Why Tattoos Aren't Vegan--And Cruelty-Free Alternatives

August 27, 2013

molly lansdowneLovely Molly Lansdowne is an animal rights activist based in Boston with a background in public policy. We are so lucky to have her on our team! Stay tuned for Molly’s upcoming pieces on vegan lifestyle and animal welfare! 


Some time in your life—whether your hormonal teenage self was yearning for rebellion or you simply craved a change—you have probably considered getting a tattoo. Or perhaps you have one (or a few) already. Body art is a wonderful means of self-expression and a fun way to engage creativity. In recent years, tattoos have also gained popularity in social justice movements, allowing individuals to make positive statements through their ink. Most of my vegan friends boast at least one tattoo that symbolizes justice and peaceful coexistence.

Unfortunately, like so many other seemingly harmless things in life, the tattoo business is tainted with oppression. Most tattoo parlors use ink that is laced with bone char, gelatin, and shellac. Industry experts cite the use of animal ingredients as a way to achieve authentic color pigmentation. For example, in order to create stark black ink, producers use the charcoal that is produced from burning animal bones. Likewise, products used to clean a client’s skin are likely to contain animal fat from glycerin. For aftercare treatment, tattoo shops recommend various ointments that often contain ingredients like beeswax, cod liver oil, or lanolin (a derivative of sheep’s wool).

While these facts aren’t exactly comforting, they will inform you on your next trip to the parlor. And to the parlor you should go! In recent years, there has been an influx of vegan-friendly tattoo products on the market. As a conscious consumer, you can have a positive and peaceful tattoo experience (well, besides the pain from the needles).


delicate pretty tattoo photo by anne marthe widvey via flickr

Cruelty-Free Alternatives

1. Animal-friendly ink. Check out Stable, Waverly Color, and Intenze for all your inking needs. Even if your local tattoo parlor isn’t exclusively vegan, it can never hurt to advocate for a few vegan-friendly options. Other vegan patrons will thank you!

2. Better cleaning solutions. No one likes to think that the soap used to clean skin may contain animal glycerin. Fortunately, companies such as Dr. Bronner and H2Ocean recognize this, and their cleaning products are free from animal ingredients.

3. Aftercare treatments. Explore a variety of moisturizers and salves from After Inked, The Merry Hempsters, and Stay True Organics. Not only will these brands promote fast and safe healing, but they do so without exploiting animals and their byproducts.

4. Move to a vegan mecca. These days, Portland, Seattle, New York City, and Los Angeles come to mind as the friendliest of cities for vegans. If you happen to be passing through (or perhaps you’re lucky enough to be a resident), you have a wealth of options at your proverbial fingertips. Scapegoat Tattoo in Portland, Gristle Tattoo in Brooklyn, and Alchemy Tattoo in Los Angeles are just a few shops that offer vegan tattoos. You can also visit Seattle’s Damask Tattoo or Brainwave Tattoo, located in Sarasota, Florida. If you aren’t living in a vegan-friendly area, don’t fret: simply contact your local tattoo parlor and express your needs. Who knows—your activism might serve as the catalyst for a more peaceful, compassionate space!

More in Beauty: Cruelty-free Brands for Vegan Beauties

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Photo: Anne Marthe Widvey via Flickr


Contributing Editor Molly Lansdowne lives in Boston, Massachusetts. In her free time, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and traveling around New England. Follow Molly on Pinterest @bostonvegan and Instagram @molly_lansdowne.


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