EU Bans Selected Coloured Tattoo Inks Over Safety Risks
In January 2022, in a move that is set to shake up the tattoo community, the European Union announced a ban on certain chemicals commonly found in tattoo inks. Due to the safety concerns surrounding these chemicals, the tattoo industry is facing yet another major impact after the fallout of COVID-19 lockdowns.
The EU’s issue with tattoo ink
So what's actually in tattoo ink that has the European Union (and potentially Australia) so concerned? Well, it all comes down to two things - heavy metals and nano-particles. Heavy metals like cobalt, chromium, manganese, and nickel are often found in tattoo inks as they help to create specific colours. The concern with these heavy metals is that they can potentially be toxic if they enter the bloodstream - which, of course, can happen when you get a tattoo.
On the other hand, nano-particles are tiny particles that are undetectable by the human eye, but can exhibit different physical and chemical properties to their larger counterparts. Certain tattoo inks contain nano-particles to create certain colours, but the concern here is that they could potentially enter cells and cause damage because they're so small.
The new EU law now limits the use of any chemicals that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) claim contain hazardous chemicals. Some of these pro-claimed chemicals have been said to be linked to medical issues, including reproductive difficulties, and skin irritation. They're going as far as saying that they can even adjust a person's skin tone/pigmentation.
The conclusion of an assessment conducted by the ECHA claimed that the use of some 4,000 chemicals should be limited, including isopropanol alcohol which is a common ingredient in inks. However, the ECHA also disclosed that there is currently no direct evidence of tattoo ink causing serious medical issues.
Within the EU, the new regulation states that a range of pigments must no longer be used, while others must meet certain concentration limits.
"The aim is not to ban tattooing but to make the colours used in tattoos and permanent make-up safer," the ECHA said.
The EU's decision to ban certain tattoo inks will undoubtedly impact the global tattoo industry, but it's still too early to say what that impact will be.
Tattoo Artists are protesting, but regulators holding firm
Although there have been movements by some tattoo ink manufacturers to adjust to the new regulations, the biggest hurdle centres around two specific pigments: Green 7 and Blue 15:3.
These two specific pigments are widely used, but are also extremely difficult to source and therefore have been a main point of contention from tattoo artists and the community within.
Some European tattoo artists have spoken up to collectively save the pigments claiming there hasn't been any proven science saying they can indeed cause any serious health issues. One artist has said that the ban can be compared to 'taking flour from a bakery.'
Tattooists are arguing that some of the pro-claimed inks linked to health issues have been in circulation for decades and that alternatives for colours created from using these inks don't exist.
Amsterdam tattoo artist Tycho Veldhoen fears these new laws will significantly impact an industry that is already reeling after repeated lockdowns. Veldhoen explains, "...like a painter, you suddenly lose a gigantic part of your palette," he said.
"A rose with brown leaves is a lot less attractive than a rose with green leaves."
Across Europe, there has also been a Save the Pigments petition circulating with close to 200,000 signatures opposing the ban. Tattoo artists are screaming that this completely unjustified law will cripple an already struggling industry.
We know what you're thinking: What does this mean for Australia?
At the moment, tattoo inks remain largely unregulated in Australia. This means there are no specific guidelines or requirements surrounding the manufacturing or sale of tattoo inks.
Industry Tattoo Supply Founder Adam explains,
"People are still confused about these EU rules and how seriously to take them. It can feel like government overreach creating unnecessary havoc and disruption to artists' livelihoods."
Adam goes on to explain:
"All artists care deeply about health and safety precautions. If there is evidenced concern over some ink ingredients, then we hope other countries like Australia take a proactive approach with ink manufacturers and artist groups, to review and work through sustainable change to further raise safety standards."
Earlier in 2022, the QLD government proposed law changes to regulate tattoo ink amid the European health claims.
The recommended amendments would have required tattoo ink manufacturers and suppliers to provide a compliance analysis certificate. These certificates would be used to ensure inks used in Queensland did not contain potentially harmful substances, which would be a costly task and out of reach for many Australian tattoo studios, leaving them unable to meet client requirements.
Australian tattooist and Treasurer of the Professional Tattooists Association, Chris Llewellyn, noted the amendments would be 'impossible to comply with” due to the fact that there are no Australian Ink manufacturers in the first place.
A foreign company is not going to prepare specific documentation for a single market, like Australia or even just Queensland.
Thankfully, these proposals were abandoned due to an outcry from the Australian tattoo community and a lack of evidence that these pigments could be dangerous.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath explains, "These amendments were based on the best health advice. The industry has raised concerns about the complexity of complying with these amendments. After ongoing discussions with peak industry stakeholders, we've chosen to withdraw these amendments while we continue discussions with the industry. This is to ensure we get the balance right between supporting the industry and ensuring the safety of Queenslanders."
The Australian Cancer Council have also put their two cents worth in saying that while they are "not aware of a reported cancer case directly attributable to tattooing," they're aware of the evidence that some tattoo inks contain carcinogens – or cancer-causing substances. "Over time, macrophages take up pigment and may transport it into the lymphatic system and lymph nodes. This means other tissue in the body can be exposed to potentially carcinogenic materials in the tattoo ink."
With a majority of inks in Australia sourced from foreign based ink manufacturers, there isn’t word yet on whether this ban will have a flow-on effect Down Under. That being said, major ink brands seem to be heading towards developing their own REACH compliant range of inks. When these complaint inks may become available to Australia is unknown.
Tattooists regard the health and safety of their clients as a top priority and wouldn't compromise it for their own financial gain.
However, the rules and regulations that the EU have imposed will make it difficult for artists to achieve the design results customers are looking for and the art they aspire towards.That being said, most major tattoo ink manufacturers are adapting and new products are coming out to meet these EU regulations, including brands like World Famous with their new Limitless line which would come to Australia should similar restrictions be put in place: