What makes a tattoo tick? Let's look at pigments. Tattoo pigments use to be made from natural chemical and dies. A lot of the older inks were harmful to humans, but we used them anyway. The pigments changed over the last few years into healthier chemicals made for human skin. To understand where pigments are now we have to know where they came from first. Jail house black was the ink that you see in all the old prison tattoos, the ones that turned green over the years. A lot of guys I know still swear by it but they are mostly scratchers. In prison you have very limited supplies from the outside world so they had to use what they could get their hands on. Vasoline was always on hand. The old way of making black was the prisoner would take a piece of cloth or string and push it in the middle of the vasoline jar, making a kind of candle. Then they would light the candle and let it burn for days. This cooked the vasoline into a black sludge. After a few days they would scrape off as much of the black powder from the sides and some of the sludge, they would mix this with baby oil and presto, ink. You had to do it a few times to get the amount of baby oil just right but it didn't take long to figure out.
After a few people did this in jail a handful of people adopted the method back in the day. Tattoo pigments were never really ink. They were made of harsh chemicals suspended in a carrier solution. The new pigments are the same principal but not as harsh. Among vegetable dyes they also used chemicals like metal salts. A few companies just recently stopped this practice. Oddly enough, tattoo pigments are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so really they can get away with anything they want to. Some of the blacks use to be made from iron oxide, but are mostly still based on soot and carbon. Most companies now use Logwood; this is a heartwood extract from a tree found in Central America and the West Indies. Yellow use to be made from Iron ferric oxides (rust) and when it's dehydrated will turned red. Orange was made from Disazodiarylid, and flesh tone was Iron Oxide mixed with Clay, the same procedure was used for brown, only more rust. Green was made from a Chromium Oxide called Casalis, and blue from a combination of copper carbonate, calcium copper silicate and cobalt, which is a highly poisonous metal. Sounds nice huh? Surprisingly there are some companies that still use chemicals like this in there pigment so make sure to read everything very carefully. Use of chemicals like cobalt and iron oxides can lead to allergic reactions not to mention the fact that you're putting under your skin chemical that factories require haz-mat suits to handle.
These days the best pigments are plastic base with a glycerin carrier solution. This makes them water soluble so they are easy to clean up, mix well with water for shading dilution, and are hypo-allergenic. This is why you rarely hear about allergic reactions to pigment anymore. Obviously I cannot tell you what brand I use because that would be product placement. However I can give you some tips. There is no one best company to use. In my opinion the best pigment is a combination of many companies. It takes years of trial and error to find a brand of what color works best for you. I can tell you that the plastic are the brightest and the traditional Japanese blacks shade and grey wash the best. That's not favoritism. That's just anything two-thousand years old must work right. Your best bet is that if is cost too little it's cheap, and if it costs too much it's not worth it.
There are a few new types of pigments that I would also like to tell you about. Backlight pigments are rapidly becoming popular in the tattoo world. It first started by a few scratchers cracking open high-lighters and tattooing with the highly toxic gel, don't do this (hence the HIGHLY TOXIC part). Some pigment companies either got tired of reported infections or saw a chance for a profit and created black light pigment. I like to think it was the wanting to stop the infections but Probably not the case. Technically made pigment by some tattoo supply companies are the only tattoo pigments that are FDA approved. When purchasing this type of pigment you need to look for the FDA approval stamp. The reason black light or UV reactive pigment really works is because the FDA approved versions are made from very small acrylic beads. These beads glow under a black light giving the pigment its illuminated characteristics. They make some of the pigment in a clear which has to be applied under a backlight so the artist can see what there doing. The advantage of this pigment is that once it heals you cannot see any trace of the tattoo unless the artist scars the skin. Under a UV light the clear pigment has the standard chartreuse glow. During the healing process it just looks like a red abrasion in the shape of a dragon or whatever you may get. The UV pigments that are in color you can see during any light. But when they are under a UV light are glowing bright. The down side of the color UV pigment is that only a few colors will be UV reactive so a larger selection of colors will include about seven, though this may improve with time. Another down side to this pigment is that while in regular light the newly healed tattoo looks about ten years old. They get there dull nature from the fact that they are acrylic beads under your skin so the layer of flesh that covers them makes them dull. It's the same idea as putting a really bright picture under a piece a tracing paper to look at it. They maintain being the more costly pigment at more than triple the price of regular pigment and they are a devil to apply properly. So even if applied under a UV light, be prepared to do a lot of touch-ups.
Some other interesting types of pigment that have just recently touched the market are designed for tattoo removal. There are now certain companies that produce pigments that a removing friendly. A new pigment that is made of special beads can be broken down by laser treatment in one application. To remove a tattoo with laser treatment you have to have many sessions over the same area to remove a tattoo. The laser produces high intensity ultra violet light to burn and fade the pigment, kind of like speeding up the affects caused by time and the sun. These particular beads are like microscopic paintballs. The laser damages the shell causing it to release the pigment which your body can destroy. Another one of the new designer pigment creations are the time release pigments. They are made of biodegradable pellets similar to medical grade internal stitches which can be manufactured in different strengths. So now you can get a tattoo in which you choose if it lasts for six months, one year, or two years. These are broken down by your body at a slow but controlled rate of your choosing. The most interesting still is a new chemical solution made to remove existing tattoo pigments. Tattoo pigment stay liquid in the skin, they never harden. That's why you cannot feel a tattoo unless scarred. This chemical is a clear liquid that forces the old pigment to harden. This causes your body to force it out of the skin. You go over the old tattoo, the pigment hardens, and as it heals it comes right out like gravel in road rash or a splinter in your finger. Sometimes you'll have to touch up to get any pigment that you may have missed. The great part is that the cost of this chemical is about the same as standard pigment. With this new creation, any studio can offer tattoo removal without massive equipment and training. Now that's cool.
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