Typically, when people think of vegan tattooing, they think of ink and maybe the type of aftercare used to heal the tattoo or piercing — but what about everything else? There are tons of non-vegan products to be on the lookout for when it comes to body piercing procedures, cosmetic tattooing, and tattoo removal. It’s important to make sure you're going to a vegan shop that not only supplies vegan ink, but knows what they’re talking about when it comes to vegan tattooing.
The tattoo industry is mostly vegan by industry standards. In fact, the two most significant categories — Ink and Aftercare — are also the two that are almost exclusively vegan already (please note that when I say vegan, I am including cruelty- free in the definition). There are many vegan ink and aftercare brands that can be found in almost every tattoo shop across the world. Likewise, there are plenty of vegan alternatives for everything from stencils, razors, tracing paper, and skin markers to common cleaning products used in the studio. It is therefore entirely possible to perform a whole tattoo procedure with entirely vegan products!
Most countries, including Canada and USA, are required by law to have all medical products undergo animal testing; therefore, there are products that are not included among alternative cruelty-free brands that I’ve found (please share if you know of any). Please note that in this supplemental list of products, a star (*) is used to indicate when products do NOT have a cruelty-free alternative. These starred products are used to disinfect and ensure your work space is free of blood-borne pathogens.
The tattoo industry can easily become a mostly vegan industry, but it’s the little details that are daunting. The industry is grossly unsustainable and not environmentally friendly due to the constant disposal of plastics and bio-waste instead of recycling. For example, during tattoo procedures, plastic cups are used to rinse off bio-coated needles/cartridges; then filled with a liquid waste solidifier; and then thrown into the trash. We [Grim City Tattoo Club] have recently started purchasing biodegradable plastic rinse cups to help solve this problem.
Additionally, drape sheets and dental bibs contain waxy coatings that are probably not biodegradable, and the amount of plastic used in packaging, shipping, and aftercare is extremely high. Most companies do not use post-consumer plastics or the more expensive compostable plastics.
Wasted paper is another common issue in the tattoo industry. In most busy shops, paper is wasted due to the amount of printing being done. Additionally, printer cartridges are depleted and disposed of at a high rate. To avoid this issue, our shop has switched to Epson’s Ink Tank printers, which are re-fillable and last for thousands of prints.
Artist portfolios are traditionally printed onto photo paper and then placed into a photo album. Our shop uses digital portfolios, or photo books printed on recycled paper, which are stored long-term as they become outdated.
Wasted paper happens outside the tattoo shop as well and goes beyond printing in high volumes. Most clients will immediately discard waivers and aftercare information into regular garbage instead of recycling bins — or worse, they litter. We solved this issue with digital waivers on tablets through companies like WaiverSaver.
There are some circumstances where the issue of waste is beyond our control. For instance, aftercare often comes in a pressurized spray or plastic bottles, which are often thrown into the garbage instead of being recycled. Paper towels are another item used and discarded without much thought for the environment. At this time, we have yet to find a viable solution for these specific issues.
Unfortunately, overall, non-vegan animal-based products are present almost everywhere in the world. My shop is making constant changes to ensure we are purchasing more vegan products whenever possible. It is highly uncommon for a shop to go to the extremes that we do at Grim City Tattoo Club, but there are other vegan shops that are equally amazing and doing their part to make a difference.
We encourage people to find a vegan shop that is doing as much as possible to reduce or eliminate animal-based, cruelty, non-vegan, and environmentally damaging products and practices. Support a shop that is as vegan as you are comfortable with, and educate them if possible on the smaller details mentioned in this article. Almost all vegan shops will adapt to do better if they care enough to be vegan in the first place. The only option to avoid this entirely is to not participate in the tattoo industry at all. We believe in supporting companies, shops, and brands who are actively trying to educate and support other professionals and clientele (rather than being 100% purist).
Our goal is to have the most up-to-date and honest information available. If anyone notices any brands left out of this article, or any brands that are listed as vegan when they are not, please email CONTACTUS@GRIMCITYTATTOOCLUB.COM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures.