Your skin is a very sensitive organ. It needs a lot of moisture, and it needs to be protected from germs, or harmful external matter. Using a needle to inject ink into your skin will make it even more sensitive and open to infection or reactions, so the tattooist needs to be meticulous in ensuring your skin is both lubricated and washed clean.
The most natural ingredient a tattooist can use to do this is water. But in order to be extra safe, we don’t use the normal tap variety. We use a special solution of sterile water which contains disinfectants.
We use it before, during and after a session. And we cannot ink your skin without this, as it’s the only way to keep the zone moisturised and clear of dead skin, excess ink, blood stains and microbes. It’s the optimal way to ensure good hygiene for both you and your tattoo.
This water will be present during the entirety of your preparation, application and post-tattoo care. It will keep your skin lubricated and help prevent the chance of infection. On top of that, if your skin is too dry the area can hurt more.
For this reason we also always recommend that our customers come to us well hydrated internally too, in order to give themselves the best possible and most pain-free experience.
But during all stages of the process we use this sterile solution externally to rinse away any blood or materials, to minimise the risk of infection and mitigate any harmful or painful effects of the process.
As the solution is sterile, ie with some added disinfectants, it is extremely rare if not impossible for you to be allergic to it. That’s because it is composed of only naturally kind products.
That is not to say that you might not be allergic to something else, particularly the ink. If you are an especially allergic person it’s important to check that your skin will accept the ink before the session as this will help prevent you getting a reaction, or help you rule out what has caused your reaction. Most studios like us here at Black Hat will talk through your allergy concerns during your pre-tattoo session.
However outside of other factors the solution itself will be kind to your skin in almost all cases.
To be one hundred percent clear, the liquid we use is sterile and not distilled.
Distilled water is often thought of as the purest type as it contains no organic compounds or any other chemical compounds. But despite it sounding perfect for getting a tattoo, it is difficult to ensure that it will remain microbe free without adding some sterilising agents. For example there have been reports of rare infections that occurred when the distilled H20 was used in ink.
So we add some disinfectants to ensure we eliminate all microbes in the wash, the ink, the needle or those already on your skin which may get into your body. That’s what we mean when we say we only use sterile water.
Reverse osmosis filtered water is another method people use to purify the liquid. It does this by filtering out all the contaminants through a very thin layer – leaving behind only chemically pure water.
This method can be great for getting rid of organisms. However for drinking water purposes it can be considered too good because it also filters out any helpful minerals like magnesium or calcium from it.
But just like distilled variety, it’s better for studios like ourselves to add some disinfectant compounds to ensure your session is safe. So this is why we don’t use this type either – we need the help of sterile disinfectants.
The word sterile means no viable bacteria, viruses, or any other type of microorganisms present. So this water is pure enough to ensure that no living organisms are present, but it is not 100% pure because it does contain a very slight presence of natural disinfectants.
Sterile water isn’t just used for tattoos but also medically, and of course ideally it’s what our drinking water should be too!
So what we use for the process is designed to work a little harder to help keep your skin lubricated and safe.
Using non-sterile water for tattoos has been linked to a number of skin infections caused by bacteria like Legionella, Pseudomonas and Mycobacteria.
If untreated, these infections can make you very sick and may even be fatal. Even mild infections can commonly result in skin scarring and damage to the tattoo.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define water that is not sterile to include tap, bottled, “spring”, reverse osmosis filtered, and distilled varieties. They state they may not be safe to cleanse the skin, rinse needles and to dilute inks that are injected into the skin.
Instead they recommend the use of sterile water when tattooing. Another safe option is the use of a sterile saline solution.
Along with using a sterile H2O solution you may also notice a soap that we use for extra protection. This is commonly called green soap or castile soap. It’s called green soap because it’s a lot more eco-friendly than regular soap. It’s still antibacterial and anti-viral but instead of being made from lard, tallow, or other animal fats, it is made from vegetable oils – traditionally, olive oil. For that reason it is also considered a vegan soap. It’s another great way to keep the zone clean and hygienic.
The other main item that we use to help lubricate your skin during a session is generally vaseline. However this is usually applied once the artist is finished applying, washing and cleaning the area. Vaseline (or similar brands) is a petroleum jelly which is a natural substance that helps seal your skin with a protective barrier. This allows and aids your skin to both heal and retain moisture. It’s also essential for helping your skin restructure.
Because it applies thickly, it won’t let your skin get dirty or exposed for the first couple of hours. And because it’s 100% petroleum jelly, it blocks your skin pores, allowing them to safely heal and prevent infection.
So at all stages of the process we will ensure your skin will have the best possible chance to heal.
Like anything you do with your body, you should always be careful to check what substances and processes are being used on it to keep yourself safe. So it’s never a bad idea to ask your tattoo artist about the water. However, most professional studios will only use sterile water, needles, and ink.
If you make a rash decision to go to a tourist tattoo parlour or someone who is not fully trained, then you need to be especially careful.
As we said at the beginning of this article, your skin is a very sensitive organ, so you shouldn’t rush into choosing a tattoo or studio without careful thought or professional reassurance.
Unfortunately infections can happen due to many different causes. One of them may be because the water was not sterile, or it could be a reaction to the ink or it could be that you didn’t follow the aftercare instructions properly.
Whatever the cause, we hope it will not happen to you. But if it does happen you should definitely mention it to the tattoo studio, then also go to the doctor so they can give you the right treatment to heal.
Got more questions?
We hope this answered any questions about what goes into the water used when giving you a tattoo. However, if you have any more we’d be only too happy to help.
This might interest you
Here’s a selection of related posts