Pigment Composition

Typically, cosmetic tattoo pigments contain:

  • Iron oxides
  • Other metal compounds such as titanium, chromium, copper etc
  • Lakes (also known as metal salts)
  • Some azo dyes (organic compounds and are widely used to treat textiles, leather articles, and some foods)
  • Carbon

Pigments are ground into a fine powder, then turned into a solid powder. They then need to be turned into a liquid to make it possible to implant the pigment into the skin. The colourants are mixed with water and thickening agents such as glycerine, which keeps the colourant powders in suspension. Isopropyl alcohol or ethanol alcohol is usually added as an antimicrobial agent, (products that kill or slow the spread of microorganisms).

PIGMENT INGREDIENT BASICS

Pigments used in the PMU industry incorporate two primary parts: a liquid carrier that facilitates delivery of the pigment into the skin, and pigment particles (colourant). Colorants + Liquid Carrier = PIGMENT BOTTLE

COLOURANTS: Colorants transmit colour to the ink and are the crucial components of the pigment formulation.  Tattoo colourants are pigments held in place by intermolecular or physical forces, being attracted to each other.  These compounds that are intensely coloured reflect light in the visible region of the light spectrum.

Previously, pigments that were used in tattoo inks were acquired from geological or mineral sources to produce colours and hues. Currently, manufacturers have turned away from mineral-based pigments to organic ones.

The majority of colourants used today are carbon-based, with approximately 60% of these organic pigments being azo pigments. Pigments are ground into a very fine powder which is then added to a binder which is what you see in final bottled formula.

Elements of a pigment powder include:

INORGANIC

  • Iron oxides / Titanium dioxide / Manganese violet / Ultramarines

    ORGANIC
  • Azos / Dyes / Lakes / Carbon

LIQUID CARRIERS

Liquid carriers allow colourant molecules to enter the skin, and also hold the whole substance together.  Other additives include moisture and solvents that allow the production of pigment.  These additives also allow the pigment to maintain a uniform suspension so as to avoid microorganisms to grow in the product after opening.

Once the pigment has been implanted into dermis of the skin, the suspended solution evaporates, and the oxides revert to dried particles during the healing process of the skin.

Common liquid carriers: 

  • Aqua, distilled or purified water
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Rosin (a solid form of resin obtained from pines and other plants)
  • Isopropyl palmitate (thickening agent)
  • Witch hazel
  • Propylene glycol (a synthetic liquid that is a base for deicing solutions and absorbs water)
  • Glycerin

ORGANIC AND INORGANIC PIGMENTS MISCONCEPTIONS

  • In the current beauty industry, the meaning “organic” refers to plant based or naturally occurring ingredients.  These products exclude the use of GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, and parabens, and usually come with an organic certification.
  • In the permanent makeup industry, the name “organic” does not refer to a product from a natural origin, nor does it mean that the product does not contain nasty chemicals.
  • Organic pigments do not allude to being healthier in general and are not superior unto themselves.
  • The term organic is purely a scientific definition, simply put – pigments that are produced synthetically in labs and composed of organic or inorganic colourant compounds, or a mixture of both.

Below is a more detailed breakdown:

INORGANIC PIGMENTS

  • Not comprised of carbon (backbone of living organisms)
  • Duller, more earthy muted colour tones
  • Formed from metal complexes, for example iron oxides / ultramarines / titanium dioxide and chromium oxide
  • Are harder to break down, and highly stable and have a high particle dispersion
  • To lighten the pigment colour titanium dioxide (white) is often added
  • Have larger particles compared to organic pigments

ORGANIC PIGMENTS

  • Include carbon and hydrogen molecules within the chemical structure
  • Contain lakes (metal salts), azo dyes and other compounds
  • Are brighter and more vibrant in colour, however limited in variety
  • Generally, do not last as long as inorganic pigments
  • Are synthesized from chemical formulations and man-made
  • Generally, more expensive and not environmentally sustainable to manufacture 
  • Known to cause adverse health and allergic reactions due to a higher risk of carrying bacteria as compared to inorganic pigments

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COSMETIC TATTOO AND BODY ART TATTOO PIGMENTS

  • In relation to results and composition, cosmetic tattoo pigments are vastly different to body tattoo inks.  
  • Firstly, PMU pigments are referred to as semi-permanent, as they are designed to fade gradually over time depending on skin type, lifestyle and environmental factors, and also dependant on the depth the pigment has been implanted into the dermis of the skin (also dependant on what technique has been used).  The shallower the pigment has been implanted by the practitioner into the dermis of the skin the quicker the pigment will fade on the client. For example, Microblading (shallow) vs an Ombre brow (deeper) technique.
  • Cosmetic tattoo pigments are made up of largely inorganic colourants such as lakes, cosmetic-grade iron oxides – these pigments are more subdued and softer in colour, are more natural in tone, and are formed from tertiary colours (mixture of one primary and one secondary colour).
  • Body tattoo pigments are more permanent due to the element of carbon in the pigment and are created from bright primary and secondary colours.  They are therefore bolder and more vivid in colour due to higher levels of inorganic colourants in the pigment mixture. Body tattoo pigments are designed to last longer, however fading can occur due to skin changes over time and higher sun exposure.
  • Body tattoo pigments are not used for cosmetic tattooing purely for the reason that the use of muted colours produces a more aesthetically pleasing result, and looks much more natural on the face area, as the pigment mimics the natural colour of existing brow hairs or lip blending/shading.  The purpose of cosmetic tattooing is to naturally enhance the features of the client, not to overwhelm the face with bolder and more vivid colours. 
  • By using softer muted colours on the skin of the face, you avoid the complexities of changing skin tone colours over time, and it gives the client the option to change up the pigment colour over time if desired. 
  • Allowing the cosmetic tattoo pigment to fade over time also gives the technician the ability to adjust the brow shape due to ageing of the eye area (for example lifting the brow slightly for a more youthful look).

IMPACT OF PIGMENT PARTICLE SIZE

The particle sizes of cosmetic tattoo pigments and body art pigments vary, and this importantly affects the healed outcome of the healed tattoo.  This is due to the client’s immune response to the pigment being used. For example, body art pigments are comprised of particles that are too large for the body’s defence cells to destroy, therefore they stay implanted into the dermis layer of the skin.

When a blade or needle is implanted into the skin a wound is formed during the healing stages, causing the body to send certain cells to the site of the damaged area.  These defence cells are called fibroblasts and macrophages, and their job is to swallow foreign bodies, therefore absorbing the tattoo ink/pigment. The particle sizes of cosmetic tattoo pigments are smaller and are therefore absorbed much faster by the body’s immune cells, causing the implanted pigment to fade at a faster rate, and therefore requiring more touch up / refresh sessions over time.

Due to the particles being so small there is a higher risk of pigment migration, where the pigment spreads outside the treated area.  In relation to laser tattoo removal, the smaller the particle size ie cosmetic tattoo pigments, the easier it is to fragment and absorb compared to body art pigments (larger particles).