Think of all the things you couldn’t tattoo without red ink. Hearts, roses, and the American flag are good examples.
But red ink has a bad reputation. It’s likely to fade faster. Sometimes, it causes allergic reactions.
Why is red tattoo ink bad? Well, not all red inks are dangerous like they used to be.
Today, I’ll review the best red tattoo ink.
Plus, I’ll tell you what kinds of red ink to avoid.
Let’s begin with some background information.
What does red tattoo ink have in it?
In decades past, red tattoo ink contained a mercury compound called cinnabar (1).
It made for brilliant, rich color, but it was highly toxic.
Still, some red inks contain cadmium. But unfortunately, it’s one of the reasons why people are allergic to red tattoo ink. It can cause skin irritation like swelling, itching, and flaking.
But many modern inks now contain organic pigments instead of metals. When you hear the word “organic”, it sounds natural, doesn’t it?
But these are often pigments developed for painting cars. They are bright and colorfast, yet they have a dark side.
Solvent Red 1 is an azo pigment that breaks down when exposed to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. One of the chemicals it degrades into is a carcinogen (2). Then, that cancer-causing agent may settle into the organs of the body.
Therefore, if you have a tattoo with red ink, it’s an excellent idea to wear sunscreen. Not only does it keep the tattoo vibrant for longer, but it also prevents undesirable side effects.
Besides a potential cancer risk, red ink may cause chronic skin conditions beyond temporary allergic reactions. To find out if the red pigment was the culprit, scientists took skin biopsies from over a hundred patients.
They found that naphthol pigments like PR 22, PR 170, and PR 210 appeared to be at fault (3).
That’s disturbing as many modern tattoo ink formulas contain them. As we go through the reviews below, I’ll try to point out where they appear.
Lastly, tattoo ink isn’t just pigment. It contains carriers like water, glycerin, alcohol, or witch hazel. Each brand of tattoo ink has certain ingredients they prefer to use.
FYI, Inks with alcohol can be harsher to sensitive skin than ones based on water or witch hazel.
In summary, to learn what’s in red tattoo ink, you’ll have to read the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). Then, you’ll be better prepared to help your clients choose safe options for their skin.
You can also purchase the best tattoo ink brands that go the extra mile to produce safe and sterile ink.
Best Red Tattoo Ink
Kuro Sumi Dragon Breath Red
Kuro Sumi is a trusted brand that started in Japan but now manufactures ink in the USA.
Their inks are cruelty-free and vegan. They contain natural ingredients and organic pigments that go in bold and stay bright for years to come.
Dragon Breath Red is a popular shade as it’s a rich red that leans more toward blue than orange.
I checked the MSDS sheet to see what it contains. I found that it has water, glycerin, isopropyl alcohol, and Pigment Red 210.
This single azo naphthol pigment is used in printing ink, industrial coatings, and decorative paint. It maintains its color and doesn’t fade easily (4).
Sadly, it’s one of the pigments linked to adverse skin reactions in the study I mentioned above.
If possible, test the ink by tattooing a small spot out of sight. Wait until the skin completely heals to see if there is a reaction.
Kuro Sumi Tattoo Ink, Chi Red
Chi Red is a bright red tattoo ink that some say looks pink. It contains Pigment Red 210 as well as Yellow 14 and titanium dioxide (white pigment).
The rest of the formula consists of water, glycerin, alcohol, and a proprietary resin.
Kuro Sumi, Maguro Red
Meanwhile, Maguro Red is a deep rust shade.
It relies on red oxide, white, orange, and yellow pigments for its color.
The carriers are water, glycerin, and alcohol. But there are two “proprietary ingredients” that aren’t described.
Just a note about Kuro Sumi ink: watch out for imitations. The authentic bottles have maroon labels, not black. Also, the lids tend to leak.
Tattoo Ink – AMERICAN RED – VIKING INK USA
Viking Ink is an American brand based in Florida. They provide a generic MSDS sheet on their site, but I couldn’t find an individual one for this red ink.
Reviewers say it’s the perfect shade for roses. It’s more orange than blue.
If you’re interested in more than a single color, Viking sells various sets like skin colors, pastels, and portrait collections.
They also offer a variety of diluents with different characteristics. One example is aloe vera witch hazel that reduces bleeding and calms the skin.
VIPER RED Millennium Moms
Every tattoo artist is familiar with the Millennium Moms brand. It’s thicker than Dynamic, which some say indicates that it has more pigment.
In any case, it tends to remain crisp and vibrant long after the skin heals.
Viper Red has the following pigments: Red 170, White 6, and Yellow 14. They are suspended in glycerin, water, and a proprietary resin.
What is Pigment Red 170?
According to Pub Chem, it’s used for many purposes, including automobile paint, arts and crafts, and agricultural products (5). It’s also called Naphthol Red.
MONTHLY RED Millennium Moms
For a darker shade of red, try this ink.
It also contains Naphthol Red (Pigment Red 170), proprietary resin, water, and glycerin.
Moms Nuclear UV Tattoo Ink Raging Magenta
When I tracked down the MSDS sheet for this UV-reactive ink, I was disappointed. It didn’t list the pigment, only the rest of the formula.
It contains water, glycerin, witch hazel, and propylene glycol. None of those give it the unique glow or reddish shade.
The magical ingredient remains a mystery.
The problem lies in the lack of regulation in the tattoo industry. The FDA considers tattoo ink a cosmetic and doesn’t monitor safety the same way it does food or drugs (6). Therefore, there is no penalty for incomplete MSDS.
On the other hand, you might feel better knowing that Millennium Moms is certified for sale in Europe. The European Union has stricter standards, yet Moms meets what’s required for safety.
Quantum Tattoo Ink, Red Rocket, Intense Crimson Red
Quantum Tattoo Ink started about a decade ago in California. They shifted from being a tattoo supply company to focusing solely on ink manufacture.
Now, they have over 180 colors, including a cosmetic and paramedical series.
When they fabricate tattoo ink, they use the best available ingredients in the USA. They don’t add acrylic or use animal derivatives. Everything is vegan and kosher. The inks are also pre-sterilized and made in small batches to keep them fresh.
Moreover, the company has registered with the FDA, and they meet European Union standards, too.
With that said, I took a look at the Red Rocket color.
It contains Pigment Red 264 and 122, glycerin, ethyl alcohol, water, and a fragrance.
I was curious about the fragrance and found out that it consists of thymol, eucalyptus, and menthol. Those natural extracts might cause an allergic reaction in some people, but the blend makes the ink smell fresh and clean.
As for the pigments, here’s what I found.
Pigment Red 264 is considered organic. It’s used in tempera, watercolor, oil, and acrylic paint.
It’s not listed as hazardous and doesn’t require any special handling.
Meanwhile, Pigment Red 122 is also known as Dimethylquinacridone. It’s a colorant for plastics that come in contact with food (7).
I may not be a chemist, but these pigments sound pretty safe to me.
Intenze Bright Red Tattoo Ink
Intenze offers a variety of bold colors used by artists around the world. Each ink is sealed and sterilized before shipping.
In fact, Intenze was the first ink manufacturer to implement sterilization of tattoo ink. They are a registered cosmetics manufacturer in the USA. Furthermore, they are compliant with EU standards.
The company founder, Mario Barth, wanted to improve the overall safety of the tattoo industry. Now, Intenze contracts with a third-party laboratory to test the quality and purity of the ink.
As a rule, they refuse to include plastics, metals, iodine, or sulfur in their ink. They don’t use mercury, nickel, cobalt, or silicone. And every color is vegan, even black.
It’s easy to check the MSDS sheets on their website.
For instance, I looked up Bright Red. It lists three pigments besides glycerin, distilled water, and witch hazel.
The pigments include CI 12477, known as Pigment Red 210. Then, CI11740 is Pigment Yellow 65. Finally, CI 21110 is Permanent Orange, a.k.a. Pigment Orange 13.
Intenze Ruby Red Tattoo Ink
Ruby Red also relies on CI 12477 (Pigment Red 210) plus a blue pigment called CI 74160.
It’s helpful to know what specific pigments make up the tattoo ink. It’s easier to create blends and designs that work together as they should.
Besides the two colorants, the formula has distilled water, witch hazel, and glycerin.
Dynamic Tattoo Ink Color Fire Red
Dynamic keeps it simple with Fire Red. It contains only isopropyl alcohol, acrylic resin, and Pigment Red 210.
With a formula like that, it’s no wonder that the ink has a thin texture that blends well.
Artists love how it’s very pigmented and provides excellent saturation.
Dynamic Tattoo Ink Color Chinese Red
The Chinese Red ink is based on Pigment Red 22, also known as Fast Red, Fast Scarlet, and Naphthol Bright Red.
The carriers are acrylic resin and isopropyl alcohol.
StarBrite Colors Sterilized Tattoo Ink Scarlet Red
StarBrite ink is made by Tommy’s Supplies in Connecticut. They offer over 170 colors that are sterilized before shipping.
Each one is vegan-friendly and free of nickel and iron. They’ve also gone to the trouble of consulting with the FDA to make the ink as safe as possible.
The Scarlet Red color derives its brilliance from Naphthol Red, also known as Pigment Red 210.
Glycerol keeps the pigment dispersed while isopropyl alcohol serves as the carrier.
StarBrite Colors Tattoo Ink by Tommy’s Supplies – Lite Red
The Lite Red ink gets its brilliant color from Pigment Red 22.
The naphthol pigment is dispersed in water, glycerol, and isopropyl alcohol.
World Famous Tattoo Ink– Sailor Jerry Red
World Famous ink runs in the family. The combined experience of the founders extends over 50 years in the tattoo industry.
In the USA, they manufacture vegan inks that pass European Union standards for safety. Each ink is sterilized with gamma radiation, too.
Personally, I appreciate the nifty crystal-flex bottles with twist caps that don’t leak.
The color Sailor Jerry Red is based on Pigment Red 210 and Pigment Orange 13. The carriers include glycerin, witch hazel, isopropyl alcohol, water, rosin, and DMDM hydantoin.
That last ingredient’s the kicker. DMDM hydantoin is a preservative. But it’s a known allergen and skin irritant that releases formaldehyde. Worse, the formaldehyde it emits is a carcinogen (8).
As much as I respect the World Famous brand, I hope they consider reformulating soon.
World Famous Tattoo Ink – Liberachi Red
This is a maroon color that contains Pigment Red 122. It’s ideal for bridging from red to black.
The pigment is suspended in glycerin, witch hazel, isopropyl alcohol, water, rosin, and DMDM hydantoin.
Radiant Colors – Blood Red
Radiant Colors is an American-made brand. Their ink has an excellent flow rate.
The Blood Red color is based on Naphthol Red (Pigment Red 170), isopropyl alcohol, water, and glycerin.
Be careful with this highly-pigmented ink as Naphthol Red is one of the colors that may cause allergic reactions.
The best tattoo artists understand the chemistry of the inks they use. It’s not just about flow rate, saturation, and blending.
It’s also knowing how the skin reacts. Red is a tricky color when it comes to allergic reactions and unintended consequences.
You’ll be a better artist if you take good care of your clients by using safe inks.
If you found your new favorite red tattoo ink today, come back and tell us about your experience.
1. https://www.thoughtco.com/red-tattoo-ink-and-reactions-3976032 by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., Updated July 03, 2019, accessed September 15, 2020
2. https://cen.acs.org/articles/94/i33/chemicals-tattoo.html by Sarah Everts, published August 15, 2016 in Chemical and Engineering News, vol. 94, accessed September 15, 2020
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6973263/ Identification of pigments related to allergic tattoo reactions in 104 human skin biopsies, by Jørgen Serup et al., published November 18, 2019 in Contact Dermatitis. 2020 Feb; 82(2): 73–82, accessed September 15, 2020
4. http://www.xcolorpigment.com/pigment-red-210.html accessed September 15, 2020
5. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/C.I.-Pigment-Red-170#section=Industry-Uses accessed September 15, 2020
6. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/tattoos-permanent-makeup-fact-sheet updated August 24, 2020, accessed September 15, 2020
7. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/2_9-Dimethylquinacridone#section=Food-Additives-and-Ingredients accessed September 15, 2020
8. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/702196-DMDM_HYDANTOIN_(FORMALDEHYDE_RELEASER)/ accessed September 15, 2020