EU tattoo ink bank causes uproar in continent’s COVID-besieged parlours

Angelo Bedani of Brussels’ Boucherie Moderne tattoo parlour said he had nothing to prepare with since the new inks had only become available a week ago. On top of that “a bottle costs double compared to the one we have today”.

At least 12 per cent of Europeans have tattoos, double that number in the 18-35 age group, according to EU figures. In Germany, like Australia, as many as one in five people are estimated to have a tattoo.


The EU’s chemical agency ECHA says that allergic and inflammatory skin reactions “are expected to decrease thanks to the restriction”. It adds that “more serious effects such as cancer, harm to our DNA or the reproductive system potentially originating from chemicals used in the inks could also decrease”.

Around 4000 chemicals will now be banned, including isopropanol alcohol, which is used in many tattoo inks, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are found in the most common tattoo colour, black.

A 2016 report found one in five tattoo inks in use in Australia contained carcinogenic chemicals. Only four tattoo inks out of a sample of 49 submitted for chemical analysis by the national regulator that year complied with European standards. Some inks contained barium, mercury and copper.

Queensland last year proposed bans on potentially carcinogenic tattoo inks, but withdrew its draft laws after local artists said it would be impossible to comply with new standards.

Further restrictions will be introduced in a year’s time. The EU has given a grace period to two common colours, blue and green, to allow time for alternatives to be found.

Michl Dirks, who is behind a “Save the Pigments” petition which has already collected 176,000 signatures in the EU objects to such conditional phrasing and insists the ban is not sufficiently backed by science, something which the EU disputes.

Erich Maehnert, another organiser of the petition, said such bans unduly hurt the industry since people will use illegal ways to get the products from third countries.

“They continue to obtain their tattooing products without any checks and without the possibility of tracing them,” he said. Others say the small tattoo industry is easily targeted while the tobacco and alcohol industries still hold much more sway.

Veldhoen said it leaves him with awful choices when a customer will walk into his Amsterdam shop. “A rose with brown leaves is a lot less attractive than a rose with green leaves,” he said.


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