Why the right pigments are so important
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
Did you know there are HUNDREDS of pigment brands available for cosmetic tattooing? With such an overwhelming choice it’s really important for cosmetic tattooists to choose the right pigment for their clients. In Australia, there are no specific regulations regarding cosmetic tattoo pigments (which is kinda scary). So it rests on the cosmetic tattooist to make sure the pigments they use are safe. But with so many options, how can we know what to choose? By doing what the cool kids do. RESEARCH.
What ARE pigments?
Cosmetic pigments are basically a combination of colourants and liquids. As most colourants are solid, they need to be mixed with safe liquids so that they can be implanted into skin. These liquids are typically a combination of water, isopropyl alcohol, glycerine, glycols or witch hazel.
There are two different types of colourants - organic and inorganic. But buyer beware: organic does not mean what you think it means. In terms of pigments the word ‘organic’ does not mean ‘natural’ or ‘chemical free’. It actually means it’s chemistry. Organic means carbon-based, whereas inorganic means non carbon-based. Inorganic pigments usually include iron oxides and titanium dioxide, whereas organic pigments typically include colourants derived from plants and minerals. However all pigments are now synthetically created to ensure purity.
So.... what do I choose???
So now we know the difference, which one is better? As with most things… it depends. Pigments based on iron-oxides are the most widely used, least expensive and have been used for as long as cosmetic tattooing has existed. They are classified as ‘non-toxic’ so are widely considered to be safe. However there have been cases of severe allergies to nickel which is commonly found in iron oxide pigments. These allergies can even occur several years after exposure. It is very difficult to completely eliminate nickel from iron oxide as it naturally occurs in association with iron. It’s also very rare to know if you have a nickel allergy as we are rarely exposed to it! So even though it is a small risk, it’s still a risk.
Titanium dioxide is used in many iron oxide pigments to lighten the colour. If you choose pigments containing titanium dioxide, you must NOT have laser treatments on the area. This is because laser treatments can turn titanium dioxide a blue-black colour; laser turns white titanium dioxide (Ti4+) to blue-black titanium salt (Ti3+).
iron oxide pigments change colour
I’ve personally noticed that over time iron-oxide pigments can fade to an orangey-pink tone. While trying to find the reason for this (which no one really talks about), the most logical answer I've found is that the red iron oxide molecule is too large for the body to break down. All pigment colours are usually a mixture of red, black, yellow and white. If the red colour molecule is too large, it can potentially be the last colour to fade from a cosmetic tattoo & can still be present years later. Regardless of the reason behind pink brows, I personally would prefer to not have it happen when I give clients the Soft Powder Brow tattoo!
why i choose organic pigments
Then we have organic pigments. They are less widely used, more expensive and are a relatively recent introduction to the cosmetic tattoo world. As they are newer, organic pigments don’t have as much road testing as iron oxide pigments. But they don’t have the issue of potential nickel allergies or orangey-pink tones over several years. Whatever pigments your cosmetic tattooist uses, ask them why they decided on them. They should be able to tell you the pros AND cons behind their choice so that you can make an informed decision about them. Above all, your safety comes first.
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Elise Louise is the client certified 'brow wizard'. Seriously, she has the certificate her client made her to prove it.
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