Getting a vegan tattoo is not as impossible as you may imagine! Dan Hunter of Authority Tattoo takes you through the steps you may want to consider before making your final decision.
If you’ve been interested in tattoos for a while, you’ve probably been told at least once or twice that tattoos aren’t vegan. Yet, we’ve all seen vegans with full tattooed sleeves or a more discreet ‘V’ symbol inked on the back of their hand.
Did they compromise their principles to get tattooed, or is there really a cruelty-free way to get the ink you desire?
The good news is that you can, indeed, get a fully vegan tattoo. However, you need to be aware of the many different parts of the process that might not be vegan-friendly, and take some steps to make sure you’re getting a tattoo that’s done with products you’re comfortable with using.
Image: Dan Hunter
What vegans should watch out for
The first thing vegans need to be concerned about is the tattoo ink itself.
Gelatin is used as a binding agent and is perhaps the most common animal ingredient found in tattoo ink. Some inks will use shellac instead, which is derived from beetle shells.
Bone char is used in some brands of black ink to give it a darker pigmentation.
Some inks also contain glycerin, which is used to stabilise the ink and provide a smooth shade. Glycerin is a tricky ingredient because it can be made from soybean or palm oil (although some vegans abstain from the latter) or derived from synthetic ingredients, but it can also be produced from tallow (rendered beef fat). Since the source of the glycerin is rarely indicated on any products, it’s safest to avoid it altogether.
Stencil or Transfer Paper
This one comes as a surprise to a lot of people, even if they’re aware of the various animal products contained within most tattoo inks.
The stencil or transfer paper that artists use to apply an outline of the tattoo to your skin before applying the ink might not be vegan friendly as it could contain lanolin (a fat from sheep and other wool-bearing animals).
Aftercare products contain a number of ingredients that are healthy for your skin to ensure it stays moisturised and heals properly after the damage inflicted by the tattoo needles. Many of the products tattoo artists recommend, however, contain some animal ingredients.
Lanolin is a common ingredient in skincare products, so you should watch for it when purchasing aftercare creams and lotions. Other ingredients to watch out for include beeswax, cod liver oil, and shark liver oil.
Razor Lubricating Strip
Now, we’re getting really thorough. If your tattoo artist will have to shave the area they’ll be tattooing, they’re likely to use a disposable razor, and some disposable razors have a lubricating strip. Most people don’t think twice about what that strip is made of, but vegans should be aware that it is likely made of glycerin and, as we saw above, glycerin can be derived from tallow.
Image: Dan Hunter
How to Make Sure You’re Getting a Vegan Tattoo
So, now you know that you might come into contact with animal products at every stage of the process, from the shaving and tracing before you tattoo to the aftercare products used once the process is complete. However, that doesn’t mean getting a tattoo is impossible, or even difficult, as a vegan.
Here are some things you can do to ensure you get a tattoo that’s completely cruelty-free.
Call Ahead and Ask About Your Options
Most tattoo studios are very knowledgeable about the products they use, and often carry alternatives in case they have a customer who is allergic to certain ingredients, or otherwise abstains from them. They will also be able to advise appropriate products to use throughout the healing process.
So, call ahead and let them know you’re a practicing vegan and ask about your options. If they can’t accommodate you, chances are they can help you find someone who can.
Bring Your Own Supplies
Even if your tattoo artist has vegan ink, they might not have a glycerin-free razor or vegan tracing paper. If they don’t have the supplies needed to provide you with an experience you’re comfortable with, you can consider bringing your own razor or purchasing your own tracing paper (or both).
Find a Vegan Tattoo Artist
This is by far the best solution. When you work with a vegan tattoo artist, or if you’re really lucky, an entire vegan tattoo studio, you can be confident they’ve made sure their entire process is cruelty-free. There’s no better peace of mind than knowing that your artist shares the same strong values as you.
Use a Natural Tattoo Healing Lotion
While many tattoo studios push for you to buy specialised tattoo aftercare creams that can contain many varieties of ingredients, there are also many natural alternatives. Some companies pride themselves on selling aftercare balms that a 100% completely vegan-friendly, while organic ingredients such as coconut oil and cocoa butter can also be used effectively to keep your skin in great condition while it continues to heal from the trauma.
Image: Dan Hunter
While finding a vegan-friendly tattoo artist and tattooing process you’re entirely comfortable with won’t come easy; if you’ve wanted that special tattoo for long enough, you’ll find a way through persistence and passion. As the world changes and adapts, completely vegan tattooing processes are becoming much more painless to find as time goes on.
By Dan Hunter of Authority Tattoo
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.