How Safe is Tattoo Ink?

Since the early 1990s, tattoos have been very popular. By 2003, 36 percent of Americans aged 25 to 29 had at least one tattoo. 

A few years ago the environmental news site The Daily Green published an article about the safety of tattoo ink. The article characterized what I call the 'tattoo craze' as an "inked up world." How many people who are part of the "inked up world" think about the safety of tattoo ink, let alone do research on it?

The first thing someone should know who is considering getting "inked up" is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate tattoo ink for two reasons: 1. tattoo inks are considered trade secrets, and 2. the inks are not sold directly to consumers. The official stance of the FDA concerned regulating tattoo ink is:
Because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them.
According to article by Treehugger, heavy metals are used in the pigments that make up tattoo ink to give it permanent color. Tattoo ink may include lead, arsenic, antimony, beryllium, chromium, cobalt, and nickel. The article stated that the amounts of the metals in tatto ink "may be substantial."

The European Commission (EC) issued a report concerning the health risks of tattooing which noted that almost 40 percent of the organic colorants used in tattoos in Europe are not approved for use on the skin. Almost 20 percent of the colorants looked at in the report contained a carcinogenic aromatic amine. The study also found that many of the chemicals in tattoo ink are also used in pen and printer inks, and automobile paints.

A 2005 report by researchers at Northern Arizona University said that heavy metals such as copper and nickel are found in tattoo ink. The researchers studied 17 tattoo inks from five manufacturers. The researchers believe that tattoo ink needs to be studied.

Although the FDA does not regulate tattoo ink, it does provide the following tips on its website:

FDA has not approved any tattoo inks for injection into the skin, and many ink pigments used are industrial strength colors suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.

The bottom line concerning tattoos is that they may not be safe. Even having them removed could cause more harm as the laser process used in removing tattoos causes the metal in the ink to leach into the body. My recommendation is to forgo getting a tattoo. The old adage is true: better to be safe than sorry.


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