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Tattoo Removal Blog

  • Writer's pictureByron Electric

Tattoo Inks Unveiled: History, Composition, and Laser Removal

Updated: Jun 22

Tattoo Inks Unveiled: History, Composition, and Laser Removal

Tattooing: A Timeless Art

Body art has been an integral part of human culture for ages, serving as a means of expression, identity, and even survival. From the warrior markings of ancient tribes to the intricate designs seen in modern body art, tattoos have always carried a cultural significance.  As tattoos have evolved, so too have the techniques for their removal. Understanding the science behind tattoo inks and their tissue interaction with laser technology is helpful for anyone interested in the subject, whether they are considering getting inked or removing an existing tattoo.


What is Tattoo Ink Made From?

What is Tattoo Ink Made From?

The history of tattooing is incredibly diverse, with different cultures developing unique practices and ink recipes. In ancient times, tattoo inks were made from natural materials found in the environment. For example, the Maori of New Zealand used a blend of soot from burnt wood and plant juices for their iconic black tattoos. Polynesian cultures mixed candlenut tree juice with soot for deep black ink, while Native American tribes used red ochre, a natural clay pigment, for red tattoos. The ancient Egyptians, known for their vibrant art, used crushed insect shells and other organic materials to create colourful tattoos. Even in modern contexts, prison tattoos carry significant meanings and are often made with improvised inks.

Historical Tribal Tattoo Inks

These early inks were more than just decorative; they held deep spiritual and cultural meanings. Polynesian tattoos, for instance, weren't just for show. They conveyed information about a person's genealogy, status, and protection. The Maori's "Ta Moko" involved chiseling the skin and applying ink to the carved areas, creating unique, deeply grooved patterns. Inuit tattoos were created by inserting soot into the skin with a needle or bone, often marking important life events or rites of passage.

Modern Tattoo Ink Composition

Modern Tattoo Ink Composition

Today's tattoo inks are much more advanced, typically made up of pigments, binders, solvents, and additives. Pigments provide the colour and can come from various sources. Metals like iron oxide give us red, black, and brown hues, while titanium dioxide produces white. Minerals such as copper salts provide blue and green shades, and organic compounds like azo pigments are used for bright yellows and oranges. Vegan inks, which are gaining popularity, use plant-based pigments such as carbon black from burning plant material.

Binders like glycerin, propylene glycol, and acrylic resins hold the pigment particles together and ensure they are evenly distributed in the ink. Solvents, including water and alcohol, give the ink the right consistency for application. Additives like preservatives and surfactants help maintain the ink's quality and ensure it goes in smoothly.


Types of Modern Tattoo Inks

Types of Modern Tattoo Inks

Modern tattoo inks come in various types. Traditional inks, made from a mix of pigments, binders, and solvents, are the most common. UV and glow-in-the-dark inks contain special pigments that react to ultraviolet light, creating striking effects under black lights. However, these inks may not last as long and need extra care to keep their vibrancy. Cosmetic inks are specially formulated for delicate areas of the skin, like the eyebrows, lips, and eyelids, and are used in permanent makeup. Vegan tattoo inks, free from animal-derived ingredients, cater to those seeking cruelty-free options.


The Science Behind Laser Tattoo Removal

The Science Behind Laser Tattoo Removal

Laser tattoo removal is a complex process that uses advanced technology to break down ink particles in the skin. Understanding how lasers interact with tattoo ink can help you grasp why some inks are easier or harder to remove than others.


What’s The Laser Actually Doing?

What’s The Laser Actually Doing During Tattoo Removal?

When a laser targets a tattoo, it emits light at specific wavelengths absorbed by the tattoo ink. This light causes the ink particles to heat up and expand rapidly, shattering them into smaller fragments. The body’s immune system then steps in to clear these fragments away. Macrophages, a type of immune cell, engulf the ink particles and transport them to the lymphatic system, where they are gradually expelled from the body.

Tattoo ink is typically placed in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin, about 1.5 to 2 millimetres below the surface. This depth provides stability for the ink, ensuring the design remains permanent. However, it also means that effective laser treatment must reach this depth.


Common Laser Wavelengths for Tattoo Removal

Common Laser Wavelengths for Tattoo Removal

Different wavelengths are used to target a broad spectrum of colours, each penetrating the skin to various depths:

  • 1. 1064 nm (Nd:YAG Laser): This wavelength targets black, dark blue, and dark brown inks, penetrating up to 2-3 mm into the skin. It’s particularly effective for darker colours and is suitable for use on darker skin tones due to its reduced melanin absorption.    

  • 2. 532 nm (KTP Laser or Q-switched Nd:YAG Laser): Effective for red, orange, yellow, and brown inks, this wavelength has a shallower penetration, typically around 1-2 mm.    

  • 3. 694 nm (Ruby Laser): This wavelength is ideal for green, dark blue, and black inks, penetrating approximately 1.5-2 mm into the skin. It’s particularly useful for removing green inks, which are notoriously difficult to eliminate.    

  • 4. 755 nm (Alexandrite Laser): Targeting green, blue, and black inks, this wavelength penetrates around 1.5-2.5 mm into the skin, balancing depth and absorption for effective removal.

At Byron Electric Tattoo Removal in Byron Bay, our Quanta Q Plus C laser utilises three of these four wavelengths (1064 nm, 532 nm, and 694 nm) to ensure we can effectively target and remove a wide range of tattoo colours at these required depths.


Potential Reactions During Laser Treatment

Potential Reactions During Tattoo Removal  Laser Treatment

The composition of tattoo inks can sometimes lead to various and unpredictable reactions during a laser removal treatment. Black inks, usually made from carbon, are often the easiest to remove because they absorb a wide range of laser wavelengths. However, their high absorption can sometimes cause a minor "spark" effect. Metallic inks, containing compounds like iron oxide or titanium dioxide, can also react to laser light, sometimes causing a stinging sensation or sparking due to rapid heating.

Additionally, chemical additives such as preservatives and dyes in some inks might react unpredictably, potentially causing temporary skin reactions like redness or swelling. Older red inks containing mercury are known to cause allergic reactions, but this is uncommon with newer formulations. The good news is these reactions are usually temporary and not serious, as the body is actively working to remove the ink particles.


Factors Affecting Laser Removal

Several factors influence the effectiveness of laser tattoo removal. Resins and binders used to hold pigment particles together can make the ink particles larger and more cohesive, complicating their fragmentation. Color pigments also play a significant role; bright and light colours like green, blue, and yellow are more challenging to remove because they require specific laser wavelengths. Multiple sessions with different types of lasers might be needed to address these colours effectively. The density and depth of the ink also matter; tattoos with dense, deeply embedded ink generally require more laser sessions to achieve complete removal.

From a laser technician's perspective, understanding how laser light interacts with tattoo ink is crucial for effective tattoo removal. With in-depth knowledge of ink composition and laser technology, experienced technicians can better target specific ink colours and determine the necessary wavelengths and parameters to employ, allowing them to target and predict certain outcomes accurately.

At Byron Electric Tattoo Removal, we bring over 10 years of experience owning and operating an iconic tattoo studio. This extensive background gives us a comprehensive understanding of both the ink side and the laser side of tattoo removal, ensuring we provide the best possible results for our clients.


Contact Us for Expert Tattoo Removal Services

Tattoo Removal Byron Bay, Gold Coast

With the comprehensive information provided, you now have a better understanding of tattoo inks and the laser removal process. You're equipped to ask the right questions and know what to expect when considering tattoo removal.

Byron Electric Tattoo Removal, situated in Byron Bay, serves clients in the greater Northern Rivers and Gold Coast regions, offering tailored tattoo removal and lightening solutions. If you would like to contact us, we’re located in the industrial estate of Byron Bay and open 7 days by appointment only.

We’d love to start on your project and achieve some great results. Get in touch with us anytime!


Located in Byron Bay, Byron Electric Tattoo Removal is dedicated to delivering expert tattoo removal and lightening services to communities throughout the Northern Rivers and Gold Coast. Check out the Before & After gallery or view our Pricing.

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