Sustainable and Ethical Tattooing: Does It Exist?

Tattoos are a beautiful way to commemorate things that are important to us. For thousands of years, it’s been used in cultures around the globe as a ritualistic practice as ancient people etched symbols or patterns of their tribes onto their skin. Later, sailors, gangsters, and prisoners used tattoos to depict loyalty, honour, and achievements.

Today, tattooing has become much more mainstream – from showing off one’s personal values to aesthetics. However, the tattoo industry is a traditionally wasteful one.

To ensure a hygienic process, most tattoo artists use single-use, disposable materials such as ink caps, gloves, and cling film; but in this day and age where ethical consumption is key, we can’t help but ask: can tattoos be sustainable and ethical without compromising health and safety?

If you’re planning on getting a tattoo and looking for sustainable options, here are the things to keep in mind – and ask your tattoo artist about:

Tattoo inks

According to PETA, some tattoo inks are made with animal products, such as bone char for the black ink, glycerin from animal fat as a stabiliser, gelatin from hooves, or shellac from beetles for that bright red colour.

However, vegan tattoo inks do exist and many artists are shifting towards high-grade vegan inks for an ethical and cruelty-free process. Instead of relying on animal products, vegan tattoo inks use carbon or logwood for an intense black colour, a vegetable-based glycerin, as well as witch hazel or ethanol. Be sure to check with your tattoo artist to confirm the type of products they use.

Ink caps and cling wrap

Replacing ink caps is a necessary evil in tattooing as it is equally important to remain hygienic, but switching to paper ink caps instead of plastic can do wonders for our planet. A more environmentally responsible tattoo artist would also try their best to minimise their cling film usage — is it necessary to wrap the whole station, or can they just wrap the areas that the client will come in contact with?


The first step of tattooing is often shaving the skin as preparation, and most tattoo artists use disposable razors for hygiene purposes. Not only is this wasteful, but many disposable razors contain animal-derived glycerine. Bring your own razor instead for a safe and sustainable alternative.

Stencil paper

After shaving comes the application of stencil. Some brands of stencil paper may contain lanolin, a moisturising ingredient made from sheep’s wool. A popular certified vegan tattoo transfer paper is Spirit Thermal Tattoo Transfer Paper by ReproFX, which uses vegetable waxes. Again, it is worth asking your tattoo artist if this is available at their studio.

As with everything in life, there are always greener and more sustainable options, as long as we look for them. Besides choosing a tattoo artist for their skills, style and design, be sure to ask about their sustainable and ethical practices as well.

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