Why Tattoos Artists Should Pay Attention to REACH Measures | Blue 15:3 and Green 7

Tattoo artists across Europe are raising concerns about a recent ban on two widely used green and blue pigments, arguing that this prohibition would have detrimental consequences for their industry and artistic expression. On the other side of the Atlantic, in the United States, the tattoo ink industry remains largely unregulated, leaving many in the dark about the ingredients and composition of tattoo inks.

Key Takeaways

 - According to a survey, about one-third of Americans and 40% of those aged 18 to 34 have a tattoo, indicating the popularity of tattoos in recent years.

- Tattoo ink composition and its effects on the body are still not well understood, and there is limited oversight and regulation in the industry.

- Tattoo artists and customers in the past had limited access to information about ink ingredients, with artists often making their own ink and testing it on themselves.

- The composition of tattoo inks is complex, containing dyes and solid particles held together with plastics that the body struggles to metabolize.

- Researchers have recently identified the skin cells that hold tattoo pigments and have found that these pigments can become mobile within the body, ending up in lymph nodes.

- The potential health risks associated with tattoo inks, including allergies and long-term effects like cancer, are still uncertain and require further research.

- In Europe, tattoo inks are regulated, requiring ingredient labeling and imposing limits on certain chemicals, but the regulations and restrictions vary between countries.

- Some widely used blue and green pigments are being phased out in Europe, leading to resistance from the tattoo community.

- Tattoo artists and researchers are interested in empowering clients and artists to make informed decisions by better understanding the ingredients in tattoo inks and their potential health effects.

What's Happening with the New EU REACH Standards?

In Europe, where tattoo regulations are typically stricter, the new restrictions on certain pigments have sparked debates among artists. They believe that these bans are illogical and unnecessary, as the affected pigments are commonly used and have not been proven to pose significant health risks. Artists argue that the restrictions limit their creative options and make it more challenging to meet their clients' design preferences.

In contrast, the tattoo ink industry in the United States operates with minimal oversight and regulation. This lack of regulation raises concerns among artists and clients alike, as the composition and safety of tattoo inks remain largely unknown. The absence of clear guidelines and transparency regarding ink ingredients leaves many wondering about the potential long-term effects on their health.

While the debate continues on both sides of the Atlantic, it highlights the need for a comprehensive and informed approach to tattoo ink regulation. Striking a balance between ensuring public safety and preserving artistic freedom is essential. Tattoo artists and enthusiasts worldwide are advocating for more research, transparency, and standardized regulations to safeguard the industry and the individuals who choose to adorn their bodies with ink.

What Are the Experts Saying?

"It's strange. You almost feel that, how are you only allowed to use certain inks?" expresses Matt Knopp, owner of Tattoo Paradise in Washington, D.C. He questions the rationale behind the restrictions imposed on tattoo inks, particularly when he has been using them without issue in the United States.

In Europe, individual countries have long implemented regulations requiring the labeling of tattoo ink ingredients and imposing limitations on certain chemicals believed to have carcinogenic properties, DNA-damaging effects, or the potential to trigger allergic reactions.

What About Blue 15:3 and Green 7?

However, a new development is taking place as the European Union seeks to harmonize tattoo ink rules across the continent. Under the new regulations, pigments known as Blue 15:3 and Green 7 must be phased out within the next year. The implementation of these rules has sparked considerable debate and controversy within the tattoo community.

Ines Schreiver, a researcher at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment specializing in tattoo ink, acknowledges the ongoing dispute surrounding the new regulations. The validity and necessity of banning specific pigments like Blue 15:3 and Green 7 are highly disputed among experts and artists alike.

The harmonization of tattoo ink rules across Europe reflects an effort to establish consistent standards and promote consumer safety. However, the concerns raised by artists like Matt Knopp and the ongoing debate underscore the complexities surrounding the regulation of tattoo inks. Striking the right balance between protecting public health and preserving artistic freedom remains a challenge that necessitates further dialogue, research, and collaboration among industry stakeholders.

In the recent examination conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the two pigments under scrutiny, Blue 15:3 and Green 7, were found to exhibit a "comparatively low level of toxicity." However, due to a lack of sufficient data, the institute could not provide a reliable health risk assessment for these pigments.

Mario Barth, the owner and founder of Intenze Tattoo Ink, has expressed concern over the potential consequences of the ban. In a video message, he highlighted that the prohibition would not only affect green and blue tones but also impact purples, browns, mixed tones, muted tones, and even skin tones. He emphasized that approximately 65-70% of the tattoo artist's palette would be affected, which could have significant implications for artistic expression and creativity.

Barth has been involved in advocating for tattoo ink safety through the Coalition For Tattoo Safety, which opposes proposed legislation aimed at enhancing oversight of tattoo inks in the United States.

Dr. Walter Liszewski, a dermatologist and cancer researcher at Northwestern University who treats reactions to tattoos, acknowledges the importance of government oversight to ensure public safety. However, he points out the challenges of extrapolating findings from laboratory studies to potential real-world health risks in individuals.

The European Union's cautious approach, opting to ban substances that even suggest a potential carcinogenic effect, reflects a commitment to prioritizing consumer safety. Nevertheless, the ongoing debate surrounding the regulations highlights the difficulties in striking a balance between ensuring public health and preserving artistic freedom and innovation in the tattoo industry. Further research, collaboration, and dialogue among experts, artists, and regulatory bodies are essential to navigate this complex landscape.

The popularity of tattoos has soared in recent years, with a survey revealing that 40 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 have at least one tattoo. While the art form has ancient origins, with tattoos found on mummies, there is still much that remains unknown about tattooing and its safety.

Researchers in this field are limited, and many aspects of tattooing remain mysterious. John Swierk, a chemist at Binghamton University, emphasizes that the complete understanding of what a tattoo looks like in the body is still an open research question. In fact, Swierk recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how chemicals in tattoo inks can be altered by exposure to light.

One fundamental question that scientists are exploring is the composition of tattoo ink. Matt Knopp, a tattoo shop owner, recalls that 30 years ago, information about the ink being used in tattoo shops was scarce. Bottles of ink were often concealed, making it difficult to know their contents or their source. Some artists even resorted to creating their own ink and testing it on themselves, observing reactions such as bubbling, itching, or other adverse effects. This trial-and-error approach was their way of navigating the uncertainties surrounding tattoo ink.

The lack of comprehensive knowledge about tattoo ink and its ingredients highlights the need for further research and understanding in the field. Efforts are being made to shed light on the chemical composition of tattoo inks, their potential interactions with the body, and the long-term effects they may have. As the popularity of tattoos continues to rise, it becomes increasingly important to prioritize scientific inquiry and regulation to ensure the safety and well-being of those who choose to get inked.

As the popularity of tattoos continues to rise, concerns about the safety and regulation of tattoo inks have come to the forefront. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has not regulated the pigments in tattoo inks, resulting in a lack of standardized oversight. While the FDA will investigate and recall tattoo inks in response to safety concerns, such as bacterial contamination, there is still limited knowledge about the ingredients used in tattoo inks.

In Europe, individual countries have implemented labeling requirements and restrictions on certain chemicals in tattoo inks due to potential health risks. However, the European Union is now working towards harmonizing tattoo ink rules across the continent. This includes phasing out pigments such as Blue 15:3 and Green 7, which are under dispute for their potential toxicity. Ines Schreiver from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment highlights the challenge of providing a reliable health risk assessment due to the lack of data available.

One issue surrounding tattoo inks is the transparency of their ingredients. Manufacturers offer a wide range of ink colors, and consumers can easily order them online. However, both in Europe and the United States, there are concerns about the accuracy of labeling and the presence of impurities. Schreiver's research revealed that a significant number of tattoo inks sold in Europe had labels that did not accurately reflect the pigments inside. Additionally, European consumer safety websites have reported the removal of numerous tattoo inks from the market due to excessive amounts of potentially harmful substances like copper, nickel, lead, cobalt, and arsenic.

In the United States, the lack of regulation means that ink manufacturers are not required to disclose the contents of their inks. This has limited the understanding of what goes into tattoo inks and the potential risks associated with their use. Researchers are also interested in how tattoo inks may change over time, especially with exposure to sunlight or the body's natural processes. John Swierk from Binghamton University is studying how the chemicals in tattoo inks can be altered by light exposure, aiming to provide more information to artists and clients for informed decision-making.


The Important Question: How Do Tattoo Inks Interact with the Body?

While scientists have recently discovered which cells in the skin take up and hold tattoo pigment, there is still much to learn. Studies have shown that macrophages, a type of white blood cell, play a role in engulfing tattoo pigment, but they release it upon cell death.

Fibroblasts, another type of skin cell, also take up tattoo ink but to a lesser extent. It appears that the body attempts to seal off the ink and keep it in the skin, but it is not a perfect process. Surgeons have observed colored lymph nodes in tattooed individuals, indicating the migration of pigment particles. Furthermore, during the tattooing process, blood vessels can be damaged, potentially providing the ink access to the bloodstream.

Understanding the composition of tattoo inks and their interactions with the body are ongoing research endeavors. Scientists and regulatory bodies are working towards improving transparency, safety, and regulation in the tattoo industry. The aim is to provide artists and clients with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and ensure the long-term health and well-being of those who choose to get tattooed.


For small tattoos, an allergic reaction might not be a significant issue. However, for individuals with larger tattoos or full sleeves, the discomfort can be substantial and can greatly impact their quality of life. In some cases, the discomfort caused by the reaction can be comparable to skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema.

Investigating whether tattoo pigments in the body lead to long-term health risks such as cancer is challenging. Multiple factors need to be considered, including the different types of inks used, the extent of skin coverage, and the duration of tattoo presence. Gathering comprehensive data to establish associations between tattoos and malignancies is complex and currently lacking.

However, researchers in Europe are beginning to explore potential links between tattoos and immune-related cancers or skin cancers. While the data collection process is challenging, efforts are being made to better understand the potential health outcomes associated with tattoos.


Despite the uncertainties surrounding the long-term health risks, many researchers acknowledge the personal meaning and significance tattoos hold for individuals. Tattoos can serve as a way to memorialize loved ones or commemorate important events. It's important to recognize that individuals have their own reasons for getting tattoos, and researchers involved in studying tattoos understand and respect this personal expression.

The topic of tattoos and potential health risks can sometimes create uncomfortable discussions among researchers, especially when some of them have tattoos themselves or know others who do. However, their aim is to gather more knowledge and data to contribute to a better understanding of the impact of tattoos on health outcomes.

These findings highlight the need for more comprehensive research on tattoo inks, their composition, and their impact on the body over time. While tattoos continue to be a significant form of personal expression, ensuring the safety and understanding the potential risks associated with tattoo inks is important for both artists and clients.


We Make Ink Do More

Paul Park, The Xtreme Team

For the most recent tattoo art made with Xtreme Inks by tattoo artists who are pushing the boundaries of self-expression, check out our Instagram.

For more information on our sets, please take a look at our piece on Xtreme Inks: Artist Collections.

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