Are Tattoo Inks Being Banned in the UK?

An EU ban on tattoo inks containing Blue 15 and Green 7 is set to take effect in January 2022. The UK will then use that policy to decide if the same tattoo inks will also be restricted there.

To help lawmakers collect information, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is encouraging tattoo manufacturers and artists to submit information about tattooing safety and ingredients found in tattoo ink.

UK Lawmakers Need Tattoo Artists and Manufacturers to Submit Information About Tattoo Ink Safety

In the past, the UK relied on EU labs for testing things like tattoo ink. However because they’re no longer part of the EU, this is one of the first times the UK has looked into tattoo ink on its own. And because UK lawmakers want to know more about the subject, they have issued a Call for Information.

The Call for Information is a survey that people in the tattoo industry can fill out. It’s important that tattoo artists and manufacturers do this because:

  • Lawmakers need that data to make a better decision about the ban.
  • More information will take more time to go through. If the Call for Information gets a lot of responses, it could push the ban back for several months.
  • The survey gives the tattooing industry a chance to help lawmakers understand tattooing and what risks might be connected with tattoo ink.

Banned Inks Can Still Be Used for One Year

If the UK tattoo ink ban is passed in 2022 (likely in April), there will be a year-long grace period for tattoo artists to start using alternative tattoo ink ingredients. The problem is that there aren’t any alternatives that we know of yet.

Once the grace period is over in 2023, the banned inks will no longer be available for sale. Additionally, any petitions created in 2022 will not be to stop the ban – it will be to reverse the ban that is already in place.

Which Inks are Effected?

Any ink containing Blue 15 and Green 7 will be banned. However, because those pigments are so common in tattoo ink, the ban would affect around 65% of tattoo inks currently being sold, limiting the colors tattoo artists can use.

How Toxic Are Tattoo Inks?

The short answer: no one’s really sure. The ECHA announced last year that Blue 15 and Green 7 have been linked to increased cancer risks, which is why they are the focus of the latest tattoo ink ban.

Note: Some artists argue that Blue 15 and Green 7 pigments are safe unless they’re lasered, since that process releases harmful hydrogen cyanide that can affect the body. However, this hasn’t been confirmed.

When broken down, tattoo ink is made of two parts: dry pigment and a liquid carrier. The dry pigment is what gives the ink its color, and the liquid carrier is how that pigment is best transported and put into the skin.

Carriers can be organic or inorganic. Organic means that the carrier is carbon-based, usually being made of graphite, copper, ash, tree bark. Inorganic refers to minerals and metals.

Both components can cause negative reactions in the human body, and some ingredients could potentially cause cancer, allergic reactions, or damage to DNA.

It isn’t rare to find small amounts of formaldehyde, lead, mercury, and more in popular tattoo inks. However, the main question is if there’s enough of these substances to cause long-term damage to the human body.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research about it to know for sure. Some labs are finding “high levels of toxic materials” while other labs are finding “low levels.”

Why Tattoo Ink Hasn’t Been Researched

A major issue when it comes to tattoo ink is the particle size and how the body might break down any ink that gets into the bloodstream. We know that ink in the bloodstream can collect in the lymph nodes. How much ink – and what risks that might cause for a person who is tattooed – isn’t known because it hasn’t been well tested.

Why?

Because testing the effects requires a lymphatic system, kidney filtration, and more. Basically, to test the ink, you need to test it on a living being.

The European labs testing ink are committed to fighting against animal cruelty. (In the past, the way most products were tested for human safety was to test them on animals first.) The only other option is to create synthetic human tissues, which is possible, but hasn’t been done in this context.

However, the lack of research is making tattoo artists question why the law is being put into place without enough scientific proof. The tattooing industry still has a shady reputation, and some are worried that it’s causing the ban to be put in place out of fear instead of scientific evidence.

How a Tattoo Ink Ban Could Hurt the Industry:

Tattooing has become more mainstream (and safer) in recent years. Some artists are concerned that a ban on tattoo ink could push tattooing back into an underground art form. Because being more “underground” could end up with people tattooing in unsanitary conditions more often, the ban could actually increase the risk of tattoo ink-related reactions and illnesses.

Additionally, a ban on many ink colors could:

  • Put artists that specialize in color tattoos out of a job
  • Stop clients from getting tattoos because they wanted color
  • Destroy tattooing styles that rely heavily on color (ex: new school)

How Laws On Tattoo Ink Could Help the Industry:

If an ink ban goes into effect, manufacturers will be forced to change their processes of creating ink or face going out of business. This could lead to a huge increase in the legitimacy of the tattooing industry, leading to:

  • Safer products with stricter standards
  • Manufacturer screening and testing of products
  • Additional research on the long-term effects of tattoos on human health
  • Tattooing getting closer to medical standards

If tattoo manufacturers regulate their ink, it would take the pressure off tattoo artists to find safe materials. Instead, safe ink would be easy to find and every bottle would have an easy-to-read label (something most major manufacturers are moving toward already).

What You Should Do About the Tattoo Ink Ban

A ban on tattoo ink is concerning for both artists and customers. However, there are a few things you should and shouldn’t do in response…

What Not to Do:

  • Buy a ton of ink with Blue 15 and Green 7. While it’s tempting to hoard it, those inks could very well become useless if they are banned.
  • Buy ink off Amazon. Knock-off inks made with dangerous materials are all over Amazon. Buying directly from the manufacturer is the best way to get the safest inks currently on the market.

What You Should Do:

  • Fill in whatever information you know in the Call for Evidence. While the ban is limited to the EU and UK currently, it’s likely that their regulations will cause the rest of the world to take a look at their tattoo ink.
  • Figure out what’s in your ink. Websites like whatsinmyink.com can be helpful when identifying potentially dangerous substances in your ink, or you can contact the manufacturer for more information.
AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain. When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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