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5 Ways to Make Your Next Tattoo More Sustainable

Tattoos come with a fair amount of waste. Here's how some artists are making tattoos more sustainable—and how you can, too.

how to make your tattoo sustainable
Written by
Samantha Bailon
The tattoo industry is known for its innovation, creativity, and edge. Though once taboo, tattoos are fairly commonplace these days—roughly
36% of U.S. adults
have at least one tattoo. Given the increased popularity of ink, there's never been a better time to consider the eco-impact of the practice. The question is, how do you make your tattoo sustainable?
Like salons, tattoo studios rely on an assemblage of tools that require maintenance, as well as sterilization between clients. Over the past two decades—and with the accompanying uptick in demand—the industry has shifted from a reliance on reusable supplies to predominantly single-use products.
Unfortunately, this means that as our want of tattoos continues to grow, so does the amount of
. From cling film to latex gloves to ink caps, the tattoo industry is yet another that's dominated by

The Art of Curbing Waste

Many artists in the industry are also looking for ways to cut back on waste, the better to combine their passions for tattooing and environmentalism.
Botanical tattoo artist
Marie Brennan
has been in the industry for nearly three decades. Ten years in, she began to notice the amount of unnecessary waste being produced every day–mostly, the amount of trash being carried out each night. In response, Brennan opted to start a private studio, the better to meet her own sustainability goals.
“I am trying to be less destructive, less wasteful,” says Brennan. “There is a little extra work, but in the long run it has a huge impact.” 
Tattoo artist
Tai-Li Lynn
's contemplation of waste led her to an entire community of eco-friendly artists on social media, all with a growing interest in sustainable options and more mindful products.
One solution is actually a return to the old ways.
Lynn notes that a lot of artists are switching to wireless machines with disposable plastic cartridge tips. “The old-school metal autoclavable grips are the way to go,” says Lynn. “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.”
There are also a growing number of alternative products that make for a safe and sustainable experience: think paper ink caps,
barrier film,
personal protective equipment, and more.

Tattoos Go Vegan

Another means of making your tattoo more planet-friendly?
Many inks utilize
bone char, glycerin, and gelatin
, making even the most wildlife-centric tattoos less than environmentally friendly.
To combat this issue, studios like Brooklyn's
Gristle Tattoo
are going 100% vegan—from procedures to aftercare. In addition to prioritizing vegan offerings, Gristle practices what it preaches, actively supporting and fundraising for animal-related causes.
Getting a tattoo is a deeply personal experience, and finding an artist who shares your artistic and environmental perspectives is a must. Here are five things to keep in mind when booking your next tattoo appointment.

5 Ways to Make Your Next Tattoo More Sustainable

1. Find Your Dream Artist

In terms of tattoo artists, take time to track down your perfect match. Social media is an easy way to survey local shops, and
sites exist
to help narrow the hunt—try tagging "vegan" and "eco-friendly" for more tailored results.
Lynn also suggests calling shops to ask about their products. "Voting with your dollar works in every industry," she notes.

2. Shave the Area Prior to Your Appointment

Razors are among most tattoo shops' most frequently used disposable products. While some stores have made the switch to
reusable razors
, shaving your soon-to-be-adorned body part ahead of time is an easy way to reduce waste.

3. Save Small Tattoos and Touch-ups for a Single Session

If you have a few small to medium size tattoos or touch-ups in mind, consider getting them done in a single session. “We end up with the same amount of waste whether you get a four-minute tattoo or a four-hour tattoo," says Marielle Rebecca, manager at Gristle.

4. Ask Questions

When trying to track down sustainable artists, questions are bound to arise. Most artists—especially those making the switch themselves—are happy to provide answers. In fact, artists like Brennan encourage it. “I think it's great to be a concerned consumer," she says. "People should feel empowered."

5. Share the Love

The eco-friendly tattoo community is still relatively new, so sharing the love is an important step. “As a customer, one of the biggest things you can do is simply support artists and shops whose values align with your own," says Rebecca.
So, after investing in some sustainable art, be sure to share the work on social! The simple step supports the artist and the movement in general.