Pigments & pigmentation specifics

SMP® Knowledgebase

One of the most important set of questions concerning micro-pigmentation about the type of pigments that are used. What are the pigments, how long do they last, and how do they react to light? Below are some of the most common questions potential clients commonly ask with regards to pigmentation.

What is a chromophore?

A chromophore is any molecule or element which receives electromagnetic and reflects away certain wavelengths which fall in the visible spectrum. The human eye detects these reflected wavelengths and perceives this as the ‘color’ of the molecule or element. This is what gives table salt its white color and gold, its ‘goldness’. And therefore, actually any substance could technically be called a chromophore. In reality, the term is usually applied to specific substances which are known for generating a rich particularly vibrant pure color.

What is a dye? What is a pigment? And, what is an ink, and is there any difference between the three?

Dyes and pigments are both chromophores which give color to a substrate they are added to. More specifically, dyes are chromophores that are usually soluble in water (hydrophilic usually) and often dilute down into a substrate (like paper or skin). Because they are water soluble, they can be diluted easily and also concentrated to a high level. They can provide deeper and more rich colors than pigment compounds. The downside is that adding water to a dye, often results in smearing and further dilution.

Pigments are chromophores that are often insoluble in water (sometimes behaving like lipids) and usually rest on top of a substrate. Although they cannot be concentrated like dyes, they are usually resistant to smears, staining and dilution. They are also more resistant to stress and sheer forces. For these reasons they are preferred over dyes for scalp micro-pigmentation.

An ink is nothing more than a general term for any liquid, paste or powder which contains chromophores and is used to color a substrate. Usually an ink is made up of colorants (which are usually dyes or pigments), additives, binders and carriers, although, this can vary from one ink to another. As applies to a regular tattoo, an ink is usually composed of colorants (often pigments) and a carrier. This carrier can be water, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol, glycerine, methanol or one of several other compounds. The carrier is used to keep the pigments free from bacteria, to act sometimes as a transport agent and to increase permeability of the skin in many instances. As applies to micro-pigmentation, a cosmetic ink is any substance which contains pigments and a carrier.

Why is the role of the pigment paramount to the result a client receives?

The molecular structure of the pigment determines the ability of the pigment both to resist common biochemical reactions in the skin and persevere under both immune system responses and UV radiation.
The exact nature and alignment of the various chemical bonds in a pigment’s three dimensional structure determine its ability undergo chemical reactions or degrade under UV radiation. Different classes of compounds, such as polymers, metal oxides, proteins, and even lipid based pigments all have unique chemical interactions. Thus, the perfect pigment for a hair simulation application is one that inert, chemically unreactive under most biochemical changes and heavily resistant to UV radiation.

What is the difference between tattoo ink and cosmetic pigmentation ink?

Both tattoo and cosmetic pigmentation ink can use the same pigments, or very similar pigment compounds to produce color. There are however, a number of differences. For example the metal content in SMP pigments is extremely low, far lower than traditional tattoo inks. SMP pigments are therefore highly unlikely to cause any issues with MRI or similar scans.

One significant difference is the depth at which they are injected into the skin. Tattoo pigments are usually injected into the middle dermis, below the epidermis. Cosmetic pigments are usually deposited into the very top of the dermis. This means they are closer to the epidermis, and more easily degraded by UV radiation. Tattoo inks are less affected by UV radiation since they receive less light deeper down in the skin, but they are subject to more white blood cell agents (such as phagocytic cells).

Unlike tattoo inks, SMP pigments will not change color over time.

What is the exact molecular structure of the SMP pigment?

This is a proprietary business secret that we will not disclose at this time as it is an integral part of the HIS business model and is key to making sure that our pigments retain a true gray scale, even under UV degradation. Many other competitors use regular tattoo inks which unfortunately, appear truly black or a gray for the first several months, only to begin breaking down at a later date to something more resembling a darker shade of blue or green.

Why are SMP pigments so unique?

Two reasons; they don’t degrade easily under UV radiation, and when they do, they do not change color. SMP pigments are built upon research done previously by many different parties over the past 15 years to improve tattoo and cosmetic pigmentation ink. Because of this, SMP pigments are designed to be sterile, chemically inert, highly resistant to UV radiation and to decompose stably. Not only does this allow a client to wear SMP in bright outdoor conditions for many years but it also means that as SMP eventually fades, the client will not be the victim of a chemical reaction that leaves them with a blue Smurf head.

What is the lifespan of SMP pigments?

That is a question which is extremely dependent upon the individual client. Due to differences in immune system responses, exposure to UV radiation and skin condition, giving an exact answer is impossible. On average, in a healthy individual who uses sunscreen when outside for more than ten minutes, we expect a set of MHT treatments to last 8 to 15 years. For a surfing instructor in Australia, this may be reduced considerably and in a mining engineer who works often underground and has tight skin, the MHT may retain its full shade for more than 20 years.

Are SMP pigments toxic or carcinoma inducing?

No. But in specific individuals who have extreme allergies or sensitive immune systems, should be cautious. For them, we offer the Patch Test, the price at any of the UK or Asian clinic is £80, EU clinic is €100. At any of the American clinics, the cost is $120 US dollars. This is a quick trial application of a few dozen SMP dots to an area behind the hairline to see if any response occurs.

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