Analysis of tattoo inks reveals harmful pigments and microparticles

The presence of harmful particles in tattoo inks is a documented phenomenon. In the EU, the regulation protects shoppers, however in Portugal there’s a authorized loophole that leaves a lot to the discretion of “the nice practices and ethics of every tattoo artist”.

In Portugal, there is no such thing as a particular regulation for the actions of tattoo artists, specialised inspectors or establishments answerable for monitoring opposed reactions. However, the tactic of disposal of ink and waste is regulated. Photo by Ben Stansall

Some widespread tattoo inks could comprise harmful particles and substances that aren’t listed on the label. This phenomenon has already been documented in a number of research and even led to laws within the European Union, however the subject has not too long ago returned to the agenda due to a examine performed within the United States and revealed on the finish of August.

Research performed by scientists at Binghamton University in New York analyzed 53 widespread dyes and recognized 23 azo dyes. This sort of artificial pigments is utilized by the textile trade to dye a range of supplies, from cotton, wool, silk or fur. In idea, they pose no menace to human well being so long as they continue to be chemically intact. But the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) warns that it might turn out to be “probably carcinogenic” if uncovered to “micro organism or UV mild”.

The identical examine additionally discovered particles smaller than 100 nanometers in eight of the paints analyzed. These are so small (nanometers are millionths of a millimeter) that they’re “harmful” as a result of they “can cross cell membranes and trigger injury.”

“Surprisingly, no ink producer produces particular pigments for tattoo ink”explains John Swierk, the researcher who led the examine, the outcomes of which can be accessible on the web site “What’s in My Ink?“. “Big firms make pigments for the whole lot, whether or not it is paint or textiles. The identical pigments are utilized in tattoo inks.’

However, the composition of the dyes was not the place to begin for the examine. “Initially, the thought for this job got here to me as a result of I used to be focused on what occurs when a laser tattoo is eliminated. Then I noticed that there was little or no details about the composition of tattoo inks, so we began wanting on the most well-known manufacturers.’

The 5,000-year-old Otsi mummy was discovered within the Alps in 1991. 61 parallel straight traces had been drawn on the arms, legs and chest. They are thought-about to be the oldest tattoos on this planet. Photo by Leopold Necula

“The above-mentioned examine analyzes a selected difficulty highlighted by the European Union in its 2016 report,” stated Isabel Fonseca and Diogo de Sousa, MDs of the Dermatology Clinic of Isabel Correia da Fonseca, in a written response to Expresso. . “Although the rules for this sort of merchandise permit for elevated security of their manufacturing, there’s little scientific proof about how these substances endure adjustments once they enter the human physique, for instance, beneath the affect of ultraviolet radiation.”

But these are usually not the one open questions relating to tattoos. As the FDA acknowledges (Federal company answerable for public well being and meals security within the United States). “The investigation by the FDA and others is ongoing [instituições]There are nonetheless many unanswered questions within the investigation.. This contains questions in regards to the long-term results of pigments, different substances, and potential contaminants in tattoo ink. Then there’s the matter of eradicating the tattoo.’

The lack of information on this space is very necessary given the recognition of tattoos. Despite being an historic apply (the primary proof of a tattooed particular person was found in 1991 in Ötzi, a 5,000-year-old mummy present in Austria), tattoos, which have an extended custom in sure cultures, appear to be gaining extra and extra supporters. western world.

According to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).in regards to the 12% of the EU inhabitants has a tattoo. Including adolescents, there are 54 million individuals, and the prevalence among the many youngest (18-35 years) could also be twice this proportion. 50% within the US millennials (these born 1981-1996) and virtually a 3rd of Generation Z (1997-2012) have tattoos.


In Europe, the difficulty of ink composition was protected for 9 months. In early 2022 the primary European regulation to limit greater than 4,000 harmful chemical substances in tattoo inks and everlasting make-up. Azo dyes are on this record. The regulation additionally units out labeling rules.

The regulation additionally defines two particular pigments (blue 15:3 and inexperienced 7) for which there was no different in the marketplace on the time. A transition interval till January 2023 has been set for them. This was essential to scale back the impression on the sector, assured Filipe Gil of the APPTBP (Association of Tattoo and Body Piercing Professionals in Portugal).

“These are usually not simply two colours, however two main colours. Those blues and greens are within the fiftieth percentile of all colours. I noticed the palette with out it and there was virtually no shade left,” explains the tattoo artist. “There are alternate options now and I do not see any distinction. Now all that is left is to see how the works will end up over time, how they are going to age.”

He provides: “Almost all consultants have accepted it. This is a comparatively new trade in Portugal, however the professionals are very and conscious of issues. I do not see a lot resistance from anybody to the measures.”

“Surprisingly, no ink producer makes particular pigments for tattoo ink. Big firms make pigments for the whole lot from paint to textiles. The identical pigments are utilized in tattoo inks.’

However, when the measure was introduced, Filipe Gil raised some considerations primarily in regards to the context. “We’re coming off two closures and having one other and not realizing once we’ll be again at work, it will be powerful for the sector. We had till 2023 to promote the inventory [o que não aconteceu em países como a Alemanha]It turned out to be a really easy transition.

“The solely factor is, it is made the worth rather a lot greater,” he provides. A bottle of ink went from €12 to €27, which “seems to be a giant distinction and the newest finances displays that”.


The new European regulation is welcomed by Deco Protest, which has been monitoring the difficulty for 17 years and has been calling for measures to make tattoos safer for shoppers.

“What we discovered is that whereas it is a optimistic step, it’s not sufficient to manage tattooing. If we begin making use of the principles to ink, the apply of tattooing will stay unlawful.confirms Susana Santos, the affiliation’s well being specialist.

In 2005, Deco submitted a very good apply information to the Secretary of State for Trade, Services and Consumer Protection. Many calls for had been answered by a invoice proposed by the PS in 2008, however it remained within the drawer. This subject was raised once more by the affiliation in 2011 and 2018, however to this point there is no such thing as a particular regulation or regulation on this matter.

“The tattoo parlor now has a store. In different phrases, you want a license, a e-book of complaints and different associated forms, however the implementation of your work will not be outlined in phrases of hygiene, tattoo preparation, area specs. This is a matter that worries us,” he added. “With this loophole within the regulation, there’s all the time some threat right here. [Afinal]we’re speaking about an invasive methodology.

This authorized loophole can be worrying trade consultants. Filipe Gil believes that “we’re speaking to parliamentary teams to have a uniform regulation, particularly as we professionals are a little bit confused about what we’ve and what we do not want.” “I feel studios have to be standardized, at the least the work areas and what they need to comprise. It’s essential as a result of each studio works otherwise.”

He provides: “Something is coming quickly in phrases of laws, which is sweet as a result of it solely protects professionals. Why There are many individuals who take benefit of the dearth of regulation.”

In the European Union, roughly 12% of the inhabitants is tattooed. This quantity is predicted to double amongst Europeans aged 18 to 35. Photo by Nuno Fox

An APPTBP consultant warns of the hazards of the parallel market, that’s, individuals tattooing at residence with out registering a industrial area or good practices and correct disposal of needles and organic waste. “We are speaking about an assault on public well being and, in some instances, bodily integrity,” he says.

The affiliation estimates that round 1,200 professionals are registered in Portugal, “however there are various extra that haven’t been declared”. Filipe Gil says that it is vitally simple to search out these individuals, particularly on social networks the place they freely promote.

“The inspection goes solely to those that attempt to comply,” he laments. It might be individuals’s advertisements and nobody will confirm (confirm) them as a result of they do not have a spot declared industrial. They are guilty, however (on the half of those that comply, there are even) studies of fines for working out of zig-zag paper within the toilet dispenser.”

in Portugal There isn’t any specialised physique to regulate this work, for which ASAE is accountable. Expresso tried to contact this physique for particulars on the sector audit however didn’t obtain any response.

Likewise, there is no such thing as a one answerable for creating “a scientific observational document that enables us to gather and consider the unfavorable results of tattoos on human well being,” emphasizes Vasco Macias, physician of the dermatology clinic Isabel Correia da Fonseca. As a outcome, “The true prevalence of issues is unknown.”


“A clock pores and skin issues comparatively frequent, typical of tattoos, occurring in two to 30% of instances in revealed sequence,” provides dermatologist Isabel Fonseca.

“Since tattooing consists of injecting pigment particles into the dermis equivalent to quite a few micro-holes/micro-traumas within the pores and skin, native inflammatory response“, this “normally the process will disappear within the subsequent few days”.

“A clock pores and skin infections Tattooing could be contaminated instantly by needles, ink, or containers, or not directly, specifically by clothes, furnishings, or the workers themselves. The essential infectious brokers are micro organism, mycobacteria and viruses, together with hepatitis B and C virus and HIV.

“A clock allergic reactions it’s a frequent complication of the process and is manifested as urticaria, allergic and photoallergic contact eczema, in addition to delayed pores and skin reactions. They can seem instantly or after a number of years. They happen in additional allergenic pigments, primarily these related to pink (iron oxide), but additionally in yellow and blue pigments. They are much less widespread with the carbon compounds present in black ink.

Thus, each the dermatologist and the deco warn of the necessity to do A “sensible alternative” of studios that present the hygienic and aseptic circumstances essential for tattooing. The tattoo room is separated from the ready room, the use of latex gloves and a masks by the tattoo artist, the use of disposable and open needles in entrance of the patron, and the sterilization of all supplies are necessary ideas. The affiliation additionally recommends visiting a number of studios earlier than selecting.

  • Text: Expresso, POSTAL’s accomplice newspaper

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