The Science of Pigments: What are Pigments Made Of?

What are pigments made of?

There are two types of pigments used in permanent makeup/cosmetic tattoo industry:

  1. Organic Pigments
  2. Inorganic Pigments

1. Organic Pigments

Very few pigment companies produce 100% organic pigments. Organic pigments are obtained from plants and animals. For example, green pigments may be derived from kiwis, red pigments may be derived from berries, etc. (ingredients vary with colors and manufacturers). Organic pigments are essentially made from carbon derivatives. Organic pigments have a shorter life expectancy but they produce brighter colors. When tattooed, organic pigments are more vibrant on the skin.

Organic pigments are soluble, meaning they can be dissolved in solvent. Organic pigments are “coated” in hydroxide of alumina, and are insoluble, meaning they cannot be dissolved in a solvent. An example of soluble vs. insoluble would be: sugar is soluble because when combined with water it dissolves, while oil is insoluble because when mixed with water it stays separated.

Organic pigments are coated in hydroxide alumina to prevent pigments from dissolving in our body. Once coated with hydroxide alumina, the pigment becomes heavier and will hold under the skin better and increase color retention. Another advantage of coating the organic pigments is that the coat isolates the organic pigment from our body which will reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.

Contrary to popular beliefs, organic pigments are not the safest options because vegetable dyes cause serious allergic reactions. Therefore, organic pigments are more likely to cause an allergic reaction compared to inorganic pigments.

2. Inorganic Pigments

Inorganic pigments are widely used in permanent makeup and they are popular in renowned pigment lines. Inorganic pigments are synthetically produced from metals such as iron oxides, titanium oxides, manganese violet, etc.

Over 95% of major PMU pigments use both organic and inorganic colorants in their pigment lines.

What is iron oxide?

Iron oxide is widely used in inorganic pigments because it is the most stable and most common material compared to other elements. Iron oxide is found in a wide array of cosmetic tattoo pigments and they are made synthetically. Iron oxide is gentle, non-toxic, non-irritating and provides a variety of color. Iron oxide particles are larger than the size of carbon particles and, therefore, do not last as long under the skin. When used on the skin, iron oxide is usually hypoallergenic and they’re even great for those with sensitive skin. There are no studies and no research that show that they are allergens or irritants. Iron oxides have been most commonly used in cosmetics for over a century and they are safe ingredients in the manufacturing of cosmetics and beauty products.

What is titanium dioxide?

Titanium Dioxide is a naturally occurring mineral that is processed and purified for cosmetic tattoo inks. It has a very large molecule that gives opacity to pigments.

Particle Size: Why does it matter?

  • Pigments with smaller particle sizes will last longer in the skin compared to pigments with larger particle sizes.
  • Yellow has a large particle size, therefore, yellow usually fades first.
  • Red has a small particle size, therefore, red lasts very long in the skin.
  • This is why I keep my pigments dark and cool. Darker pigments tend to be cooler and I keep my pigment selection generally cool because red is very hard and stubborn to correct. Therefore, red eyebrows are much harder to correct than grey eyebrows.