In the European Union there are fewer and fewer colors allowed for tattoos. Some pigments are already banned, others will be soon.

The colorful world of tattoos will be increasingly monochromatic, at least in the EU. Some pigments are already banned for being apparently harmful to health, and others will be soon. Reports are growing that the colors of tattoos contain toxic substances that are harmful to the body. The European Cosmetics Regulation has already banned more than 4,000 tattoo inks for containing toxic preservatives and binders.

Starting in early 2023, the pigments Green 7 (dark green) and Blue 15 (bright blue), present in two-thirds of all tattoo inks, will also be banned. Thus, the sale and use of these colors will be prohibited. Green 7 and Blue 15 are said to be harmful to health and carcinogenic, can cause allergic reactions and pose other health risks. There are no equivalent substitutes.

What is tattoo ink made of?

Tattoo inks are made up of more than 100 substances. These include preservatives, solvents, binders, defoamers, liquids and color pigments, which are responsible for the shine of tattoos. On the one hand, there are inorganic pigments consisting of carbon black or metal oxides. In this case, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment sees the danger that the body becomes loaded with heavy metals.

The other group is that of organic pigments, azo dyes. They are also not without risk. “They are industrial pigments. They are also often contaminated by industry. They were not originally manufactured for use on humans,” explains Wolfgang Bäumler of the Regensburg Dermatology Clinic and Polyclinic and tattoo expert.

Tattoo colors accumulated in the lymph nodes

Tattoo colors are said to be carcinogenic. “This can neither be affirmed nor denied. We don’t know,” says Wolfgang Bäumler. In order to be able to assess the risk, we need larger studies, with tattooed and non-tattooed people compared.

The truth is that the human immune system tries to eliminate substances from the tattooed skin. “The first visible target is the nearby lymph nodes, where the ink starts to collect,” says Bäumler, explaining the path the tattoo colors follow on the body. “A red upper arm tattoo means nearby lymph nodes are just as red. They stay like this for life.” If you get a colored tattoo, it also means colored lymph nodes. They remain colored for life.

As the color pigments are deposited in the lymph nodes, they not only become colored, but also increase in size. However, according to experts, this does not affect its function. The lymph nodes are part of our immune system and are responsible, among other things, for filtering harmful substances from our body.

“The transport of the pigments to the liver has also been verified, and probably the substances also pass to the kidneys, that is, to the excretory organs, in other words: the colors make a journey through the body”, says Bäumler.

Tattoos always pose a health risk

There is no such thing as a healthy tattoo, but very little is known about the effects of colors on the body. Tattooing is not a registered profession. Just hang a sign that says “tattoos” on the door, says Urban Slamal of the Federal Tattoo Association, of which he is the first president.

In many countries, tattoos represent their own culture, religion and belonging to a certain group, as is the case with several African tribes or the Maori in New Zealand.

The daring adornments have reached Europe, where they are very popular but no longer have anything to do with their origins. In some cultures, tattoos document entering adulthood or are considered a sign of endurance and strength, and are supposed to protect against injury and illness.

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