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EU seeking to restrict chemicals in tattoo inks over cancer fears


The Independent reports that review of the issue has been initiated in part by the growing popularity of tattoos, currently 12 % of the Europeans have one, but this number is increasing to 25% among people aged 18 to 35.

Photo: Irezumi Tattoo
Because the dyes used for tattoos remain in the body permanently, there is a lifetime risk from any harmful chemicals that may be used. Besides the long-term deposition of toxic substances, the European Chemicals Agency reports ‘strong evidence for migration" of the tattoo inks from the skin to other organs.

The EU was also concerned about the lack of oversight of the composition of the tattoo inks used. The inks are often a blend of several ingredients of poor purity, and their chemical components are often bought from one supplier to be mixed and sold to distributors and then on to tattoo parlours. A lot of colours are imported also from China with missing compound labelling. Though ingredients are supposed to be thoroughly labelled, especially if theiy're hazardous, there are no standardised requirements across the EU.

The EU initiative
The lack of regulation on ink ingredients and absence of research on long-term effects caused the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to conclude in October 2017 that restrictions are needed to protect the public from risky chemicals used for tattoos and "permanent makeup" - tattoos to mimic eyeliners, for example.

“ECHAs proposal cover about 4,000 substances,” Mark Blainey, senior scientific officer at ECHA said. “These substances are covered in other legislation where they’re banned for use on the skin, of course we don’t want them injected under the skin.”

“The most severe concerns are allergies caused by the substances in the inks and that they can possibly cause cancer, DNA damage or effects on reproduction,” he added. “We are not looking to ban tattooing but to make sure when people get a tattoo that the inks are as safe as possible.”

A proposal to implement tight limits on the use of 4,000 chemicals is expected to be brought to a vote among EU member states by the middle of next year, but the UK will not have a say as it is expected to leave in March.

Related studies (newest first)

Ines Schreiver, Lisa-Marie Eschner, Andreas Luch, Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ ionization tandem mass spectrometry for identification of organic tattoo pigments in inks and tissue samples, Analyst, 143 (2018) 3941. DOI: 10.1039/c8an00702k

Ines Schreiver, Bernhard Hesse, Christian Seim, Hiram Castillo-Michel, Julie Villanova, Peter Laux, Nadine Dreiack, Randolf Penning, Remi Tucoulou, Marine Cotte, Andreas Luch, Synchrotron-based ν-XRF mapping and μ-FTIR microscopy enable to look into the fate and effects of tattoo pigments in human skin, Sci. Rep., 7 (2017) 11395. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-11721-z

Christa de Cuyper, Evelyne Lodewick, Ines Schreiver, Bernhard Hesse, Christian Seim, Hiram Castillo-Michel, Peter Laux, Andreas Luch, Are metals involved in tattoo-related hypersensitivity reactions? A case report, Contact Dermatitis, 77 (2017) 397-405. DOI: 10.1111/cod.12862

Ayca Aktas Sukuroglu, Dilek Battal, Sema Burgaz, Monitoring of Lawsone, p-phenylenediamine and heavy metals in commercial temporary black henna tattoos sold in Turkey, Contact Dermatitis, 76 (2017) 89-95. DOI: 10.1111/cod.12702

Beatrice Bocca, Enrico Sabbioni, Ivan Micetic, Alessandro Alimonti, Francesco Petruccia, Size and metal composition characterization of nano- and microparticles in tattoo inks by a combination of analytical techniques, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 32 (2017) 616-628. DOI: 10.1039/c6ja00210b

Paola Piccinini, Sazan Pakalin, Laura Contor, Ivana Bianchi, Chiara Senaldi, Safety of tattoos and permanent make-up - Final report, EUR 27947 EN (2016); DOI: 10.2788/011817

  Chukwujindu M.A. Iwegbue, Sunday O. Onyeloni, Francisca I. Bassey, Godswill O. Tesi, Rachael O. Ogboru, Bice S. Martincigh, Safety Evaluation of Metal Exposure From Commonly Used Hair Dyes and Tattoo Inks in Nigeria, J. Environ. Health, 78/6 (2016) 26-30.

Peter Laux, Tewes Tralau, Jutta Tentschert, Annegret Blume, Sascha Al Dahouk, Wolfgang Bäumler, Eric Bernstein, Beatrice Bocca, Alessandro Alimonti, Helen Colebrook, Christa de Cuyper, Lars Dähne, Urs Hauri, Paul C Howard , Paul Janssen, Linda Katz, Bruce Klitzman, Nicolas Kluger , Lars Krutak, Thomas Platzek, Victoria Scott-Lang, Jørgen Serup, Wera Teubner, Ines Schreiver, Elena Wilkniß, Andreas Luch, A medical-toxicological view of tattooing, Lancet, 387 (2016) 395-402. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60215-X

Ines Schreiver, Christoph Hutzler, Sarah Andree, Peter Laux, Andreas Luch, Identification and hazard prediction of tattoo pigments by means of pyrolysis—gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, Arch. Toxicol., 90 (2016) 1639–1650. DOI: 10.1007/s00204-016-1739-2

Mirko Campisi, Complications of tattoos and tattoos removal: state-of-the-art in Italy, J. Health Social Sci., 1/2 (2016) 105-112. available from: http://journalhss.com/wp-content/uploads/JHHS12105-112.pdf

Paola Piccinini, Ivana Bianchi, Sazan Pakalin, Chiara Senaldi, Safety of tattoos and permanent make-up Compilation of information on legislative framework and analytical methods, JRC Techn. Rep., EUR 27394 EN (2015). DOI: 10.2788/542617

Ines Schreiver, Christoph Hutzler, Peter Laux, Hans-Peter Berlien,  Andreas Luch, Formation of highly toxic hydrogen cyanide upon ruby laser irradiation of the tattoo pigment phthalocyanine blue, Sci. Rep., 5 (2015) 12915. DOI: 10.1038/srep12915 

Hyun-Hee Lim, Ho-Sang Shin, Identification and Quantification of Phthalates, PAHs, Amines, Phenols, and Metals in Tattoo, Bull. Koream Chem. Soc., 36/8 (2015) 2039-2050. DOI: 10.1002/bkcs.10395

I.M. Haugh, S.L. Laumann, A.E. Laumann, Regulation of Tattoo Ink Production and the Tattoo Business in the US, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 248-252. DOI: 10.1159/000369231

A.M. Blass Rico, EU Actions to Ensure the Safety of Tattoos and the Protection of Consumers, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 206-209. DOI: 10.1159/000369229

P. Laux, A. Luch, The European Landscape of National Regulations of Tattoo Inks and Businesses, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 196-200. DOI: 10.1159/000369227

A. Blume, T. Platzek, B. Vieth, C. Hutzler, A. Luch, Towards the Limiting of Health Risks Associated with Tattooing: Whitelists for Tattoo Pigments and Preservatives, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 185-189. DOI:10.1159/000369224

Nicklas Raun Jacobsen, Per Axel Clausen, Carbon Black Nanoparticles and Other Problematic Constituents of Black Ink and Their Potential to Harm Tattooed Humans, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 170–175. DOI: 10.1159/000369319

O. Olsen, The Challenges and Limitations of Chemical Analysis of Particulate Pigments of Very Low Solubility, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 158-163. DOI: 10.1159/000369221

Gerald Prior, Tattoo Inks: Legislation, Pigments, Metals and Chemical Analysis, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 152-157. DOI: 10.1159/000369196

Manuela Agnello, Marco Fontana, Survey on European Studies of the Chemical Characterisation of Tattoo Ink Products and the Measurement of Potentially Harmful Ingredients, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 142–151. DOI: 10.1159/000369197

H. Petersen, D. Lewe, Chemical Purity and Toxicology of Pigments Used in Tattoo Inks, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 136-141.  DOI: 10.1159/000369647

M. Dirks, Making Innovative Tattoo Ink Products with Improved Safety: Possible and Impossible Ingredients in Practical Usage, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 118-127. DOI: 10.1159/000369236

M. Barth, The Realistic Variables Underlying True Safety in Tattoo Pigment Manufacturing,  Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 112-117. DOI: 10.1159/000370014

Ralf Michel, Manufacturing of Tattoo Ink Products Today and in Future: Europe, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 103–111. DOI: 10.1159/000370012

Jørgen Serup, Katrina Hutton Carlsen, Mitra Sepehri, Tattoo Complaints and Complications: Diagnosis and Clinical Spectrum, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 48–60. DOI: 10.1159/000369645

Nicolas Kluger, Epidemiology of Tattoos in Industrialized Countries, Curr. Probl. Dermatol., 48 (2015) 6–20. DOI: 10.1159/000369175

Kimia Eghbali, Zahra Mousavi, Parisa Ziarati, Determination of Heavy Metals in Tattoo Ink, Biosco. Biotechnol. Res. Asia, 11/2 (2014) 941-946. DOI: 10.13005/bbra/1363

Helen Clarkson, Wendy Birch, Tattoos and Human Identification: Investigation into the Use of X-Ray and Infrared Radiation in the Visualization of Tattoos, J. Forensic Sci., 58 (2013) 1264-1272. DOI: 10.1111/1556-4029.12237

Rebecca Körner, Claudia Pföhler, Thomas Vogt, Cornelia S. L. Müller, Histopathology of body art revisited – analysis and discussion of 19 cases, J. Dtsch. Dermatol. Ges., 11/11 (2013) 1073-1080. DOI: 10.1111/ddg.12178

Nicolas Kluger, Virve Koljonen, Tattoos, inks, and cancer, Lancet Oncology, 13/4 (2012) e161-e168. DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70340-0

Antonio Cristaudo, Giovanni Forte, Beatrice Bocca, Francesco Petrucci, Luca Muscardini, Elisabetta Trento, Aldo Di Carlo, Permanent tattoos: evidence of pseudolymphoma in three patients and metal composition of the dyes, Eur. J. Dermatol., 22/6 (2012) 776-780. DOI: 10.1684/ejd.2012.1844

Eva Jacobsen, Kathe Tønning, Eva Pedersen, Nils Bernth, Jørgen Serup, Trine Høgsberg, Elsa Nielsen, Chemical Substances in Tattoo Ink, Report 116, Miljøstyrelsen, København, 2012. available from: https://mst.dk/publikationer/2012/juni/chemical-substances-in-tattoo-ink

Giovanni Forte, Francesco Petrucci, Antonio Cristaudo, Beatrice Bocca, Market survey on toxic metals contained in tattoo inks, Sci. Total Environ., 407 (2009) 5997-6002. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.08.034

Giovanni Forte, Francesco Petrucci, Antonio Cristaudo, Beatrice Bocca, Quantification of Sensitizing Metals in Tattooing Pigments by SF-ICP-MS Technique, The open chemical and biomedical methods journal, 2 (2009) 42-47. DOI: 10.2174/1875038900902020042

Rudolf Vasold, Eva Engel, Burkhard König, Michael Landthaler, Wolfgang Bäumler, Health risks of tattoo colors, Anal. Bioanal. Chem., 391 (2008) 9-13. doi: 10.1007/s00216-008-1978-z

Fabrina R.S. Bentlin, Dirce Pozebon, Paola A. Mello, Erico M.M. Flores, Determination of trace elements in paints by direct sampling graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry, Anal. Chim. Acta, 602 (2007) 23-31. DOI: 10.1016/j.aca.2007.09.003

A.L. Timko, C.H. Miller, F.B. Johnson, E. Ross, In vitro quantitative chemical analysis of tattoo pigments, Arch. Dermatol., 137 (2001) 143-147. available from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/478205

E.V. Ross, S. Yashar, N. Michaud, R. Fitzpatrick, R. Geronemus, W.D. Tope, R.R. Anderson, Tattoo darkening and nonresponse after laser treatment - A possible role for titanium dioxide, Arch. Dermatol., 137 (2001) 33-37. DOI: 10.1001/archderm.137.1.33

J.M. Sowden, J.P.H. Byrne, A.G. Smith, C. Hiley, V. Suarez, B. Wagner, D.N. Slater, Red tattoo reactions: X-ray microanalysis and patch-test studies, Br. J. Dermatol., 124 (1991) 576-580. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.1991.tb04954.x

D.N. Slater, T.E. Durrant, Tattoos: light and transmission electron microscopy studies with X-ray microanalysis, Clin. Exper. Dermatol., 9 (1984) 167-173. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2230.1984.tb00778.x

L.J.A. Loewenthal, Reactions in Green Tattoos: The Significance of the Valence State of Chromium, Arch. Dermatol., 82 (1960) 237-243. DOI: 10.1001/archderm.1960.01580020079013

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