"What makes a tattoo 'vegan'?"
I get asked this question a lot, by both my vegan and non-vegan clients, so i thought it would be a good idea to outline what goes into a vegan tattoo here, that way anyone could walk into a tattoo shop armed with the right information to sit down with their tattoo artist and make sure they are getting a tattoo that's in line with their ethics. Also, I think this will help you, the clients, be able to go to any tattoo shop or artist you like, rather than just going to shops claiming to be "vegan-friendly" and you just having to blindly trust what they are telling you. If the information is in your hands, you can then make a well-informed decision about artwork that will be on you for the rest of your life.
Fortunately, ink has come a long way since the dawn of tattooing. Nowadays, most inks are held to a high standard of production, with clearly marked labels that include an expiration date and lot number, which means less guesswork and more piece of mind for both the artist and client. I use exclusively Eternal Ink, as they say vegan-safe right on their website, which also offers an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) that states clearly what goes into their ink (and their inks look amazing in the skin!). Other companies that are considered vegan-safe are Intenze, Fusion, Silverback, Waverly, Classic, and Starbrite, just to name a few. To avoid reactions in the skin I like to stick with one brand of ink, but this practice varies artist to artist. Kuro Sumi black ink is definitely not vegan friendly (I got this information direct from the manufacturer), and this is considered an industry standard, so be sure to ask your artist what types of ink they use.
Lubrication strips on razors are not vegan, so make sure your artist is using razors without lubrication strips.
A&D Ointment, Bacitracin, and other petroleum-based products are not vegan. Make sure your artist is not using any of these during the procedure (even to secure ink caps and rinse cups). My recommends are Hustle Butter or Lush's vegan Vaseline for procedural use, and either Hustle Butter or good ol' fashioned coconut oil for aftercare (used very sparingly of course)
Green Soap, which is often used to wipe and wash the tattoo during the procedure, is believed to contain animal glycerin. My recommend is Dr. Bronner's Unscented Baby Liquid Castile Soap, mixed in a 1:10 ratio of Bronner's and distilled water.
UPDATE: Per the only company that makes tattoo stencil paper (reprofx), all tattoo stencil paper that they make is now vegan, whether it says vegan on the package or not. The only difference is that one package is certified so it costs more, but it is literally the same paper.
NALGENE WASH BOTTLES:
Nalgene unfortunately manufactures other devices used in animal testing. Their wash bottles are not used for testing, but I personally do not like supporting a company that participates in this when other options are available. My recommendation is a glass pump soap dispenser to hold the Bronner's/distilled water procedural mixture.
HELPFUL ADVICE: MAKE IT EASY FOR YOUR TATTOO ARTIST!
If you LOVE the artwork of a particular artist but they are not vegan, make it easy for them to do a vegan-friendly tattoo for you by offering to pay for the vegan items needed for your tattoo! Discuss if they are open to this idea first, and then create a "vegan tattoo tackle box" of sorts to bring with you to your tattoo sessions, or a setup that the artist can keep there. Items to include:
-Vegan Razors (bring several if the area to shave is large)
-Dr. Bronner's Unscented Baby Liquid Castile Soap (buy a pump containter that the artist can use to mix/dispense)
-Hustle Butter or Lush's vegan Vaselinegan Tattoo Stencil Paper
-Ask them to buy some vegan-friendly inks but offer to pay for them if it's not something they usually use; they may agree to buy them just to have on-hand anyway
Bringing your own items will make it easier for your artist of choice and more likely that they will be willing to work with you. Hope this is helpful!