The EU looks to tighten regulations in the tattoo industry

Currently, there are no EU-wide standards on what tattoo artists are allowed to inject into the skin of their customers. In terms of colorants, there are strict regulations for cosmetics and textiles products. But, for injecting into human skin, these regulations vary between member states. According to tattoo artists, it’s very rare for customers’ to actually ask which chemicals are being injected.

Sandy Verfaile, a tattoo artist in Belgium, was interviewed recently and said: “It happens less than once a year that someone asks about the chemicals in the tattoo ink. They’re usually asking about allergies, or they’re asking whether it’s vegan.” In light of this, the European Commission has recently warned that this could have serious health and safety consequences on the thousands of people who get tattoos every year.

For the safety of customers, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) believes that this needs to be changed. But, due to the fragmented nature of the industry and the number of small independent shop owners, regulation has always been difficult and changes could be hard to implement. Additionally, producers of ink often make pigments for other purposes. And although some of the substances used in tattoo ink have proven to be carcinogenic, currently, there are no studies that directly link tattoo ink to cancer.

Last year, the Commission requested that the EHCA carried out research to find out if the substances in inks are safe to inject under the skin. According to ECHA member Mark Blainey, this kind of exposure is the “worst kind”, and because of the results of the report, the organisation proposed one of the largest chemical restrictions ever seen. It would affect over 4000 chemicals. After the report is sent to the Commission later this year, it will have three months to decide whether to follow the recommendations.

One of the biggest problems detailed in the report is inconsistency within the manufacturing industry. For example, some tattoo inks display the country of manufacture, whilst some don’t. Another issue is that most of the inks are not specifically designed for tattoos. Despite 12% of people in Europe now having tattoos, ink manufacturing is still a small market and a lot of the products are also used for “outdoor applications in products like textiles, cars and plastics.”

BASF, one of Europe’s largest chemicals manufacturers, said in a statement that it has “a long-standing policy, dating back more than thirty years, not to sell their products directly or indirectly to any company that would use those products in tattoos.” However, those working in the industry say that this happens anyway, despite the official advice.

Jens Bergström, a tattoo artist and owner of Tattoo and Piercing Education Scandinavia, said in his comments to ECHA: “Nothing has been done to stop the home market and tattooing in non-registered environments. Even if you forbid the content of colorants, unfortunately many tattooers will be able to buy these and use it anyway. They will just be sold as ‘artist material’ rather than listed as tattoo inks.”

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