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Be aware of the risks before you decide to have tattoo

28.4.2015 7.05
Press release

The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) recommends that anyone considering having a tattoo should check with the tattoo artist whether the inks used meet the chemical safety requirements. Several tattoo inks have been withdrawn from the market in Europe because they contain ingredients classified as hazardous, such as azo compounds, aromatic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals, nickel, lead and chromium.

In Europe, approximately 60 tattoo inks posing a risk to health have been identified. This figure comes from the Rapex notifications submitted by the various European countries, providing a mechanism with which the European Commission, the Member States and some other states that are members of the Rapex system exchange information concerning various products, including those posing a grave risk to human health. Based on such notifications, Tukes has contacted several Finnish importers of tattoo inks. Most Finnish importers did not have for sale products from a batch found to be harmful to health. Tukes knows of one importer who voluntarily withdrew a tattoo ink from the market.

Composition of tattoo inks is poorly known

Tattoo inks are chemicals that usually consists of a variety of ingredients. The pigments of tattoo inks may include various metallic salts or organic compounds.  They may also contain a variety of additives, such as solvents. International surveys show that the composition of tattoo inks is often poorly known, and that such inks may contain ingredients classified as hazardous to health, including carcinogenic, mutagenic, reproductively toxic compounds and skin-sensitizing substances.

The European Commission is studying the possibility of developing legislation to regulate tattoo inks, as legislation specifically addressing such pigments is not yet in place in the European Union. However, tattoo inks and tattooing services are often governed by statutory clauses stipulated in a variety of acts. The pigments and the substances from which they are made fall under chemicals legislation. The manufacturer and importer are the primary parties responsible for ensuring that a tattoo ink poses no hazard to the consumer and that it complies with chemicals legislation.  Tattoo inks intended to be sold or handed over to the consumer must not contain, for example, carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductively toxic chemicals. If a tattoo ink has been classified as hazardous, a safety data sheet must be delivered to those who use it professionally, in addition to which the product must be labelled and packaged in accordance with the provisions of the applicable legislation. In addition, the tattooing business professionals may base their chemical choices on resolution ResAP(2008)1, adopted by the Council of Europe, recommending that restrictions be put in place to limit the use of certain substances in tattoo inks.

Think before you have a tattoo 

  • Normally, tattoo ink will remain in the skin for dozens of years. Part of the tattoo pigment will break apart in the body or find its way to body organs, such as lymph glands. Scant information exists on the potentially harmful effects of long-term exposure of tattoo inks to humans; for example, it is not known whether there is a connection between tattoos and skin cancer.
  • The most common harmful effects caused by tattoo inks are hypersensitivity reactions (allergies), skin irritation (flushing or swelling) and inflammations.
  • Tattoo inks may contain nickel and cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to nickel.
  • Poor hygiene when handling tattoo inks or performing a tattooing operation may expose the individual being tattooed to bacterial or fungal infection, or to viral infections, such as hepatitis B and C, or HIV, through contamination with blood.
  • Tattooing requires a high standard of hygiene. Tattooing performed by a private individual at home may present a risk, as the tattoo artist may not necessarily have the required skills in tattooing. If you decide to have a tattoo, have it applied by a professional tattoo artist who chooses his or her chemicals in a responsible manner.
  • If you decide to have a tattoo, ask whether the tattoo inks used by the tattoo artist have been tested and whether they are safe. The consumer can ask to see any test results and certificates.
  • Tattoos are not recommended for anyone under the age of 18.

In its chemical-related communication, Tukes has declared this year the Year of Young People and Chemicals. The patron of Tukes’ thematic year is a fussy but friendly and curious lady whose website for young people at (in Finnish) contains information about chemicals.

Further information:

Marilla Lahtinen, Head of Unit, tel. +358 29 5052 048

Elina Vaahtovuo, Inspector, tel. +358 29 5052 003

Jarkko Loikkanen, Senior Advisder, tel. +358 29 5052 068

REACH Regulation and CLP Regulation

ResAP(2008)1 Recommendatons