Should we be worried about the EU's ban on coloured tattoo ink?

·3-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

If you're a big fan of tattoos, it's likely you'll have heard about the European Union's new ban on coloured tattoo ink, which has come into place yesterday (4 January). It's all to do with chemicals found in certain tattoo inks, which are thought to be harmful when used on or under the skin. Understandably, news of the ban has caused concern for those of us who've already gone under the needle, with many questioning: Should we be worried?

To answer that question, it's important to take a look at exactly why these inks have been banned. The EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) have found certain chemicals used in coloured tattoo inks can cause "cancer or genetic mutations".

Despite their concerns, the regulatory board has emphasised that "the aim is not to ban tattooing, but to make the colours used in tattoos and permanent make-up safer." To achieve this, REACH has given ink suppliers a deadline of January 2023 to find new, REACH-approved chemicals for popular ink colours including Blue 15 and Green 7.

But, it's worth noting though, that this is not the first time REACH has banned certain tattoo inks. In fact just two years ago, in January 2020, the regulatory board made 4,000 chemicals typically used in colourful tattoo ink prohibited.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

So, is there actually cause for concern?

Unlike the EU, the UK is not yet following suit on the ban, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) instead asking tattoo manufacturers and artists to provide information about the ingredients found in tattoo ink (which include iron oxides, metal salts, plastics and other chemicals).

Before deciding whether to ban these and other chemicals, UK lawmakers want to know more, given that scientists have not yet found a direct link between the chemicals in coloured tattoo ink and cancer. However, some chemicals in these inks are proven to be carcinogenic – which means they can cause cancer.

Speaking to Cosmopolitan UK, cosmetic tattooist and college lecturer Liarna Jessica Yearwood, explained that: "In a nutshell, the government will be implementing new restrictions on the use of certain chemicals and colours used in tattoo inks, permanent makeup pigments and cosmetics. The purpose is to protect consumers that want to get a tattoo or permanent make-up."

Yearwood adds, "At the moment, it will not impact tattooists too much, because many of the harmful chemicals have already been banned, and many ink manufacturers have already found compliant alternative ingredients."

As for how the new rules impact those looking to get tattooed, or those who already have been, the expert points out that: "If you have already have a tattoo or permanent make up, and you are not experiencing any health concerns, then you should be fine."

"If you do have concerns, it would be a good idea to seek advice from a medical practitioner," she advises. "It is also a good idea to check that your tattooist is suitably qualified, insured and using good quality products before you go ahead. Don’t be afraid to ask for this information."

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