Inks under the skin: a closer look at what’s inside tattoo inks

A study revealed that 90% of tattoo inks analyzed contained undeclared substances, including phenoxyethanol, antibiotics and potential allergens

Recent research conducted in the United States has sent shockwaves through tattoo enthusiasts across the country, revealing startling findings about the composition of tattoo inks. The study, undertaken by Binghamton University and published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, raises significant safety concerns regarding the chemicals present in these inks.

The study’s alarming findings

The research team examined 54 ink samples from nine U.S. manufacturers, encompassing a variety of colors and originating from both large companies and smaller producers. Astonishingly, 90% of the inks tested were found to contain undeclared substances. No substantial differences were observed from one brand to another, with a majority of the products containing additives and/or pigments not listed on their labels (45 out of 54 inks).

Among the undisclosed substances discovered were phenoxyethanol, a potential endocrine disruptor, and even an antibiotic commonly used to treat urinary tract infections. More than half of the inks analyzed contained polyethylene glycols, substances linked to possible organ damage through repeated exposure. Propylene glycols, a potential allergen, were also found in the inks.

The study highlighted that:

“Many of the adulterants pose possible allergic or other health risks. Collectively, these findings indicate the potential for a significant problem related to inaccurate labeling of tattoo inks in the United States.”

Origins of undeclared ingredients

The precise reasons behind the inclusion of undeclared ingredients in tattoo inks remain unclear. Researchers speculate that these substances may have been intentionally added during the ink production process, or that the manufacturers might have received incorrectly labeled or contaminated materials.

This research raises questions about the effectiveness of the tattoo industry’s regulations in the U.S. Notably, tattoo inks were not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration until the end of 2022. Despite the adoption of the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA), it’s evident that more efforts are needed to ensure the safety of tattoo inks.

How does Europe compare?

Unlike the United States, the tattoo industry in Europe is subject to stricter regulations, overseen by the European Chemicals Agency. However, concerns remain about the sufficiency of current controls, especially given the complexity of the production chain and the challenges in ensuring compliance with standards.

A few years ago, a study conducted in France on tattoo inks reached conclusions similar to the U.S. findings. This led to the implementation of strict regulations concerning tattoo inks in Europe.

The need for stricter regulations

Given the permanence of tattoos and the potential health risks associated with ink ingredients, there is a clear need for increased vigilance and regulation in both the United States and Europe. Consumer safety should be the top priority, and regulatory bodies must be prepared to enforce stricter measures to ensure transparency and compliance of ingredients in tattoo inks.

Source: Analytical Chemistry

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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