As of last Tuesday, certain tattoo ink pigments and permanent make-up are banned in the EU, after studies found some of them contained hazardous chemicals.

Twenty-five pigments (mainly red, orange and yellow) and over 4,000 hazardous chemicals found in certain inks will be banned by the European Chemicals Agency.

The regulations will affect the 187 established and licensed tattoo artists and 74 semi-permanent tattoo artists in Malta.

But contrary to some media reports, the pigment ban will not mean an end to colour tattoos in the EU, and safe alternatives to the banned substances exist - with exceptions for two particular hues of blue and green.

Nevertheless, tattoo artists who spoke to Times of Malta said the lack of clarification over the regulations had sparked confusion among clients who plan on getting a coloured tattoo in 2022. 

Why all the fuss?

The process of tattooing and permanent make-up (such as microblading alternatives) require penetrating the skin with a needle where ink, pigments or dyes are injected into the dermis, a deep layer of the skin.

The regulations note that this process causes injury to the skin barrier, leading the body to absorb the chemicals found in the ink.

Mixtures used for tattooing can consist of colorants and ingredients such as solvents, stabilisers, pH regulators and preservatives, some of which can have “hazardous properties that pose a potential risk to human health”, according to the regulations.

Examples of some of the chemicals are carcinogenic aromatic amines, polycyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons and methanol.

Such substances can trigger skin allergies or lead to more serious health implications, including genetic mutations or even cancer.

In 2015, the European Commission asked the European Chemicals Agency to study the health risks of chemicals in tattoo inks and permanent make up.

They also looked at the socio-economic aspect of restricting the use of such tattoo inks, considering the effects on manufacturing, importers and tattooists.

The regulation banned the use of 25 pigments, ranging from different pigments of yellow, orange and red, and 4,000 hazardous chemicals in tattoo inks.

Making colour tattoos safer

The EU’s aim is not to ban tattooing but to make the colours used in tattoos and permanent make-up safer.

Despite the restriction of certain colourants, there are currently safer alternatives available on the market which are already used by artists.

That means you can still have that colourful dragon piece on your back or that array of butterflies fluttering down your arm.

The main issue arises for two specific pigments – blue shade ‘15:3’ and green shade ‘7’, where currently there are no safer or feasible alternatives available for the colours.

The European Commission is allowing a transitional period until January 2023 for manufacturers to reformulate the mixtures and come up with a safer alternative.

This means that, during this period, the two colours can still be used for tattoos.

According to an alert by the healthcare standards director, while the ban on these pigments officially starts in 2023, local artists are recommended to avoid them when purchasing ink supplies.

After January 4, 2023, any such pigments found during inspections will be confiscated by the authorities.

Other new rules require labelling to state that the mixture is made for tattooing purpose.

It also calls for all the ingredients to be mentioned on the package, along with relevant safety statements.

According to the European Chemicals Agency, at least 12 per cent of Europeans have a tattoo and, in the 18-35 age group, twice as many are likely to have a tattoo.

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