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Modern problems require modern solutions

In modern times, tattooing is often associated with being young and reckless. However the truth is that tattooing is an ancient art having been around for roughly 5000 years. Within the last decade, the frequency of Americans getting a tattoo has increased by 9% with 30% of Americans now having a tattoo. Despite the vast history of tattooing, and the increased frequency of tattoos in modern society, tattoo inks are generally not regulated by the government, nor does the government have any specific knowledge about the molecular composition of most tattoo inks.

The Swierk Group, an inorganic chemistry research group operating at Binghamton University, State University of New York, seeks to understand the molecular composition of tattoo inks, so that artists and customers alike may be empowered with knowledge about their inks and any potential risks they may pose.


What is a tattoo ink?

What's in an ink

Tattoo inks are particles of pigments suspended in a water solution. Inks are usually made of a mixture of solid particles, molecular dyes, binders, and water.  The color of the tattoo comes from light being reflected or absorbed by the particles and dyes. 

Are tattoos safe?


It's important to note that the vast majority of tattoos seem to be generally safe, however, we don't really understand the potential risks of tattoos. The scientific and medical literature do document many instances of undesired reactions to tattoos, with long-term allergic reactions being most common. 

FDA Oversight

The federal government classifies tattoo inks as a type of cosmetics. While the Food and Drug Administration has the ability to regulate tattoo inks, they generally choose except when a specific safety concern is identified (e.g., contamination of microorganisms). For more information, you can see the FDA fact sheet here.





Swierk Research Group

Department of Chemistry

Binghamton University
4400 Vestal Parkway East
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000


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