Yes, You’re Vegan, But Your Tattoo Probably Isn’t

Tattoos are a great way to wear your beliefs and ideals on your sleeve. Many of you vegans and vegetarians may already be sporting tats that identify you as a proud animal-loving plant eater.

Did you realize, however, that not all tattoos are vegan? Before you make an irreversible mistake you’ll rue forever, here’s the skinny on making sure your first (or next) tattoo is completely animal-friendly.

What? Tattoos Come in Vegan and Non-Vegan?

Shocker, right? It just never occurs to many of us that a tattoo could be considered “vegan” or “non-vegan,” but it’s true. Like pretty much everything else in the world, the vast majority of tattoo products often contain animal ingredients.

Inks and aftercare products use a variety of animal products:

  • Glycerin: Made from animal fat, glycerin is a common ink stabilizer used to make the ink easier to work with.
  • Bone char: Black ink, the most popular and widely used color of all, is usually made with bone char, which is the soot from burned animal bones. Inks formulated with bone char are said to achieve the darkest, crispest shade of black.
  • Gelatin: Made from animal hooves, gelatin is a binding agent and a frequent ink ingredient.
  • Shellac: Shellac is used as a binding agent and is made from beetles.
  • Lanolin: Made from sheep wool, lanolin is a common ingredient in lotions, ointments and salves used during the tattooing process, as well as in after care products. Some say lanolin is used in essentially all stencil paper as well.
  • Beeswax: Used in aftercare lotions and salves.
  • Cod Liver Oil: Used in aftercare lotions and salves.

For a vegan or vegetarian tattoo fan, all this news is rather depressing. You really want a tattoo, or you already have a couple and now you’re slapping your forehead because you didn’t realize they’re not animal-friendly.

Don’t despair, though. You can begin fresh from today and be sure future tattoos comply fully with your ethical choices in life. There are vegan alternatives for all of the ingredients listed above.

Tattoo artist at work

How to Ensure You Get an Animal-Friendly Tattoo

If you’re lucky enough to live near a major metropolitan area, you will be able to find a tattoo studio that’s either all-vegan or employs at least one vegan tattoo artist. They’ll understand what you’re looking for and why. A few big city establishments offering animal-friendly tattoos include these:

  • New York City – White Rabbit Tattoo Studio, Three Kings Tattoo
  • Los Angeles – Spooner Tattoos, Monocle Tattoo
  • San Francisco – Industrial Tattoo, Mermaids Tattoo
  • Seattle – Damask Tattoo, Emerald City Tattoo
  • Portland, Ore. – Scapegoat Tattoo
  • Washington, D.C. – Jinx Proof
  • Chicago – The Chicago Tattooing & Piercing Co.

If you don’t live withing driving distance of a big city, you can still get a cruelty-free tat with a little pre-planning and research.

First, read up on tattoos so you’ll be knowledgeable about the brands of inks and aftercare products you may want to use. If possible, talk to fellow vegans in your area and see if any of them can offer advice from their own experience.

Find a tattoo artist whose work you admire. Visit the shop and make sure it’s hygienic, properly licensed and otherwise satisfactory. Meet with the artist and talk about your needs. Find out if he or she is willing to work with inks and aftercare products you designate.

The shop may have to special order vegan-friendly products for you, which will cost you more. If this issue is important to you, however, it will be well worth the expense. Finally, decide on your design and go for it.

It may take some effort, but if you do the legwork you can ensure your tattoo lives up to your ethical stance and is awesome to look at, too. What more could you want?

Do you have a vegan tattoo? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Photo credit (all images): Thinkstock


Shane Wolfe
Shane Wolfe3 years ago

Ritual Arts in Portland, Oregon is a vegan studio! Check it out.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Jayden Lee
Jayden Lee4 years ago

I'm lucky to have gone to a vegan-friendly tattoo parlor on my first try, mostly because I got the recommendation from the vegan cafe right across the street from it (talk about good luck for me). But yeah. For fellow San Jose habitants: Analog in Downtown San Jose uses vegan inks!

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson4 years ago

I don't have tattoos but IF I ever get one it will be pro-vegan.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson4 years ago

Learn something new every day. I just did.

Mandy H.
Mandy H4 years ago

Well duh! I've said this to many vegans with tattoos, we check what we eat, drink and use all the time yet no one seems to think twice about getting a tattoo and we all know that people love testing things like tattoo ink on animals...then as this article points out there's the animal content aspect.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago

Well well

Briony Coote
Briony C4 years ago

I don't go for tattoos, but it's interesting to know about animal-friendly tattoos.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e4 years ago

Who knew?