There is currently no EU-wide legislation regulating tattoos and permanent make-up, meaning consumers are only protected by the General Product Safety Directive
To address this gap, the European Commission has published an in-depth report looking at the safety of tattoos and permanent makeup. The report, which was prepared for the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, has come to some strong conclusions and recommendations including:
One issue the report addresses is that much of the pigment used in tattooing and permanent makeup is not specifically produced for this purpose. This means that the purity of the pigment is not determined with human use in mind. Pigments show a “low” purity in general, the Commission found.
It was also found that more than 100 colourants and 100 additives in use in pigments. Testing the safety of these ingredients in the combinations used in real practice presents a large challenge to the safety community.
Of the colourants used, 60% were found to be azo-pigments. These can release carcinogenic amines if left to degrade in the skin. It is thought that exposure to solar radiation triggers the degradation of ink in the dermis.
The European ink market was found to include heavy metals, preservatives and microbiological contamination. Such ink can lead to acute allergic reactions, hypersensitivity and infections. What’s more, these effects are often latent: only becoming obvious after long periods of delay.
While these complications are recorded, their prevalence remains unknown, and the European Commission urges harmonised analytical methods in order to protect the health of European consumers of tattoos.
The report also found that consumers’ primary sources of information on the risks of tattoos and permanent makeup were parents, friends and the internet/mass media. These unreliable sources and a lack of solid research could be putting consumers at risk.
Although the risk of infection from tattoos was widely known, the possibility of non-infectious complications was not. Further, the depth knowledge of infection was deemed “superficial”.
The response to this, the Commission have recommended information campaigns targeted at teenagers and young people so that they may be able to make an educated choice on whether they want to permanently expose their body to the chemicals that may exist within pigment.