Recommendations regarding maximum values for various contaminants in tattoo products can be found in Resolution „ResAP (2008)1 on requirements and criteria for the safety of tattoo and permanent makeup of the Council of Europe. These values take into account both health aspects and the current state of technology.
The persistence of restricted chemicals in tattoo inks continues to be problematic as highlighted by their continual presence in weekly RAPEX reports. These reports continually inform technicians about pigments that didn’t meet the requirements and criteria for the safety of tattoo and permanent makeup and its distribution is not permitted.
What are the most hazardous substances found in tattoo inks?
PAH – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
The group of PAH consists of more than 100 substances, eight of which are classified as carcinogenic. Insufficient data is currently available on the health effects of tattoo colors. Thus little is known on how the components of the tattoo colors are distributed in the body and how they are metabolized. However, it is to be assumed that immediately after tattooing, part of the PAH is released into the areas surrounding the tattoo, into the lymph stream and possibly even into the blood stream. In addition, it is likely that PAH are constantly released from the tattoo and are thus distributed in the body.
PAH substances are ubiquitous in the environment. The are formed through incomplete combustion of organic materials as well as during frying, smoking and grilling of foodstuffs. PAH are also contained in tobacco smoke. PAH posses properties which are harmful to human health. According to Appendix VI of Regulation (EC) 1272/2008, eight representatives of this substance class are currently classified as carcinogenic, and if the amount of PAH content is more than 0,5 ppm, must be marked as a carcinogenic product or cannot be sold on the market at all.
Carbon – carbon black
Carbon is permitted in cosmetic products and is not subject to any restrictions in tattoo products either. Though the German supervisory body (Regulation on Tattooing Products) tested three tattoo products that only use carbon as a black colorant, and it were determined that carbon black pigments carries impurities as PAH or BaP. Consequently if carbon black is chosen as a black colorant, it needs to be tested carefully before placed on the market. Although as discussed several times in European professional publications the amount of carbon based black pigments will be restricted in the near future.
PAH and BaP are to be expected in black tattoo pigments, although the proportion of black color in inks is likely to vary to great extend depending on the color of the pigment. Consequently the exposure is depending on the type of the color.
Nickel – as a trash element of iron-dioxide
Several permanent makeup pigment poses a chemical risk because it contains high concentration of nickel. According to the Council of Europe Resolution ResAP (2008)1, nickel levels in tattoo inks must be as low as technically achievable as nickel has it has a high allergenic potential. The application under the skin of tattoo inks containing nickel results in permanent contact with a sensitizing allergen. A sensitivity to nickel most often causes a raised, itchy skin rash, which can be quite severe.
About the absorption of hazardous substances of tattoo inks……………….
Scientific studies confirm that pigments are transported from the skin. Tests were conducted using a nude mouse model to establish the transport behavior of pigment sin the skin. For this purpose, mive were tattooed on their back. On average, 584 micrograms of pigment was injected per animal. The decrease in pigment concentration after 42 days amounted to 32 percent. This means that pigments and pigment trash elements are transported from tattooed skin areas and possibly become systemically available.
Given the complexity of the exposure and the limited data available, we can state that a serious health risk resulting from the use of tattoo pigments containing hazardous compounds is very probable. Unfortunately no validated method currently exist for determining the PAH in permanent makeup products, and very little is known about the kinetic parameters such as distribution and metabolism of the substances from tattoo products. For this reason, it is not possible to estimate what quantities of the hazardous substances injected under the skin become locally or even systemically available. More research is urgently needed in this area. In addition, it is very likely that hazardous compounds are continuously released from the pigments deposited in the skin, so that tattooed individuals are additionally subject to long-term exposure.