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Safety watchdog flags toxic substances in tattoo, makeup pigments

Eight of the pigments tested contained carcinogenic substances and chemicals that could affect fertility.

Tatuoitu miehen käsi.
The EU is currently drawing up regulations to cover the inks used on tattoos and permanent makeup. Image: YLE / Hanna Poikolainen

Tests of inks used in tattoos and permanent makeup revealed the presence of toxic chemicals that could cause cancer or affect fertility, the safety and chemicals agency Tukes said in a press release on Wednesday.

The agency said that it analysed a total of 20 pigments sourced from Finnish suppliers, an online store based in the EU and another from outside the EU. It found that a total of eight pigments contained aromatic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or heavy metals.

Altogether six of the inks tested were used for permanent makeup, while 14 were typically used for tattoos. Tukes said that toxic substances are currently classified as hazardous to health and may cause cancer, genetic defects or reproductive health problems. Others were substances that could cause skin irritation or sensitivity.

In eight of the products tested the concentration of the harmful substances exceeded EU limits for tattoo and permanent makeup pigments. The agency said that it contacted the companies that sold the pigments and requested that they withdraw products that were found to pose a potential health hazard.

"Some of the substances used in tattoo inks were not originally intended to be used for injecting into the skin and their safety has not been tested to a great extent for such a purpose. Tests detected 4-methyl-m-phenylenediamine, benzo[a]pyrene, cadmium, lead and nickel, for example. Hazardous substances in tattoo inks may present a risk to human health. As research data is not sufficient, it is often not possible to set a safe concentration limit," Tukes senior officer Petteri Talasniemi said in the press statement.

Tukes noted that there is not enough research data available on possible links between tattoo inks and cancer. "However we cannot rule out health risks that are caused by substances in inks that may cause cancer or be toxic for reproduction. The substances may increase cancer risk, be toxic for reproduction or they could be otherwise harmful," Talasniemi added.

Tukes noted that the EU is currently drawing up new rules on tattoo and permanent makeup inks as there is no specific legislation governing their use. Meanwhile the European Chemicals Agency headquartered in Helsinki has proposed EU-wide regulations to cover chemicals used in these pigments.

The agency said that it will continue to monitor tattoo inks.

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