Along the exposed body and below the thigh, the sun shines through seawater and bathes corals and fish in the light of the water. On the lower leg, the frogs open up, as if preparing to jump from dew on the leaves. A naughty child with blue eyes is staring at the inner bicep.
In his home studio in the village of Grado in northern Italy, Alex De Pase reviewed pictures of thousands of designs that he had inked in his profession as a tattoo artist. But these skin shapes may not be able to be copied in 2023 – at least not for the same set of colors.
The new ink and permanent cosmetic ink regulations that went into effect throughout the European Union this January were intended to reduce the risk of including ingredients that could be dangerous to health. The regulations have also caused a major industrial upheaval in memory, with ink manufacturers adjusting all product lines to comply.
The possibility of further disruption depends on artists’ heads next year, when the ban will come into effect in the green and blue colors that ink manufacturers say could be difficult to replace. This has created controversy among tattoo artists who have claimed that such restrictions are excessive, sewing unnecessary anxiety among clients and undermining their art.
European regulations may reflect changes in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration has a certain focus on ink and color. In November last year, when Dr. Linda Katz, director of the agency’s Office of Cosmetics and Color, when addressing a conference on tattoo safety in Berlin and asked if the country would align its European standards, replied: “That remains to be seen, and we are addressing the area itself.”
Bw. De Pase, who is known for the authenticity of his tattoos – especially his photographs – in which he puts ink on his home studio, says he carefully mixes different shades to achieve skin color tricks. “I am very well known for my colorful drawings,” he said. “For me, this is an issue.”
Tattoo Styles and Toxicology
Once the rebellion of sailors and cyclists marked, the old tattoos removed any remnants of a kind of peripheral art. Studies show about a quarter of 18- to 35-year-old Europeans and about a third of American adult sports tattoos. With regard to all inked meat, the problems listed are not uncommon and usually involve bacterial infections or allergic reactions. But supervisors have not matched the popularity of body art: Only a few European countries use national scrutiny of tattoo ink. Until this year, there were no legal standards in the European Union.
Modern tattoo inks are a complex combination. Includes non-melting paints that provide shade or color, dye packaging hanging from the liquid while being transferred to the skin with water and other solvents such as glycerin and alcohol that affect the properties of the ink, as well as preservatives and other additives.
After injection, certain pigments remain on the skin, but may also migrate to lymph nodes. When exposed to sunlight or during laser removal, pigments can also form into new compounds, which can be more toxic and circulate throughout the body.
For many years, traditional ink manufacturers have incorporated heavy metals such as barium and copper into their colors to form an expanding color, and toxic agents such as cadmium, lead and arsenic have been recorded in some inks in high concentrations. These ingredients can also be found in so-called vegan ink, which does not contain animal glycerin derived from other animals.
Since 2015, Europe has urged manufacturers to label their ink indicators that contain harmful ingredients. But because raw materials are manufactured to an industrial standard for the use of all kinds of products, including clothing and automobiles, they are not always hygienic in which one can rely on a substance injected into one’s skin.
Ines Schreiver, co-director of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany which focused on the toxicity of tattoos, said that basic questions about body exposure to ink have not been answered. Among the unknown are the amount of ink that enters the body, the relationship between exposure and the side effects that often follow and any disease that may occur several years later.
“I would not use the word ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ to describe a tattoo,” he said. “I tell my friends to be aware of the possible consequences and of uncertainty.”
After lengthy negotiations with the European Chemical Commission, the European Commission decided to focus on so-called hazardous substances, ban long lists of chemicals that have already been banned from use in cosmetics and dramatically reduce the levels of certain corrosive or irritating compounds.
The ban included two color palettes, Blue 15: 3 and Green 7, according to a section of decades-long research that linked their use in hair dyes with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Acknowledging the ink manufacturers’ objections that there were no alternative to these colors but lacking evidence to prove their safety, the commission delayed its ban until next year.
“These substances are injected into the human body through permanent and long-term contact – for life,” said Ana María Blass Rico, commissioner’s policy officer. “That’s why it’s very protective.”
Dr. Jørgen Serup, a Danish dentist who since 2008 has run a popular “tattoo clinic” at Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen, said the regulations were delayed. But in his opinion, these were not targeted at all, preventing many things that would never be used in a tattoo while failing to address the problems known as bacterial contamination of the ink during manufacture. Among the thousands of patients he treated for complications, he found that redness was more commonly associated with allergic reactions. “There is, from the clinical side, no reason to ban blue and green,” he said.
The regulators are in a difficult situation, according to Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a specialist in chemical exposure and its health effects. There are more than 40,000 chemicals known to be in commercial use, and few are known about the risks posed. Furthermore, these risks can vary from person to person depending on many factors including their level of exposure to the substance, genetic predisposition and pre-existing disease. “No scientist can tell you right now that this is the chemical that you should be most concerned about,” he said.
But banning things and leaving the industry to seek alternatives is not a solution either. “It is not uncommon for us to replace chemicals that we know can increase the risk of adverse health effects and traumatic alternatives,” she said. Quirós-Alcalá said.
The United States has taken a more lenient approach than Europe. The FDA has the regulatory authority to approve the color safe, but no tattoo ink manufacturer has sought that name, and no American ink manufacturer is required to disclose the ingredients as well.
With a little care over the wide range of cosmetics, the agent generally has a limit on finding faulty or poorly labeled products and making safety notices. Consumer Advocates have called on Congress to amend the 83-year-old Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act to pay the agency more attention, without success. In response to questions, the agency issued a written statement indicating that it was aware of European regulations but did not assess the risk of restricted colors.
Switch or Fight Back
Tattoo professionals, suddenly concerned that their art form might be endangered, challenged the principles. In October 2020, some launched a “Save the Color” application, which spread through the international community of tattoo artists and their extensive social monitoring. To date, the request has collected more than 178,000 signatories.
Among those involved were Mario Barth, chief executive of Intenze Tattoo Ink, a Las Vegas ink manufacturer. He said the industry could overcome regulations by furthering its standards, and blamed the lack of cooperation on ink manufacturers who still have a tendency to see themselves as agricultural financiers. “So, the people who didn’t know about it just said, ‘Well, then, let’s ban it all.”
In the United States, where most of the tattoo ink used in Europe is produced, developers were quick to adapt their products to meet new standards. One of the main distributors, World-famous Tattoo Ink, has a new facility in Greenville, SC, where every month in a clean, clean room, 400,000 bottles are filled and stitched.
The owner, Lou Rubino, opened his first tattoo shop in St. Petersburg. Marks in New York in 1998, shortly after the City Council lifted the long-standing ban on tattoo painting so that local artists could work more openly. At the time, the company was developing its ink in the Long Island warehouse. “I had people who would sit there filling a bottle with a container of ice tea and a spout on the ground,” he recalled.
World Famous had previously updated its products, for example removing the formaldehyde-based preservative that had been banned in Switzerland. But Mr. Rubino said the new regulations required major changes, forcing the company to pay for additional laboratories to assess whether the products met acceptable levels of the chemicals. Because World Famous did not test its products on animals, workers and their families and friends donated their skins to test the performance of the new ink.
Although world celebrities were exploring alternatives to banned colors, Mr. Rubino said they have not yet found suitable alternatives. “If that doesn’t work out, there will be a little blue and green on the tattoos,” he said.
Creating new ink to comply with the code cost the company millions of dollars, he estimated – and could not say whether the results were more secure. “We are not yet sure if these are better or worse because we are adding other things that have not been used before in tattoo painting.”
Nordic Tattoo Supplies, which distributes inks across Europe, said World Famous paint products were the first to comply with new regulations that went on sale in early January – more than double the price of their original inks. However, demand exceeded the supply, and they had to distribute the amount sold to each customer. Nordic spokeswoman Jenni Lehtovaara said the situation was improving as some developers introduced new inks that met the market, but selection remained limited. “We do not have palettes available as in the past, even close.”
Bw. De Pase, who also owns a series of nine tattoos, said the crew threw away their old colored ink in late 2021 and spent the first three weeks of this year working only in black and gray. Now, its studios spend about 5,000 euros a month, about $ 5,200, to store new colored ink. Bw. De Pase was pleased with their performance, but said it would take years to see how they tolerated the skin of his clients.
“Safety must be a priority,” he said, but that needs to be balanced against certain risk tolerances. He noticed that the tobacco shop in front of one of his studios was selling cigarettes and cigarettes all day long. “There’s a good line.”