Many vegans are used to asking for vegan options at restaurants, but during the process of getting a tattoo, the last thing people would expect is that tattoos have a distinction between vegan and non-vegan.
Despite advances in the tattoo industry to veer away from animal derived products, there are still many tools and inks used in the process that aren’t fully vegan.
What makes tattoos not vegan? Although many inks are now vegan and are typically standard in all shops, some old school inks, drawing inks such as India Ink and some small batch inks still contain animal products such as bone char, animal glycerin, gelatin, carmine or shellac.
Not only do vegans have to worry about the ink, but the stencil paper used during the process of planning a tattoo design has lanolin, made from the fat of sheep wool, and the moisture strip on razors comes from animal fat.
Tia Musson lives a vegan lifestyle and has five tattoos — three are vegan. Musson didn’t know that vegan tattoos existed before she got her first two. She was shocked to learn that the permanent ink interfered with her values.
“I just felt crushed,” Musson said. “Here’s another thing I would never think to check that has animal products in it.”
As more tattoo shops offer more vegan alternatives in ink, the Golden Goat Tattoo Company, located in Round Rock, Texas, offers an all vegan-friendly process for getting inked.
Alex Rodriguez, piercing apprentice at the Golden Goat, says she’s noticed more people are becoming interested in vegan tattoos and will make the drive to the shop because it is the only all-vegan tattoo business in the Austin area.
“More people are wanting to know more about what makes something vegan or not, “Rodriguez said. “Veganism is beyond food nowadays.”
Not only do more people want to know what’s going on their skin, it also comes to which business they support. The Golden Goat gives back to the vegan community by using locally made, natural, vegan tattoo ointment and soap.
“It’s important to me to know what my money is supporting,” Musson said. “The more money I spend on vegan products the better I feel about doing my part.”
Austinite Gabby Bernthal got lucky that some of her tattoos from before she went vegan didn’t use any animal derived products, but there’s one that she said she would go back in time to get vegan if she had the opportunity.
“You think about vegan food, but you don’t ever think about things like ink for tattoos until someone talks to you about it,” Bernthal said. “Then you’re like, ‘Huh? I never thought about that!’”
Although vegan tattoos look the same as standard tattoos, vegans still find it important to practice what they preach. Bernthal has a “save the whales” tattoo which sparks a conversation about her veganism, something she said she loves to talk about.
“My vegan tattoos align with my morals,” Bernthal says. “I chose to live all vegan because I think veganism is about doing your best, not about being perfect.”