Organic vs Inorganic Pigments for Brow Microblading & PMU – What You Need to Know

By Emily M.| Last updated on May 4, 2023
organic vs inorganic pigments
⏱️ 6 min read

To become the best PMU artist you could possibly be, you have to know your tools and supplies inside out. You’ve probably heard this a hundred times, but it can be hard to find information that’s free and easy to understand. Luckily, PMUHub is here to help!

Pigments are something that can be particularly hard to wrap your mind around. There’s been a lot of talk lately about pigment formulas – it seems that the 2022 REACH pigment regulations inspired artists to learn more about the chemical aspect of pigments.

As a response, brands are now more open about their formulas and strive to educate artists on their products.

And PMU and microblading colors generally fall into either the organic vs inorganic pigments category, or they’re a hybrid between the 2. But what does this actually mean? Let’s get into it.

What Does It Mean for a Pigment to Be Organic vs Inorganic?

Organic vs inorganic pigments are categorized based on the origin of the colorant in them. So, when talking about organic pigments vs inorganic pigments, we’re actually looking at where the raw material – colorant – comes from; not the final, liquid product you buy and use.

An organic pigment, AKA colorant, comes from carbon.

An inorganic pigment, AKA colorant, is actually metallic salts, a result of metal oxidation, usually iron, but also titanium.

All pigments initially come in the form of a powder, which is then mixed with carriers, usually distilled water, ethyl alcohol, or other ingredients.

Learn more about other ingredients of PMU and microblading pigments in this article.

You don’t need to know any complicated chemistry in order to choose and use PMU pigments properly. What you do need to know are the practical implications of using inorganic vs organic pigments.

So let’s talk about what you, as a PMU artist, need to know about each formula.


Image source: Freepik

Properties of Organic Pigments & How to Use Them

Let’s break down all the important info.

Origin & Composition

Organic pigments are made up of carbon compounds. Atoms of carbon bonded into chains or rings give pigment particles, which are mixed with a liquid carrier.

Particles of an organic pigment are usually smaller than particles of an inorganic pigment.

Color Quality

Organic pigments have more intense, more vivid colors.

They also come in a wide color range.

Retention and Fading

As the particles of organic pigments are smaller, you can expect better retention and less work for the touch up. Still, you need to assess how your client heals after the first session and go from there.

Organic pigments are generally considered stable, but they can fade to bluish or grayish over time.

They last longer in the skin, since the particles are smaller and the body extracts them slower. This means that results done with organic pigments can be expected to last longer and require less frequent color boosts.

Notes on Implementation

Organic pigments saturate the skin quickly and easily, because the small diameter of the particles means that you can pack in a large number of them into a tiny space, and there will be no room between them.

In practice, this means you will achieve higher pigment saturation with fewer passes, faster.

But this also means there’s very little room for error. That’s why organic pigments are generally better suited for experienced artists, and not great for beginners.

Using organic-based pigments means you should work more carefully, more slowly, and you need to pay close attention so you don’t oversaturate the skin.

NOTE

Purely organic formulas are extremely rare on the market, if they exist at all.


Image source: Freepik

Properties of Inorganic Pigments & How to Use Them

Let’s move on to what you need to know about inorganic colorants.

Origin & Composition

Inorganic pigments are actually oxides of metals. The result of a chemical reaction between metal particles and oxygen are salts.

The particles are generally larger compared to the particles of organic pigments.

Color Quality

Inorganic pigments are less vibrant, but more opaque.

Retention and Fading

You can expect more pigment loss during healing with inorganic pigments. This doesn’t mean you should go with a heavier hand or more saturation upon the first session – it simply means you need to wait and see how each client heals, and do some extra work at the touch up.

Over time, inorganic pigments can fade into orangey or reddish tones.

Due to the larger particle size, inorganic pigments fade faster and to a higher degree, as it’s easier for the metabolism to break them down and extract them. Plus, saturation is more difficult to achieve, so less pigment is implemented to begin with.

Notes on Implementation

Achieving saturation with inorganic pigments is somewhat more difficult due to the larger particle size. It requires more build-up.

However, this makes them more forgiving and more suitable for beginner artists, as there’s more flexibility and room for error.


Image source: Freepik

What About Hybrid Pigments?

Most pigments available on the market today are actually hybrids, so let’s also discuss their properties.

Origin & Composition

Hybrid pigments are a mix of both organic and inorganic colorants. As we’ve noted, both categories have their advantages and shortcomings, which are balanced out in hybrid formulas.

Depending on the amount of organic or inorganic colorants, the formula tips more to one side or the other.

  • If a formula contains predominantly organic colorants, it’s called organic-based or carbon-based.
  • If a formula contains predominantly inorganic colorants, it’s called inorganic-based, and if the metal oxide in question is iron oxide (which it usually is), then iron oxide-based.
  • A formula which contains warming organic colorants is called pre-modified. Ideally, such formulas are supposed to fade neutral, but due to factors like the client’s undertone, they can also lean more to the warm side.

Color Quality

Using a combination of organic and organic colorants means that a very wide range of shades can be achieved, more or less vibrant, and anywhere on the warm-cool spectrum.

It also means that, in general, you don’t need to modify the pigments to warm them up, but this depends on the particular pigment. You can if you need to.

Retention and Fading

The biggest advantage of hybrid formulas is the fact that their fading is more or less balanced out.

If we know that organics generally fade cool, and inorganics generally fade warm, mixing them together means that they neutralize each other, ideally giving a neutral tone, or giving maneuver space for achieving a custom warmer or cooler shade.

There are, of course, other factors to consider, but having a well-balanced formula is the prerequisite for attractive, even fading over time.

So How Do I Choose?

As we said, most of what’s available on the market is hybrid. But among those hybrid formulas, you can choose between organic-based and inorganic-based.

In general, the best pigment is the one you feel most comfortable working with and which gives you the most satisfactory results. However, in order to be able to work on different skins, and achieve different effects, you should train yourself to work with different formulas.

So, our advice to you would be – try out as many different formulas as possible, and see what you and your clients like best. That said, stick to more or less well-established brands, especially if you’re a beginner.


Image source: Freepik

How Do I Know If My Pigment Is Organic, Inorganic, or Hybrid?

Knowing your pigments means knowing how to interpret their ingredients list.

On every pigment, you will find the list of ingredients on the bottle, and/or in the SDS – safety data sheet.

On that list you will find codes that look something like this: CI 12466.

Every colorant, so a pigment in its raw form, has its own CI – color index. The number that comes after it is the colorant’s official name, so to say.

Based on this number you can tell whether a colorant is of organic or inorganic origin:

  • If the number is 76999 or below, the colorant is organic.
  • If the number is 77000 or above, the colorant is inorganic.

But no bottle of pigment contains only 1 colorant. So you also need to know that the ingredients on labels are always listed according to amount, so the first ingredient you see is the one with the highest presence in the formula.

Following this logic, you can determine whether your hybrid pigment will have more properties of organic or inorganic pigments. From there, you can more or less deduce what you can expect from its performance, retention and fading.

Disclaimer

This was a brief introduction with the basic facts regarding organic vs inorganic pigments.

As you’re progressing in your career as a PMU artist, you will inevitably pick up more information, but it’s not a bad idea to look into extra educational material or even a course which will give you more in-depth knowledge of pigmentology.

Final Note

Color theory and pigment chemistry are closely related, and as a PMU artist, you need to be well-versed in both. Learn more about PMU color theory in this article.

Cover image source: Freepik

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