The European based tattoo industry has been hit with new restrictions which could deeply affect not only the artistic output of the community, but client safety as well. Save the Pigments, an initiative started by Michl Dirks and tattooist Erich Mähnert, are bringing awareness to what the new laws could mean.
The restrictions are specifically targeting two pigments: Blue 15:3 and Green 7. Although, at first glance, this may seem like a small slice of the enormous amount of colors available to tattooers today, it will actually impact many different tones that tattooists use.
Feature image rose tattoo by Mick Gore.
In a video, Mario Barth, the creator and owner of INTENZE ink, put it into perspective, “It does not only affect all your green tones, or all your blue tones. It's also going to affect purples, some browns, a lot of the mixed tones, the muted tones, your skin tones, all this stuff...You're talking about 65-70% of the palette that a tattoo artist uses.”
Erich also shared some thoughts on what the loss of these colors would mean for the tattoo industry in the EU. “What will happen? The consumer/customer will continue to demand the usual high quality colour tattoos. If they cannot get them from an official tattoo artist within the EU, they will travel to countries outside of the EU. If this is not possible due to geological conditions, clients will seek out illegal tattoo artists. With this ban, the EU Commission is also promoting illicit work.”
It’s not only the monetary and economic consequences, nor the ability for artists to compete fairly in the industry or have the ability to preserve their artistic freedom, but it is possible that this will negatively impact client safety as well.
Blue dragon arm sleeve.
For those who are worried about the safety of these inks, it’s important to keep in mind that there isn’t actually enough science behind the choice to censur these pigments completely. Erich says, “The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment states that there is no scientific evidence that these two pigments are harmful to health, but also that there is no scientific evidence that they are not.”
Michl also weighs in and says, “The Blue 15 is prohibited for the use in hair colorants because of the fact that the global hair colorant manufacturer has not submitted the toxicology dossier for the safety of Blue 15 in hair products. That is the reason for the notification in Annex II and therefore for the ban of these tattoo inks.”
So why are these pigments being targeted? Erich explains, “The two pigments Blue 15:3 and Green 7 are already banned in the existing EU Cosmetics Regulation, because at that time both safety dossiers for hair dyes were not submitted and they were therefore automatically banned.” Michl adds, "ECHA took the Annexes 2 and 4 from the cosmetic directive and said if the use of substances is restricted in both annexes it should be restricted for tattoo inks."
Michl further explains why these pigments are under fire. “The ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency, was not only restricting over 4000 different substances. It also recommended the restriction of 25 azo pigments, and two polycyclic pigments, Blue 15 and green 7. The 25 azo pigments are substitutable as there are enough suitable pigments to exchange the identified hazardous pigments. The problem begins with the ban of the two polycyclic pigments – Blue 15 and Green 7 as there is no 1:1 alternative pigment existing that would be able to cover the color spectrum of both. This circumstance can cause a loss of nearly 2/3 of nowadays color portfolio.”
Most of the time, when people are worried about tattoo inks, it has to do with toxicity. Tattoo inks have been targeted, in most part, because they are thought to contain ingredients that are highly carcinogenic. But are Blue 15 and Green 7 causing cancer? Michl says probably not, and there isn’t any science behind why they would be labeled as such, “The 25 banned azo pigments are banned due to their potential to release or cleave in aromatic amine which are known to be cancerogenic. Blue 15 is simply banned because it is linked in Annex II of the cosmetic directive."
"Annex II of the cosmetic directive lists all the banned substances prohibited for the use in cosmetics. In this annex, Blue 15 is listed with the note: ‘forbidden for the use as hair colorants’...Pigment Blue 15 is listed in Annex II and that causes the ban.” This is regardless of whether it’s used for different purposes. And, as Michl points out, even without fully testing the pigments, the EU is carrying out a ban based on doubt rather than science.
Erich also adds that it’s important to note that there are currently no replacements for these pigments, and that creation of new safe pigments could take years. “These two pigments have been in use for decades and are the highest quality pigments currently available for this application. There is currently no alternative equivalent substitute in the conventional industry.”
At this point, without a toxicology report and in-depth studies, it remains to be fully known whether these inks are harmful. Clients, as always, should be as educated as possible when making choices concerning permanent body art.
Since this will affect tattoo artists and clients alike, anyone who wants the industry and community to have the chance of getting these inks properly tested, before a complete ban, should get involved. Michl urges people, “Visit www.savethepigments.com and follow the instructions to participate in the petition. That is the only existing option at the moment. The website of the European petition portal is very lame and exhausting but if you invest, max, 10 minutes of your life, it can probably be a game changer...Don’t think that this is not your problem. Sharing is caring and your participation matters.” Erich agrees, “We must definitely not be complacent.”
Woman with blue eyes