer stay on your skin, and let the needles move more smoothly. But these sorts of balms typically contain lanolin and so may not be vegan, so be sure to ask.
What’s hiding in the tattoo ink?
Let’s get right to it…
Problem 4: Tattoo inks, like regular inks, often contain animal by-products.
- Glycerin/glycerine from animal fat – often used as a stabiliser
- Gelatin from hooves or insects – sometimes used alongside glycerin for stabilising
- Bone char – to get the dark pigment in black ink
- Shellac from beetles – used with borax or ammonia as a binding agent
Yuck. I certainly don’t want that stuff being embedded into my skin for the rest of my life.
If you can’t get to a vegan tattoo shop, then ask what brand of ink they use. Chances are they might be using a vegan friendly ink without advertising it. If they don’t then ask if they would be able to order one in.
Vegan tattoo ink companies
Some brands of vegan-friendly, plant-based ink include:
- Eternal Ink – recommended by Peta; vegan and ingredient information can be found here
- Intenze Tattoo Ink – declares that they only test on humans and clearly show what typically used chemicals they avoid.
- Kuro Sumi – USA made with Japanese origins, claims that their “formulas incorporate organic elements and are vegan friendly”
- Silverback Ink® – specialising in black, white and grey inks there’s a video about the company on their FAQ page (go to the “Is Silverback Ink Vegan? question and skip to around 1min 10 for vegan questions).
- StarBrite – recommended by Peta; also iron and nickel free.
- Stable Color – recommended by Peta (sorry, can’t find a website);
- SkinCandy, now called Bloodline – recommended by Peta.
- World Famous Tattoo Ink – they also claim to have never tested on animals.
There are all sorts of differences between the inks (the most critical appears to be stable pigment based vs pre-dispersed). I definitely recommend looking into whichever brand of ink that will be used on you to also ensure that you are confident and comfortable with the safety of its ingredients.
Making sure it lasts, aka tattoo aftercare
This begins as soon as the inking is complete. We’ve all seen people wrapped up in cling film after a tattoo; this is to keep the freshly damaged skin safe from exposure and covered in ointment.
The balmy barrier prevents the skin from drying out, scabbing over and losing ink. It can take a couple of weeks for a tattoo to heal on the surface, and up to a year underneath, so you need to take this stage seriously.
Traditionally, tattooists would recommend using Bepanthen, a “nappy care ointment”. However, Bepanthen is not vegan as it contains lanolin as a main ingredient. It appears that this nappy rash cream had been recommended for a long time but due to a change of ingredients (and also likely a rise in new specialist products), tattooists are recommending other alternatives.
Problem 5: Unfortunately a lot of tattoo aftercare products contain beeswax, or you guessed it, lanolin!
For example, I saw that Nourish Ink created their Natural Tattoo Aftercare Balm as an alternative to Bepanthen, which the creators had used for many years prior. Sadly that isn’t vegan due to using beeswax.
Vegan tattoo aftercare options
Now I haven’t got a tattoo yet (more on that in a moment), so I’ve done a scout on Amazon to see what their highest rated tattoo aftercare products are and of course, investigate their vegan-friendly credentials. Be sure to get whatever brand you like best before you get your tattoo done, to avoid any last minute panic!
Here are my top 4 contenders from the highest customer rated products on Amazon for tattoo aftercare.
After Inked – Vegan Tattoo Aftercare Lotion (£15.99 – 90ml)
This was the highest rated product after Bepanthen, but naturally most of its reviews are naturally about it’s effect on babies.
After Inked are Peta certified and this lotion displays the Cruelty-Free and Vegan Bunny logo. They also use non-genetically modified ingredients.
Now I was all for Hustle Bustle Deluxe until I read these exceptionally good reviews. 88% of 258 reviews gave it 5 stars, with just 4% giving 1 star, and zero 2 star reviews. A few people say that their tattoo artists were impressed with the results of using it between sessions. One tattoo shop even decided to stock it themselves.
The comments rate the lotion’s absorption qualities highly; that it isn’t sticky and greasy is a consistent compliment. People also claim to heal quickly and without lots of itching.
Tattoo Goo 4 in 1 Aftercare Kit (£15.86 – 4 items)
Ok, so Tattoo Goo is Peta approved, so that’s a big tick in the vegan-friendly column.
I like that this company is so highly rated and appeared a lot throughout my research on various tattoo sites. TattooGoo is also available on the high street at Superdrug.
So, this kit aims to cover you throughout the aftercare process, not just the part where the skin is healing. It includes:
- Tattoo Goo Original
- Deep Cleansing Soap for Tattoos and Piercings
- Tattoo Aftercare Lotion
- Tattoo Enhancing Lotion with SPF30
The kit is certainly good value for money considering the range of products. Reviewers also said they are long lasting. The cleansing soap was largely a big hit with many saying it was worth buying the kit for this alone. However, one reviewer claimed it dried his skin out and led to him needing to touch up his tattoo…
The sunscreen wasn’t rated so highly for its performance or texture. The kit dropped some stars because the sunscreen didn’t live up to the standard of the other products.
Out of 209 reviews at the time of writing, 77% gave this kit 5 stars, with 9% giving just 1 or 2.
Hustle Butter Deluxe (£10.18 – 30ml)
This was “Amazon’s Choice for tattoo aftercare”. This is certainly a contender for me as I like the natural ingredients (including shea, mango, aloe and coconut oil). This definitely is a pricey product, but as a tattoo is an expensive and permanent procedure, I am willing to pay a bit extra to look after it!
It claims to be the “first, all natural, vegan petroleum replacement used in the Tattoo Process.” Apparently the Hustle Butter Deluxe can also be used before, during and after tattooing.
At the time of writing there were 117 reviews. 85% are 5 star reviews which I think is pretty good! Reviewers frequently said that it helped with the itching (which is something I had not considered!), and that it felt and smelt good to apply.
The 5% that gave a 1 or 2 star review seem unhappy with the price, texture, smell and packaging issues (delivered with broken seal).
TattooMed – AfterTattoo (£12.95 – 100ml)
This product has just 33 reviews at the time of writing. 67% were 5 star, and the rest 4 and 3 star. This German brand has more of a clinical feel and offers a wide range of products to care for your tattoo through each stage. But they take it further than Tattoo Goo, and offer products for the first few days vs the next few weeks etc.
This After Tattoo balm appears to have a slightly more greasy feeling than the others going by the comments. But it seems effective at calming pain and itching.
They claim to be 100% vegan and not tested on animals.
Non-vegan brands to be aware of
These brands are well rated on Amazon and elsewhere, but are not vegan. I have listed them to save you the trouble of having to investigate.
Nourish Ink – Natural Tattoo Aftercare Balm
Not vegan due to beeswax. Glycerin not specified as synthetic, animal or plant derived. No word on animal testing, though made in the UK so unlikely.
Fade the Itch – Healing Support Serum
Contains Manuka Honey
That’s it for why tattoos might not be vegan…
Please note that I am not a tattooist, and have not yet got a tattoo myself. However, I am planning on getting a tattoo and wrote this in the course of my own research.
I already knew that ink is not necessarily vegan, so I was aware to look for a tattooist that uses vegan inks. However in my research, I was surprised to learn that it went beyond the ink. So I hope this article has helped you as it’s helped me to write it!
However, be sure to do your own inquires and consult your artist with any questions or concerns you may have. There are plenty of vegan tattoo artists and shops out there, so I am confident that you should be able to find a solution that suits you.
Actually, I’d like to end on a personal note
It’s a surprise to me that I’m even thinking about getting a tattoo. I never thought I would for 3 reasons:
- I’m terrified of needles, to the point that I haven’t even got my ears pierced.
- The idea of getting anything permanent on my body terrified me (also applies to piercing).
- My Mum’s likely, errm, very negative, reaction terrified me.
So really it all came down to being terrified!
However, when my Mum was diagnosed with cancer last year, one of the things I wanted to do was to get a meaningful tattoo to show her how much she meant to me, and to keep her close. Unfortunately, there was not enough time as she passed within weeks of her diagnosis.
Thinking about how to commemorate her in a permanent way was a small part of my ongoing grieving. I decided to honour her with a sunflower. It’s her favourite flower and she would always have some in her living room. As such they featured heavily in her funeral and it makes sense to me to have one tattooed.
I decided to expand this into a design that incorporates the happier things in life too. So in a floral arm piece, I will also have poppies (my cat is called Poppy) and eucalyptus (from my wedding) alongside wildflowers. It will also incorporate the Triforce from the Legend of Zelda, which represents wisdom, power and courage.
I finally had something of meaning to me that I wanted on me, not as a fashion statement or in expressing the follies of youth, but to keep the meaningful memories close to me until it is my time to pass over too. Besides, it’ll encourage me to keep in shape because once my arms look good, I don’t want them going saggy and distorting the design! weight gain, weight loss and muscle gain can affect the appearance of your tattoos.
So I’m planning on getting the tattoo done this year once I’ve got my arms properly buff and the super talented artist I want has time in her books. Fingers crossed!
Thanks for reading!
Have you got a vegan tattoo? What are your top tips for looking after it? Know any fantastic artists? Let us know in the comments!