Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

Updated on 6 January 2022

In Germany, roughly 17 percent of the population are tattooed, and the trend is rising. The group of 25 to 34-year-olds indicates more than any other group that they have several tattoos (Statista, 2021). Tattoo inks may consist of many individual substances that have not been assessed in terms of their potential to be harmful to health when used in this way. Colour tattoos typically use organic pigments capable of achieving deep and vibrant colours. Permanent make-up inks primarily consist of iron oxides and carbon black. Problematic ingredients in tattoo inks can include, for example, carcinogenic aromatic amines present as breakdown products of organic pigments or impurities, but also other impurities such as preservatives and heavy metals. In addition, tattoo inks are now available with special effects like “glow in the dark”, whose ingredients are largely unknown. Acute problems that can occur after tattooing include infections, foreign-body reactions, scarring or allergic reactions. Little is known about the long-term effects of tattoo inks.

Since January 4, 2022, certain substances present in tattoo inks and “permanent make-up” have been gradually restricted in the European Union. According to the European Chemicals Regulation (REACH), the use of substances with known and suspected harmful effects is regulated and maximum concentrations for these substances are specified with regard to tattoo inks. So far there are no binding criteria according to which a safety assessment of tattoo inks can be carried out. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has therefore drawn up minimum requirements for tattoo inks and test methods for manufacturers and distributors, as they are responsible for the safety of their products.

The BfR has compiled frequently asked questions and answers about tattoo inks below.