This is a frequent question and one you should understand the answer to, whether you are a client or an artist.

Sadly, most of today’s training programs don’t have the time or the understanding to address the chemical structure of pigments.

The result is that both consumers and artists are often misinformed.

To begin, the terms “organic” and “inorganic” might be important when selecting your produce or animal products, as well as cosmetics (we all want to choose the safest and healthiest options available) but when it comes to pigments, these terms have no correlation to where or how they are manufactured, mined, or created. Organic relates only to their chemical structure.

Pigments are finely divided insoluble black, white or coloured materials that function to give colour to the medium to which they are added. There are both organic and inorganic pigments used for tattooing and permanent makeup, as well as blends of the two.

“Organic” pigments contain carbon.

Organic pigments are not grain-fed. They contain carbon and hydrogen and are made of dyes (chemicals that show colour when dissolved) and lakes (dyes stabilized with an inert binder, such as a metallic salt).

In general, organic colours tend to be brighter, more vivid, and bolder than inorganics and, because of this, they are commonly used in body tattoo pigments as well as some lip pigments.

Carbon-based particles of organic pigments are much smaller than that of inorganic pigments, so organic pigments tend to be more sheer or transparent, and sometimes more unstable and likely to shift position in the skin causing bleeding or migration of pigment. Often, for more opaque coverage, and a reduced risk of uneven fading, titanium dioxide (an inorganic pigment) is added to organic formulations.

Elemental carbon is the smallest of all organic pigment molecules. It is a very strong black colour often used for eyeliners but, because of its very small particle size and increased risk of migration, it should only be used by very experienced artists.

“Inorganic” pigments are metal oxides.

Inorganic pigments are metallic salts formed from iron and oxygen and they do not contain carbon. Iron, as the most stable and common of all elements, is inert, non-toxic and very stable in the skin.

Inorganic pigments tend to be muted and less intense in colour, so they are the most common source for the soft, natural colours we commonly use in permanent makeup. The particle size of inorganic pigments tends to be larger, so our inorganics offer better coverage, are more opaque and stand up to UV exposure better than organics.

We are often asked if metal oxide pigments are harmful. Concern likely arises because inorganic pigments were originally derived from naturally occurring sources such as rocks, minerals, iron oxides and quartz. These natural oxides (just like dust and dirt) are often found in nature mixed with toxic metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury.

 Although inorganics were originally mined from natural sources, they are now produced synthetically in laboratories where their chemical composition can be safely and precisely reproduced and where quality and purity are strictly monitored.

 For our safety, many countries have imposed manufacturing regulations and reputable manufacturers comply with these regulations. Pigments made in China are not regulated and it is known that at least some of them have unacceptable levels of contaminants (explaining the difference between a $5 bottle of pigment and an $85 bottlle).

What about allergic reactions?

 Although allergic reactions are possible with anything you put on or into your skin, the inert and stable iron oxide inorganics are less likely to cause a reaction than organics. They have been used in the tattoo industry for many years and are tried and true. At present there have been no lawsuits successfully filed against iron oxide-based pigments.

 What about MRI’s?

 An MRI uses magnetic force to create an image and many people mistakenly believe that the iron in an iron oxide pigment will be affected by this but an iron oxide is a salt, not a piece of metal. The only pigment that would be affected by MRI is an impure pigment containing metal FRAGMENTS. If you are using a reputable brand of pigment and avoiding inexpensive knock-offs this is not an issue. An iron oxide is a chemical compound, not a metal.

Source: Stephanie Wilson, CPCP and Kelly Hallam, RTNM CPCP

Tho Dang