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If one of your new year’s resolutions is to get a tattoo but you’ve always had health concerns about it, you might not need to (th)ink again.
Starting from 4 January, thousands of hazardous chemicals found in tattoo inks and permanent make-up have been restricted in the EU under the REACH regulation.
The regulation aims to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.
Mark Blainey, the head of the unit for Risk Management at European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which manages the technical and administrative aspects of the implementation of REACH, told EURACTIV that this restriction will make “tattooing and permanent make-up inks safer for all Europeans”.
“The EU is not banning tattooing or permanent make-up – the aim is to protect the health of citizens,” he stressed.
The restriction covers carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances, chemicals prohibited in cosmetics, skin sensitisers, skin and eye irritants, metal impurities, aromatic amines and some pigments.
“As a result of the restriction, we expect that chronic allergic reactions and other inflammatory skin reactions from tattoo and permanent make-up inks will decrease,” Blainey said.
He added that “more serious effects such as cancer, harm to our DNA or the reproductive system potentially originating from chemicals used in the inks could also decrease.”
‘Blending’ the bloc
This restriction was adopted in December 2020, after 4 years of the consultation process.
Speaking at the time, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius warned that toxic chemicals found in tattoo inks are harmful to health and, given that tattooing is increasingly popular in Europe, “it is urgent that we regulate those chemicals now.”
Until the start of this year, member states had their own national rules on the restriction of chemicals in tattoo inks.
On 4 January, a Commission’s spokesperson said that “this is not something which is either a surprise or a complete novelty, it is a sort of generalisation of practice, which already exists in quite a few member states”.
Contacted by EURACTIV, the EU official added that 7 member states: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Slovenia, already had all these chemicals forbidden to be used in tattoo inks.
ECHA’s Blainey highlighted that this restriction “harmonises legislation across the EU, citizens are equally protected irrespective of the country where they get tattooed and whether the ink is manufactured in the EU or elsewhere”.
Concerns from the artists
But the industry thinks that the decision is just (tat)too bad.
Over 176,000 people signed tattoo artist Erich Mähnert’s petition from October 2020 which focuses on the impacts of the EU-wide ban on specific pigments ‘Blue 15’ and ‘Green 7’.
This is because these pigments, unlike others, don’t have alternatives available in the market.
As such, this would have a “lengthy negative impact” on the economic competitiveness of European tattooists and pigmenters vis-a-vis providers of those services outside the EU and would jeopardise the existence of that sector, he argued.
As such, the ban on these two pigments will come into force one year later, as of 4 January 2023, to allow more time for businesses to find safe alternatives for these two pigments, according to a Commission press release.
But tattoo artists argue that the 2-year transition period from 2020 to 2022 to find alternatives for the other pigments is “far too short” for the tattoo industry.
In his statement, Mähnert argued that these shades are “essential for tattooing” and are also needed for “permanent make-up and especially in the area of nipple reconstructions after breast removal”.
“If the consumer no longer receives these from reputable tattoo artists in Europe, he will either go to other EU countries or to non-official and dubious providers,” he warned.
Commission: Tattoo industry had enough time
But the Commission claims that this won’t harm the tattoo industry, given that “for many of the chemicals which have been banned, there are substitutes”, a Commission’s spokesman said on 4 January.
Regarding Pigment Blue 15 and Pigment Green 7, the Commission’s official said that the development of alternatives by the tattoo industry “is well underway” but conceded that this “still requires some time”.
ECHA’s Blainey concurred, stating that ink manufacturers and tattooists have had “ample opportunity” to seek alternatives.
He added that “analyses from the Member States where national legislation had already been in place revealed no issues in sourcing alternatives for the majority of the inks”.
Blainey also stressed that the restriction process has been transparent, participatory and science-based.
“We also held personal interviews with industry representatives, the medical/research community and with tattoo artists,” he concluded.
National market surveillance will now be responsible for checking the implementation of the new rules in the member states.
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