Ink Brand choice can reduce HCV & Bloodborne Pathogen Tattoo transmission

ink pots tattoo

Almost half of Americans have a tattoo, according to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center.

If you’re a tattoo or body artist we’re sure you’re aware of the need to take bloodborne pathogens tattoo training on an annual basis. 

Bloodborne pathogen tattoo training is designed to increase understanding of how bloodborne pathogens can spread in a body art workplace and usually covers work practices, regulations and usage of equipment in a tattoo studio context.

Tattooing Industry Increasingly Under Regulation

Increasingly, local state and city authorities also mandate additional training for tattoo artists over and above what is covered in the federal OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard CFR 29 1910.1030. And many cities and states have their own rules and regulations regarding tattoo licensing.

Just in the last few years, Florida, Ohio and New York have all introduced additional requirements for artists. 

We think any training that makes the body art process safer, increases the confidence of the general public in our industry and maintains higher standards is a good thing.

Tattooing & Serious Infections: High Profile but Low Risk?

We’ve all heard tattoo horror stories of this or that person who contracted a terrible bloodborne disease like Hepatitis B or HIV from a tattooing procedure.

Fortunately, these high profile cases that are proven to be the result of body art procedures are extremely rare.

The chance of catching a Bloodborne Pathogen related virus via tattooing is extremely low if the required Bloodborne Pathogens certification for Tattoo artists is completed by the artist, and work practice controls, and engineering controls and procedures are followed.

But what about the Tattoo Ink…

Most people who get a tattoo don’t realize that there are few controls over the ink that gets injected into their skin, the body’s largest organ and one particularly vulnerable to toxic substances. 

A recent FDA recall highlights these risks.

Updated on May 21 2019, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a voluntary recall of six different tattoo inks after finding harmful bacteria during a microbiological examination on May 14. The bacteria found in the inks carries a higher risk for infections and health complications. (See the list of inks and symptoms to watch out for here.)

There have also been reports of outbreaks of less severe infections such as nontuberculous mycobacteria due to contaminated batches of tattoo ink.

Tattoo Ink brand choice can reduce HCV transmission

What you might not be aware of is some recent research that shows that the BRAND of ink used in tattooing can actually have an effect on infectiousness and hence the chance of transmission.

That sounds crazy, right? We thought so too but this is from a legit controlled study that discovered the ingredients in different ink brands actually REDUCED the chance of Hepatitis C infectiousness to differing degrees.

Although there are no further studies that look at this phenomena for other bloodborne diseases it’s not a huge leap to consider that different ink brands may have different effects on the transmission rates of different viruses. It’s certainly interesting research.

The great news is that ALL INKS tested actually decreased the HCV virus that was tested, but some did so to a much greater degree than others.

We think this is really interesting information and we’re sure it may influence the choice of ink for safety conscious studios and artists (all other things being equal, all artists have their favorite brands of course).

The Research

So let’s take a look at which brands performed best. All this information is available in the original research, we have tried to make it a bit more user-friendly with the hope it reaches a wider audience than the original academic article that, for obvious reasons, wasn’t widely read by individuals in the body art industry.

In this study, they estimated the risk of Hepatitis C (HCV) transmission via contaminated tattoo ink by incubating cell culture–derived infectious HCV with 4 different commercially available tattoo inks. A commercial disinfectant (Pliwa) was used as a reference substance.

The mixture was then placed for 5 minutes in a suspension assay.


Tattoo Ink HCV
How the ink solution was mixed

The Brands tested

The brands tested:


The results were presented in scientific chart form in the original research, you can download that if you are interested.

We re-present the results in an easier to understand format:

Bloodborne Pathogens Tattoo Ink and HCV Transmission
Tattoo Inks effect on HCV Transmission Risk

What the Results Mean

The main takeaway is that ALL of these inks reduce the transmission risk of the HCV virus,  which is great news. 

As expected, the Pliwa disinfectant had the greatest reduction factor but there was quite a significant difference in the reduction factor from ink brand to ink brand.

Of the tested inks Diabolo reduced the transmission risk the most, in fact, it was over 2x more effective at reducing transmission of the HCV pathogen than Sailor Jerry ink, that came in last in this study.

The other inks tested were somewhere in the middle of these two.


In conclusion, this was a very limited study, and only looked at the HCV virus, however, with inks regularly being blamed for tattooing medical issues, could we see a time when your favorite ink is actually engineered to reduce the transmission risk of bloodborne pathogens and other viruses?

view the demo of our interactive OSHA compliant bloodborne pathogens certification for tattoo artists.

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