In many places, tattoos are becoming quite popular. For instance, research conducted across the 28-nation European Union (EU) bloc found that the number of people with tattoos increased from 5 percent in 2003 to 12 percent in 2016. It was found to be particularly popular among young people with 30 percent of 16 – 34 year-olds in the EU having one or more tattoos. In the United States, 40 percent in the same age group were found to sport at least one tattoo.
With nearly 60 million people sporting tattoos in the EU, health authorities there are now beginning to examine the safety aspects behind these body displays, especially the inks used in tattoos and other permanent makeups.
The permanent colored inks introduced into the skin during tattooing results in the body being exposed over a long-term to chemicals in the inks and to their degradation products. There is currently no specific EU legislation on tattoos or permanent makeup products (semi-permanent tattoos used to resemble make-up).
Most tattoo inks contain a combination of several ingredients and more than 100 different colorants and 100 additives are currently in use. The pigments used are not specifically produced for tattoo and permanent makeup applications, and generally contain impurities.
New studies show that over 80 percent of the colorants in use are organic chemicals and more than 60 percent of them are a certain type of pigments, known as azo-pigments, some of which can release cancer-producing by-products called aromatic amines. These amines can be produced as a result of degradation process in the skin, particularly under solar/ultra violet radiation exposure or laser irradiation.
The new findings could lead to EU imposing restrictions on the inks used in tattooing so as to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.