York Professor Chris Caputo and his work with Inkbox has revolutionized the industry of semi-permanent tattoos through research into live feedstocks and developing efficient synthetic strategies. With a focus towards sustainability, Caputo and Inkbox have created a longer lasting ink using Genipa Americana fruit extract, which permeates the epidermis (the top layer of your skin) and slowly fades as the layers shed over time (generally one to two weeks).
“There were two options to develop the research: we could start with the naturally occurring product, and then do some chemistry to it to see how that impacts the color properties. Or we could invent new molecules from scratch, but our feedstock probably wouldn’t be from plants at that point in time,” says Dr. Caputo, assistant professor in the department of chemistry and head of Caputo Lab at York, and Tier 2 Canada research chair.
“So, I thought it was a no brainer to start with the most sustainable input, which is the fruit extract, and then do the chemistry we need to do rather than use a lot of chemical feedstocks for everything — cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, you name it, are petrochemical derived — it’s a balancing act there.”
In a recent interview for York’s YFile, Ian Mallov, manager of Formulation & Regulatory Affairs at Inkbox Tattoos, said, “A collaboration with Caputo’s group, funded by Mitacs and NSERC CRD grants, has allowed Inkbox to do molecular-level research that would otherwise have been impossible with the budget of a startup company.”
Research was funded by a grant through the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Development (CRD).
“York is pushing entrepreneurship and continually supporting startups that are brought out of the university. Inkbox wasn’t incubated at York — it was at Ryerson — but I think it’s an opportunity for research active faculty, and even non-research active faculty who have interested students, to engage with these companies, because there’s so many benefits across the board, from funding to access to knowledge and technology,” continues Caputo.
Acquired by Bic for a little over $80 million, the company hopes to expand their research into new ink dyes, including other colours, while remaining focused on sustainability.
With products even boasted as vegan-friendly and free of gluten, nuts, and adhesive latex, products do include ethyl and isopropyl alcohol, but is not consumed, so is halal-friendly to the user’s discretion. A full list of ingredients is available on their website as well.
Caputo’s work with utilizing sustainable feedstocks is another step towards York’s commitment towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and he hopes that more industries will follow suit.
“As chemists, we need to be more cognizant of our inputs, especially if we’re moving towards commercialization and scale-up, so that you make it as sustainable as possible,” adds Caputo.