20 Feb

More than ever, artists have the luxury of options when it comes to pigment selection. Although many factors affect which you choose, a major deciding factor is pigment type – organic vs inorganic. This has been a hot topic in our industry, creating a lot of noise and confusion. However, we’re here to set the record straight on organic and inorganic pigments, so that you can better choose between pigments depending on the unique variables presented to you with each client.

In this blog post, we will cover:

1. What are inorganic pigments? What are organic pigments?
2. When to use organic vs. inorganic pigments
3. Maintenance
4. Color Corrections
5. What are hybrid pigments

1. What are inorganic pigments? What are organic pigments?

Do you know why you’re using a specific pigment line? Is it because someone recommended them or because you saw pictures of how they look? Do you know the difference between organic, inorganic, and hybrid pigment lines? Which pigments are a blend of both organic and inorganic pigments? 

Organic pigments are made up of carbon rings and chains, while inorganic pigments are derived from natural minerals. 

Organic pigments tend to be more vibrant and have a wider range of colors, while inorganic pigments are more muted and earthy. 

Organic pigments consist usually of smaller particles, reflect more light, and are more transparent. Inorganic pigments have a larger particle size, reflect less light, and are more opaque. 

Organic particles are bright, quick to implant, and long lasting, while inorganic particles are a bit more earthy, may require a few layers to achieve ideal saturation in the skin, and are not quite as long lasting in the skin- which offers more flexibility.

Hybrid formulations are a combination of organic and inorganic particles. We will dive into this topic later on in the blog.

What’s in your pigments? Identifying CI numbers & MSDS sheets

It wasn’t until recently that pigment manufacturers pulled back the curtains behind their manufacturing philosophies and pigment color formulations, so artists could take a deeper dive into what’s in their pigment bottles and how it can affect their work.There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to pigments. An organic medium brown may look similar in color to an inorganic medium brown, but each is different in its pigment particle composition, which affects the way the pigment behaves in the skin.

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2. When to use organic vs inorganic pigments

Now that we understand the ingredients, let’s take a deeper dive into how these pigments behave and how to best use an organic vs inorganic pigment.

Every client is unique – from their expectations and desired result, to their skin density, type, and undertone. Along with your experience and working technique, these factors play a role in whether you should use an organic or inorganic pigment.

The basic guidelines are: organic-based pigment lines such as Perma Blend, including Tina Davies I LOVE INK, will deposit into the skin easier and stay around much longer with little to no fading. They are less forgiving and almost “forever” lasting since the small particle sizes implant easier. Therefore, it is imperative that you DO NOT OVERSATURATE when working with organic-based pigments to give yourself room to add more color definition in the future if needed.Inorganic-based pigment lines have larger particle sizes and take longer to deposit into the skin than an organic-based pigment. (inorganic-based means formulation is predominantly made up for inorganic ingredients) As a result, they are more forgiving and will fade at a faster rate. Therefore, these pigments are great for newer artists, or for clients who want less commitment to color, shape, and permanency.

Organic pigments are vibrant in color and last a long time in the skin. For clients, this means less long-term maintenance, as fewer touch-ups are required. However, this also means that clients must commit to both color and shape from the very beginning, with little room for adjustments over time due to the permanency of the organic particles.

When using organic pigments, the goal is to not oversaturate, as these pigments are “less forgiving”. Regardless if your client wants soft and natural brows or defined and bold brows, it’s best to stay conservative with saturation and evaluate upon healing. Focus on giving the brows an “airy” look, ideally with skin showing to create negative space and dimension. Good ways to control pigment saturation are through techniques such as layering and pigment diluting (shading solution), to build color without dense saturation. The look of brows should resemble powder, not solid ink. 

For newer artists, the proper working technique is crucial when using organic pigments, especially on clients with thinner skin. Pay attention to your needle angle, depth, hand speed, and pressure, making sure to remain consistent throughout the procedure. Use a light hand and stop tattooing when you reach a “powdery” saturation level. Going too deep will result in the pigment “blowing out”, and appearing ashy/dark beneath the skin, which the result may last indefinitely. 

The nature of inorganic pigments

Inorganic pigments are earthy and muted in color, which generally makes for natural, subtle results. They’re less permanent compared to organic pigments, as they often fade out of the skin within a couple of years. Inorganic pigments provide ultimate flexibility for clients who want less commitment to color, shape, and permanency. However, these pigments will require more frequent touch-ups – a great opportunity to adjust the shape and color of your client’s brows as they age.

When to use organic or inorganic

There are some cases where your client may be well-suited for organic-based pigments. Maybe your client has oily skin or thick skin.

However, there may also be cases when your client may be better suited for inorganic-based pigments, such as clients who will pull dark and cool – like those with mature, thin skin, fair-skinned clients with dark hair, or clients who have visible sun damage. 

You may also find that you have young clients who want a bold, trendy style brow with a lot of saturation. If we used an organic pigment on them, there would be no room for adjustment in color or shape as they age when this style no longer suits them, so you may want to reach for your inorganic-based pigments. 

Inorganic-based pigments may also be advantageous for newer artists, as they tend to be more flexible and forgiving, giving you – the artist – more ability to make adjustments over time. This flexibility is ideal for artists and clients who aren’t ready to commit to a specific lifelong shape or color. It also allows you as an artist to ensure a long-term relationship with your clients, as you can expect to see them annually. 

To summarize, when working with organic pigments, don't oversaturate and aim for a “soft and airy” deposit. Stop tattooing when you see the intended outcome that resembles a healed result. When working with inorganic pigments, you will need to apply more layers to saturate and more treatments to reach optimal saturation.

The rates at which organic and inorganic pigments fade out of the skin are different. Based on your client’s goal and the type of result and longevity that you see fit to deliver, you’ll need to choose your pigments accordingly so that you can meet their expectations, on a realistic level – this means informing your client during their consultation. Your maintenance policy and variables of your client’s skin, including previous PMU, overall health, skincare routines, and environmental exposures also come into play.

Once you understand the basic principle of saturation, you'll be confident in providing your clients with brows that will suit their needs and meet their expectations. With a proper maintenance protocol, you can be their trusted artist to keep them looking fantastic for life, not to mention built-in loyalty that will provide you with recurring revenue for years to come. 

During consultation it’s important to explain to your client that their brows will need to be maintained for optimal beauty down the road, just like other beauty services such as hair or nails. The color will start to fade and the shape may require updating.

Be sure to book this appointment before your client leaves your office and offer an incentive if needed to get it secured. This also reinforces your professionalism and dedication to client care.

3. Maintenance

Timing & touch-ups

As we’ve learned with organic-based pigments, they implant easily into the skin. Sometimes a touch-up after the initial treatment isn’t even necessary. With these pigments lasting a very long time, clients can often go 2-3 years before needing a touch-up.On the other hand, since inorganic-based pigments have a lower level of saturation in the skin, a touch-up will likely be needed after the initial treatment to achieve ideal saturation. As inorganic pigments are less permanent, you should plan to see your clients for annual touch-ups on a routine basis, ideally between 12-24 months.

Brows done with organic-based pigments are extremely long-lasting but tend to “dull” and look cooler over time due to the presence of Carbon Black and Titanium Dioxide White as other pigments (red, yellow) fade from the skin. They require a warm (orange or yellow-based pigment) color boost to bring back warmth to the area. This will brighten and warm the brows without making them darker and more saturated. A common mistake is using a dark, cool pigment without a warm undertone – this can lead to more coolness down the road.

Brows done with inorganic pigments can fade by 50-70% and leave behind a residual undertone of red/orange as Iron Oxide Black breaks down, or cool/ash if Carbon Black is present. For a red/orange residual undertone, you can neutralize the color using a green-olive pigment before proceeding with the target color of your choice.

It’s best to let your client know what to expect for general maintenance and touch-up, so they are aware of what to expect during the months and years to come. 

Residual Colors

Brows done with organic-based pigments may have a residual undertone of cool/ash due to the presence of Carbon Black and Titanium Dioxide White. Brows done with inorganic/iron oxide pigments can have a residual undertone of either red/orange or cool/ash as the Iron Oxide Black breaks down, leaving behind other residual colors. 

What type of pigment to use

Brows done with organic-based pigments will require the use of organic-based pigments again for staying power and coverage. Brows done with inorganic/iron oxide pigments can be redone with organic-based or inorganic/iron oxide-based pigments again, depending on the client's goal. At this point, the client may want to continue with inorganic/iron oxide pigments for more flexibility and fading or move to organic-based pigments for more longevity. 

4. Corrections

In the world of PMU, you will come across cases of faded red, orange, purple, magenta, grey, blue, and green eyebrows. What you’re seeing are the previous pigment colors degrading in the skin at uneven rates. To be a well-rounded artist, you will need to learn how to correct these issues.

Color corrections are only effective on brows that have faded by at least 50%. A light shadow is ideal. The skin can only hold so much pigment before it stops taking pigment. If the brows are too saturated or they’re an ashy/dark color due to the previous work being too deep, removal is required. 

Levels of saturation 

For best results, brows done with organic-based pigments will require “warming up” with warm-based organic-based pigments (think orange, yellow, or reds with a yellow base) again as this will have the maximum effect and staying power to combat the grey/ash undertone. Brows done with inorganic/iron oxide pigments will have a residual undertone of cool/ash or red/orange and can be redone again with organic-based or inorganic/iron oxide pigments depending on the client’s goal. 

If your client's brows are at least 50% faded, you will need to identify what pigment is best-suited to color correct. Start by identifying the residual color left on their skin, by using the wheel.

  • You can color correct old tattoos that have turned blue, purple, or red by understanding complementary colors
  • For example, to correct blue brows, you first have to identify the complementary color of blue
  • As you can see from the color wheel, orange can offset the blue. On the contrary, if you are trying to correct red brows, you need green to offset the red

To color correct previously tattooed brows, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
What color is the old tattoo?
Identify if the old tattoo is blue/grey OR red/orange.

What is the complementary color of the old tattoo?
If the old tattoo is blue/grey, orange is the complementary color.
If the old tattoo is red/orange, green is the complementary color.

What is the target color?
The target color is the final end color you desire.If the old tattoo is cool and ashy, your target color/pigment should contain a warm undertone.If the old tattoo is red and warm, your target color/pigment should contain a cool undertone.