Some bad news has been sweeping the tattoo community this week—and it’s not looking good for some tattoo ink manufacturers.
Recently, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) released devastating information this week regarding several tattoo inks that are currently on the market. According to their findings, some substances comprising tattoo ink could potentially be toxic in the long-run, and the agency has begun calling for the banning of these possibly-deadly ingredients. This research states that some inks could cause severe skin problems, reproductive toxicity, and even the risk of cancer. Several other lesser side effects could include allergic reaction, itchy skin, and infection.
“Many reports show concerns for public health stemming from the composition of inks used for tattooing,” a spokesperson for the European Chemicals Agency explained to The Sun. “The most severe concerns are allergies caused by the substances in the inks and possibly carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxic effects.”
The agency has yet to publish the official findings but plans to do so in the future. They will be including a full report which will detail the exact list of chemicals which post the greatest risk to the public. They have hinted that red dyes are the most dangerous, with blue, black, and green following suit. The EU will be utilizing both the preliminary and official findings to decide further action—currently, there are discussions of these toxic inks being banned in the European Union in the future.
The President of the Tattoo and Piercing Industry Union of the United Kingdom, Rick Stevens, had his own thoughts on the matter. He believes it’s the influx of cheap tattoo inks being imported from China that are responsible for the wave of reactions occurring across the globe. According to Stevens, these inks are not regulated or checked for safety and contain the aforementioned toxic compounds.
It’s not just the EU warning against the dangers of these toxic inks. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has also released information regarding the recently discovered concerns on their website. While the FDA, just as in the EU, does not regulate tattoo ink, they have announced that they will be conducting a study themselves. “Recent reports associated with permanent makeup inks have prompted FDA to study tattoo ink safety,” cites a statement released on their website.
The FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), located in Arkansas, is currently underway in their study—examining the chemical compositions of inks used in American parlors, in addition to the short and long-term side effects of ink. They are also reviewing reactions to different light pigments and the removal process.
“There have been no systematic studies of the safety of tattoo inks,” says Paul Howard, Ph.D. of the National Center for Toxicological Research, “so we are trying to ask—and answer—some fundamental questions.” As Howard points out, some tattoos fade with age when exposed to heavy sunlight, while laser light is utilized in the removal process. “We want to know what happens to the ink,” says Howard. “Where does the pigment go?”
According to Howard, and the NCTR, there are several hypotheses being considered at the moment.
“The body cells may digest and destroy the ink, just as they rid the body of bacteria and other foreign matter as a defense against infection,” he states. “Sunlight may cause the ink to break down so it is less visible, or the skin cells containing the ink may be killed by sunlight or laser light and ink breakdown products may disperse through the body.”
The biggest concern the NCTR seems to have regarding the breakdown process is what happens to the pigment. “Research has also shown that some pigment migrates from the tattoo site to the body’s lymph nodes,” says Howard. “Whether the migration of tattoo ink has health consequences or not is still unknown. NCTR is doing further research to answer this and other questions about the safety of tattoo inks.”
Another study conducted by the Copenhagen University Hospital tested 21 common inks utilized across Europe. To their dismay, 13 of the 21 tested showed signs of carcinogenic compounds in the inks. The origins of the ink, however, are currently unknown until further information can be released.
An article published on The Truth about Cancer states that tattoo ink has been linked to “infections, allergies, scarring, granulomas (small knots or bumps that can form around particles of tattoo pigment), and MRI complications such as swelling or burning when people with tattoos undergo an MRI.” While these occur on a case by case basis, it only takes a small percentage of occurrences to make the statistic hold up in a scientific study. These issues are a minority, approximately 10%—not the norm.
As with everything, we’re currently in a waiting game to find out which chemical compounds are being considered toxic, and which inks—if any—will be banned. The European Union is strongly sticking to their guns that there will be changes and bans put into place very soon; however, the FDA is not indicating that they will be making any adjustments to this billion dollar industry anytime soon.