CookiesThis site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. Read our privacy policy to learn more
Expert: The EU is de facto banning tattoos

Expert: The EU is de facto banning tattoos

Interview with professor Jørgen Serup


What is the consequence of the new EU legislation on tattoo inks?

Tattoo inks that fully meet the exhaustive new requirements cannot be made. With the new REACH-requirements 4150 substances are regulated, 91 with a complete ban. Pigment blue 15 having no replacement is also out as well as Pigment green 7. It is impossible to establish all the analytical methods required since many methods are not validated and pure substance needed for reference are not available. Manufacturers lack expertise, and the economic burden would be astronomical. Fake inks which claim they are REACH compliant will emerge and a wild situation in the ink market will appear, unsafe to consumers. Thus, both ink-manufacturers and the tattoo-industry are in an impossible situation. It will not be possible to tattoo legally from January 4, 2022 in the EU due to lacking EU REACH documented inks. Undercover activities of many kinds are foreseeable. The customer demand will remain, and so will the tattoo industry.

What is the biggest problem with this legislation?

The declared main purpose of the REACH on inks is to prevent cancer originating in tattoos. As there is to date no medical or epidemiological solid documentation that tattooing people causes cancer, it is of course not possible to reduce cancer occurrence. Price of this exercise is high. REACH will close a number of tattoo-studios and part of their activity will be taken over by amateurs. This will invalidate hygienic tattoo practices, which with the recent achievements reached a high level in the studios. The net result is that the tattoo consumers will face increased risk of infection with staphylococci and hepatitis when getting their tattoo under expected more primitive conditions of the future.

“REACH will close a number of tattoo-studios and part of their activity will be taken over by amateurs”

How did it come to this?

The reason why it has ended so badly is that the EU legislators have not listened to the tattoo practitioners and the clinical and manufacturing expertise. Warnings were among others expressed by the ESTP scientific society. Organised protests from 120,000 tattooists in Germany were neglected. The 600 page REACH draft document on tattoo inks, packed with chemical information, is much too complicated for EU national representatives to comprehend. They apparently blindly voted “yes” out of convenience without understanding the essence and the many consequences of REACH on inks.

What health issues do you see in relation to tattoos?

We primarily observe infections, allergy in red tattoos and granulomas in black tattoos, a form of nodule formation associated with the systemic disease sarcoidosis. Other typical complications are light sensitivity, local chronic pain, wheel and flare reactions; but no documented cancer in our clinic or the medical literature is noted. My tattoo clinic was established in 2008, first in the world, and has long experience.

How does this legislation protect against these problems?

None of these health-issues that we really see manifested and treat routinely will be prevented by REACH; nor does it take into account sterility of inks, and some newly manufactured inks contain bacteria that may infect the tattooed.

What should have been done instead in order to target the real problems related to tattoos?

A stand-alone regulation of inks should have been done, instead of pushing it under the existing EU REACH system, which applies to individual chemicals for industrial use (not for consumer-use, red.). Inks under REACH is an EU experiment since REACH was never before applied to such composite product made for final usage. Pigments are widely insoluble microparticles and it is absurd to force such consumer ready products into a system designed for typically soluble single chemicals. EU should have regulated tattoo inks under its own regulation. Separate product regulation exists in many other areas exemplified by the regulation of paints used on children’s toys. A meaningful regulation of inks should parallel to the EU regulation of cosmetics include an EU-recommended positive-list of substances allowed to be used in ink manufacturing. This might revolutionize ink manufacturing and bring consumer safety to a higher level.

I expect and also hear from many sides that both consumers and tattooers find the REACH regulation very unfair and unacceptable, and I expect that tattooing to a very large extent will continue using the existing inks that can still be purchased in the global market.

“EU should have regulated tattoo inks under its own regulation”

EU will realistically not change the REACH regulation in any near future. However, it may well be that individual countries, due to the chaotic situation, will refrain from control or only control sporadically, whereby technically illegal tattooing becomes de facto accepted even in established studios working in full daylight. Different tricks can be played; but it will be felt painful for the industry to live a double life and swing between decent and illegal activity. Many feel a strong dedication to their job as artists and tattoo practitioners. The parliament of people including consumers can very easily come to feel non-obedience is justified to defend their fundamental right; their own skin belongs to themselves and not to EU! EU and national representatives who decided inks under REACH apparently were blind to the distance between regulation and reality in particularly the social non-acceptance of the REACH regulation. It is, obviously, a very sad and miserable situation that law and obedience have lost contact. With some 70 million Europeans tattooed and the ongoing tattoo trend, the will of people is powerful and controlling daily life.

Jørgen Serup - Bio

Chief physician, professor, Dr.Med.Sc. at the Department of Dermatology and Head of the Tattoo-clinic, Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

Editor-in Chief of the journal Skin Research and Technology, Wiley Publisher

Section Editor of the journal Dermatology, Karger AG, Switzerland

Founder and Chairman of the European Society of Tattoo and Pigment Research (ESTP) www.estpresearch.org

Ad Hoc Member of EU JRC analysis group focused on tattoo ink regulation under preparation. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission’s science and knowledge service which provides independent scientific advice and support to the EU policy organs. https://ec.europa.eu/info/departments/joint-research-centre_en

Consultant for the Danish Agency for Patient Safety under the Health Ministry and involved in the development of the latest tattoo legislation in DK, including regulations to improve hygiene

Expert advisor to FDA (US) and Queensland (Australia) working goupsregarding coming ink regulations.

Subscribe for updates

Submit your email and we will send updates on the EU regulations and share initiatives for us to help save tattooing worldwide