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Why did PMU Artists Believe Carbon Black was Organic?


Mary Hall Scott

Carbon Black is Inorganic....

Carbon black is often referred to as "organic" in common language. However, it is indeed an inorganic substance based on its chemical composition.

This can be confusing, and the PMU industry has referred to Carbon Black as an organic for a very long time. The discrepancy between its common name and its actual classification is due to historical reasons and the way the term "organic" is used in different contexts.

PMU Artists have referred to Carbon Black and many don't believe that actual carbon black is inorganic. However, it is science and we must start looking at it in the right context. 

Here's why carbon black is commonly called "organic" even though it is not:

  1. Historical Usage: The term "organic" originally referred to compounds that were derived from living organisms. Early chemists believed that organic compounds could only be produced by living organisms, while inorganic compounds were thought to originate from non-living sources. Carbon black was initially produced from incomplete combustion of organic materials, such as wood or oil, which contributed to its classification as "organic" in older chemical terminology.

  2. Carbon Source: Carbon black is primarily composed of carbon atoms, which are also the building blocks of organic compounds. This similarity in elemental composition can lead to confusion in terminology.

  3. Industrial Usage: In various industries, including the rubber, ink, and paint industries, carbon black has been used as a black pigment and reinforcing filler for many years. During the early development of these industries, carbon black was referred to as an "organic pigment" due to its black color and carbon content, even though it does not fit the modern definition of organic compounds.

It's important to note that in modern chemistry and scientific terminology, "organic" has a more specific definition...

Organic chemistry deals with compounds primarily composed of carbon and hydrogen, often with other elements like nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and others.

Organic compounds are typically associated with living organisms or their derivatives and are characterized by covalent carbon-carbon bonds. In this sense, carbon black is not organic because it lacks the complex carbon-carbon bonding found in organic compounds.

In summary, the use of the term "organic" to describe carbon black is a historical relic and an example of how language and terminology can evolve over time. While it may be called "organic" in some contexts, it is chemically an inorganic substance.


When carbon black is combined with other molecules to produce inks for tattooing, a specialized type of ink known as "tattoo ink" is created. Tattoo ink is distinct from regular printing or writing inks because it needs to meet specific safety, stability, and permanence requirements for use on the human body. Here's what happens when carbon black is combined with other molecules to produce tattoo ink:

  1. Carbon Black Base: Carbon black, is a fine powder composed primarily of carbon. It is known for its intense black color and is the base pigment used in tattoo ink. Carbon black provides the deep and dark color necessary for tattoos.

  2. Suspension in Carrier Fluid: To create tattoo ink, carbon black is typically suspended in a carrier fluid. The carrier fluid can be water, alcohol, glycerin, or a mixture of these. The choice of carrier fluid affects the ink's viscosity and drying properties.

  3. Additives for Stability: Tattoo ink formulations may include additives to enhance stability and ensure the ink remains homogeneous. These additives can include preservatives, surfactants, and stabilizers. The goal is to prevent settling or separation of the pigment in the ink bottle.The size of the carbon molecule itself doesn't play a significant role in why carbon-based tattoo ink, such as carbon black, stays in the skin for a long time. Instead, the longevity of tattoo ink is primarily influenced by other factors related to the ink's composition, the tattooing process, and the body's immune response. Here's why carbon-based tattoo ink tends to be long-lasting:


Carbon is a pure black, the blackest of blacks. 


The size of the carbon molecule itself doesn't play a significant role in why carbon-based tattoo ink, such as carbon black, stays in the skin for a long time. Instead, the longevity of tattoo ink is primarily influenced by other factors related to the ink's composition, the tattooing process, and the body's immune response. Here's why carbon-based tattoo ink tends to be long-lasting:


  1. Particle Size and Suspension: Carbon black particles used in tattoo ink are typically very fine and have a small particle size. These fine particles can be suspended in the carrier fluid, allowing them to be evenly distributed during the tattooing process. The small particle size contributes to the ink's ability to remain in the skin.

  2. Ink Depth: Tattoo artists typically inject ink into the deeper layers of the skin, specifically the dermis. The dermis is more stable than the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) and is less prone to exfoliation and shedding. This deeper placement of ink helps it stay in place for a long time.

  3. Immune Response: When tattoo ink is introduced into the skin, the body's immune system recognizes it as a foreign substance. The immune system may attempt to remove the ink particles by sending white blood cells to engulf and carry them away. However, the small particle size of carbon black makes it more challenging for white blood cells to effectively remove the ink. This results in the ink becoming trapped within the dermis.

  4. Ink Composition: Tattoo ink is formulated to be stable and resistant to degradation over time. High-quality tattoo inks use pigments and additives that are designed to withstand the natural wear and tear that skin experiences, helping to maintain the ink's color and integrity.

  5. Professional Technique: Tattoo artists with proper training and experience can ensure that the ink is deposited at the correct depth and in a consistent manner, contributing to the longevity of the tattoo.

It's important to note that while carbon-based tattoo ink tends to be long-lasting, individual factors, such as skin type, sun exposure, and the quality of aftercare, can also influence how well a tattoo retains its color and clarity over time. Proper care, including protecting the tattoo from excessive sun exposure and keeping the skin moisturized, can help maintain the appearance of the tattoo.

Some other factors: compared to yellow...

  1. Ink Stability: Carbon black is known for its stability and resistance to degradation. It can maintain its color and integrity in the skin for a longer period. In contrast, some other pigments, including certain yellow pigments, may be less stable and more prone to fading or changing color when exposed to factors like UV radiation from the sun.

  2. Chemical Composition: The chemical composition of the pigment also plays a role. Some inorganic pigments, like certain yellows, may contain compounds that are more susceptible to breaking down or changing under the skin's conditions.

It's important to note that individual factors, such as skin type, exposure to sunlight, and aftercare, can also affect how long a tattoo retains its color and clarity. While carbon black is known for its longevity, the choice of pigment color and the overall care of the tattoo are equally important considerations for maintaining the appearance of a tattoo over time.

The main takeaway regarding carbon black being an inorganic pigment and its longevity in the context of tattoo ink is as follows:

  1. Carbon black is an inorganic pigment primarily composed of carbon atoms and is commonly used in black tattoo ink.

  2. Its longevity in the skin is influenced by factors such as particle size, depth of penetration into the dermis, ink stability, and the immune response.

  3. The small particle size, stability, and depth of placement in the skin make carbon black-based tattoo ink more likely to remain visible and maintain its intensity over time compared to some other pigments. However, it's important to remember that individual factors, aftercare, and the quality of tattoo ink and technique also play significant roles in the longevity and appearance of tattoos.


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