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Frequently Asked Questions


What is the definition of a pigment?

A. The Dry Color Manufacturers Association (DCMA) defines a pigment as a colored, black, white, or fluorescent particulate organic or inorganic solid which is usually insoluble in, and essentially physically and chemically unaffected by, the vehicle or substrate into which it is incorporated.


What are pigments that are considered ‘safe’ to use by the FDA?

A. The FDA does not, at this time, regulate tattoo pigments. However there is a list of FDA approved color additives for food, drugs, and cosmetics which SPCP pigment vendors should be drawing from to formulate their pigments.


Is there a difference between the color additives on the food, drug and cosmetic FDA lists?

A. The colorants for drugs and cosmetics on the FDA tables are identical with the exception of an acid violet and a couple of blues.


There are “cosmetic & pharmaceutical grade” pigments, is there one better than the other?

A. There is no difference between pharmaceutical grade and cosmetic grade pigments on the FDA approved color additive tables with the exception of an acid violet and a few blues.


What is color lightfastness?

A. Lightfastness represents how well a color retains its hue without fading.


Why is lightfastness important?

A. The level of lightfastness is important because the best color outcome is to have all the colors used in the blending of a certain color to have the same lightfastness level. A blended pigment color that has their lightfastness levels very similar will make for a much better procedure outcome.


What are the grades of lightfastness?

A. Lightfastness is a logarithmic measurement, assessed on a scale of 1-8, based on the Blue Wool Scale and may be graded as follows:

  • 8 = Outstanding
  • 7 = Excellent
  • 6 = Very Good
  • 5 = Good
  • 4 = Satisfactory
  • 3 = Fair
  • 2 = Moderate
  • 1 = Poor

The numerical ratings have been proposed by both British Standard Specifications (BSS) and Deutsche Industry Norm (DIN) standards and have been adopted by our FDA.


Should my manufacturer know what these grades are for each of the pigments I purchase from them?

A. Yes.


What is bleed-resistance?

A. Bleed resistance is also a logarithmic scale and is assessed on a scale of 1-5.

  • 5 = Excellent, No distinguishable discoloration
  • 4 = Very Good, Very slight discoloration
  • 3 = Good, Some discoloration
  • 2 = Fair, Marked discoloration
  • 1 = Poor, Significant discoloration.

Why is bleed-resistance important?

A. You want to use a pigment with a high bleed resistance rating because of the discoloration involved with the lower ratings.


Should my pigment manufacturer know the bleed resistance grades of the pigments I purchase from them?

A. Yes.


What’s going on when my client comes back months after her brow procedure and her brows are too ashy?

A. There are quite a few possibilities when this happens:

  • It could be that a blue-based brown was used.
  • The client’s skin tone was olive and you didn’t use a warm brown.
  • If you have a golden brown pigment, for example, and it has been made by mixing an inorganic brown with an organic yellow, the organic yellow is going to fade much sooner than the inorganic brown. The color left will be the undertone color of the brown that was used—-the organic yellow long gone.
  • When very fine needles are used, the pigment color used should be a warmer color than for regular gauge needles. The finer the needle cutting = narrower the path = an ashing of the pigment.
  • Some browns contain 5% carbon and the result will always be ash.

Why is manganese violet a good colorant?

A. Beside the fact that it is on the FDA’s approved colorant chart, it has excellent lightfastness (8) and bleed resistance (5). Also, this red-shade violet is a perfect red-shade and not easily achieved by the use of other pigments.


If you’re going to use blues and greens in your practice, why use the ultramarines?

A. There are only a few blues and greens allowed on the FDA’s approved color additive chart. The ultra-marines are one of the few. Their light-fastness ranges from 5-8, and bleed resistance ranges from 4-5.


What is the difference between batch certification required and exempt from certification on the FDA approved color additive lists?

A. Of the approximately 90 pigments on the FDA approved color additive lists, all inorganic colorants listed are exempt from certification. This means they have been considered very safe and therefore need no certification. The organic colorants listed are not exempt and must have the colorant certified by the FDA.


Are all organic colorants subject to batch certification by the FDA?

A. Yes.


How does the FDA determine what colors are to be included on their subject to certification color additive list for food, drugs and cosmetics?

A. A sample of each manufactured batch is submitted to the Color Certification Branch of the FDA for their chemical analysis and confirmation that the submitted sample meets published analytical requirements. Documentation of conformance to specifications is recognized by the issuance of an official batch certification certificate.


What does the word masstone mean?

A. Masstone are the pigments in their raw form (original color). Different colors are made by tinting (with white). The higher the amount of different colors that can be made from one pigment, the higher its masstone. In other words, a good masstone pigment, when lightened with white, can give many shades of that color.


What are the different categories of Inorganic pigment?

A. Inorganic pigments are in three major categories:

  • White pigments
  • Colored pigments
  • Extender pigments

Note: Extender pigments are NOT on the FDA’s approved colorant list.


Which categories of inorganic pigment are most commonly used for permanent cosmetics?

A. Of the White Inorganic Pigments – Titanium Dioxide
Of the Colored Inorganic Pigments – iron oxides (red, yellow, black, brown)

  • chromium hydroxide green (not chromium oxide green)
  • ultramarines (red, blue, green, pink)
  • manganese violet

All inorganic pigments are on the Exempt from Certification list of the FDA’s approved colorant list.


Which categories of inorganic pigment are NOT commonly or ever used for permanent cosmetics?

A. Of the inorganic colorants NOT used commonly in permanent cosmetics:

  • Bismuth white Potassium sodium copper
  • Copper blue Zinc oxide (a white)
  • Mica (a white) other miscellaneous pigments

Why are iron oxide pigments considered to be safe?

A. Because they are non-toxic, stable, lightfast and have a wide range of colors. Iron is the most stable of all the elements.


What are the 4 categories of iron oxide colors?

A. Black, Red, Yellow and Brown.


I’ve heard a lot lately about the metal content in tattoo pigments being harmful. Is there any truth to this?

A. If you look at the FDA’s approved colorant list, you will see that the metal content in approved pigments are well below the heavy metal limits. Pigment manufacturers should be using pigments that are on the FDA’s approved colorant list.


What is the calcination process?

A. When a pigment is calcined it is ‘roasted’ at extremely high temperatures which will change the color, according to the temperature, to different colors.


What is the precipitation process?

A.Precipitated iron oxides are produced in an aqueous medium. A seed nucleus is formed by the reaction of an iron salt and an alkali. The precipitation particle growth process has the advantage that it can produce a wide range of colors by simply permitting the particle to grow in size.


What are ORGANIC pigments?

A. Organic pigments are intensely colored particulate organic solids, that are insoluble in, and physically and chemically unaffected by the vehicle or substrate into which they are incorporated.


How can I identify an organic pigment?

A. Organic pigments can be identified by their brightness. As in bright colored flowers.
Organic pigments have been categorized as either TONERS or LAKES.

TONERS are organic pigments that are free of inorganic pigments or extenders. Toners are undiluted organic pigments with maximum tinting strength. As with inorganic pigments, organic pigment toners are insoluble.

LAKES are organic pigments or water soluble dyes that have been combined with an inorganic or absorbed onto an organic extender substrate such as alumina hydrate or aluminum benzoate which makes them insoluble. Organic pigment lakes are insoluble.

DYES, on the other hand, are essentially soluble in the dispersion and therefore lose their crystalline features. Example: dye colorants in soda.


Can you tell me how brown is made?

A. There is the natural raw umber, also known as brown limonite (greenish brown); and the natural raw sienna which is really more of an ochros. There is the burnt umber (deep brown) and the burnt sienna (deep reddish brown). The natural browns are produced by working the deposits through a grinding process, and also through calcination.
SYNTHETIC BROWN IRON OXIDE (FeO)x . (Fe2O3)y
Synthetic browns are made from three different processes:

  1. Blends of red, yellow and black. Note: if you are mixing brown from exiting basic pigment colors you would use blue, red and yellow. This red, yellow and black mixing relates to pigment manufacturing at the powder level.
  2. Direct precipitation (from a natural brown seed nucleus.)
  3. Controlled reduction of a synthetic black.

The first two processes are capable of producing a wide range of browns from light tans and goldenrods to shades of olives and the deeper rich browns, from medium to rich dark chocolate shades.

The third process listed above produces browns at the lighter end of the brown color spectrum (a lot of pink undertones result from this process). Adding a darker brown to make the color darker does not cancel out the undesirable undertone when the procedure heals.


Are other substances added to a brown? If so, why?

A. Some browns have 5% carbon ink added to increase the darkness. Also, calcined siderite can be light reddish to purplish-brown. Calcined siderite is not a good choice for brows.


Which two types of titanium dioxide are produced?

A. The rutile and the anatase. The rutile being the preferred one because of its’ more compact structure, greater stability, higher density and a higher refractive index. Rutile is more yellow than anatase (which is hardly noticeable to the naked eye). A high refractive index enables it to achieve greater scattering efficiency and higher opacity.


What are the lightfastness and the bleed resistance factors of titanium dioxide?

A. Both forms of Titanium Dioxide, the rutile and anatase, have lightfast levels ranging from 6-8 and bleed resistance levels ranging from 4-5.


What does this mean to me as a technician using pigments containing Titanium Dioxide?

A. White is in many pigments. Although it is an ingredient in pigments, many times this is not a noticeable factor unless it is written on the label. Labels should always list every ingredient. The higher the lightfast and bleed resistance levels, the better the procedure will be.


Is talc (magnesium silicate) a good ingredient in my pigments?

A. Absolutely not. Just because it is on the FDA approved colorant list, does not mean that it is safe for tattooing. Remember, there are NO colorants approved for tattooing.


When I know there is white in the formulation of my pigment, how do I know it is not a mineral filler and is truly titanium dioxide?

A. Ask your manufacturer. Also, the rutile is the better of the two that are produced.


What pigment colors would I expect to see a manganese violet in?

A. Red/Blue-based lip colors.

Are florescent pigments OK to use?

A. Absolutely not.


How is black produced?

A. There is natural black iron oxide. It is produced by working natural deposits of magnetite through a grinding process. Compared to synthetic black iron oxide, the natural pigment grade is a grayer black, having a weaker tint strength and larger particle size. It is not as black as the synthetic version.
Two methods of synthetic black processing are:

  • A reaction of a ferrous salt and an alkali.
  • Organic reduction- which is achieved by reducing the nitrobenzene in red or yellow iron oxides to aniline. This changes the oxidation of the iron to Fe3O4 = BLACK

Is there a black that has a better history of not turning blue?

A. Many prefer the synthetic blacks as they have the best track record for not turning blue. However, people with fair skin will tend to turn blue with any black.


Is it true that the natural black oxide tends to turn gray over time?

A. Yes. Even in its raw form, it is slightly grayer than the synthetic.


What do you feel is the best type of black to use for eyeliners?

A. I like to use a particular synthetic black iron oxide on the FDA approved color additive list because it gives the best all around result – i.e. stability, light fastness, bleed-resistance, and is less gray than the natural black iron oxide.


What is the reason for lips turning purple?

A. There are quite a few possibilities when this happens:

  • A very blue-based pigment was used.
  • The needle lingered too long in certain areas.
  • Very fine needles were used.
  • The lip was overworked and pigment was put in too deep.
  • The pigment was made with a blue-based red inorganic and an organic orange. (because the organic pigment’s life span is much shorter than the inorganic pigment, when the organic orange fades you are left with only the blue-based inorganic=hence, purple lips.
  • Dark means blue. Even if it is an orange/brown, if it is dark, it can turn purple in lips.

Can you give an example of how a synthetic color is made?

A. Below is an example of how red synthetic iron oxide is made:
RED IRON OXIDE is Fe2O3
Fe is the symbol for the element iron, and O is the symbol for the element oxygen.
The chemical formula means that there are 2 atoms of iron (Fe2) and 3 atoms of oxygen (O3) that make up red iron oxide.
It is made through three processes:

    1. Red iron oxide is produced by high temperature calcination of iron sulfate to make Fe2O3 (red iron oxide)
    2. SYNTHETIC BLACK IRON OXIDE is FeO, Fe2O3, or commonly referred to as — Fe3O4. Calcined at very high temperatures, will produce Fe2O3 (red iron oxide.)
    3. SYNTHETIC YELLOW IRON OXIDE is Fe2O3. H2O. Calcined at very high temperatures, will produce Fe2O3 (red iron oxide)

This handout is supplied to the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals for distribution to attendees of the 2005 Fall Conference for their personal use only. Photocopy, scanning, facsimile, or other duplication or dissemination by any means is strictly prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

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