Study: Health Risks In Over 80% Of Tattoo Inks

New York’s Binghamton University has conducted a new study into the safety of the tattoo ink used in licensed facilities across the United States. The research was published in the journal Analytical Chemistry and indicates that 83% of tattoo inks contain hidden ingredients not listed on the label.

The study examined 54 different inks and discovered that 45 had discrepancies between their listed and actual contents. Substances such as polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, and higher alkanes were among the unlisted chemicals found. At least some of the chemicals can pose health risks ranging from allergic reactions to catastrophic organ damage.

John Swierk, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Binghamton University and the study’s senior author, expressed concerns about the findings. “Every time we looked at one of the inks, we found something that gave me pause,” Swierk remarked.

In light of these findings, the study aims to prompt manufacturers to reevaluate their processes and encourage better transparency in labeling. The ultimate goal is to ensure that artists and clients are fully informed about what is going into their bodies. The current lack of regulation in the tattoo industry has led to a situation where ingredients do not have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before use, leaving consumers in the dark about the actual composition of the inks.

The FDA has recently started to step up. Congress passed the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act in 2022, giving the FDA new authority to regulate tattoo inks. However, the implementation of these regulations is still in the early stages. Before this act, tattoo inks were primarily considered cosmetic products, with little to no regulatory oversight, which has led to 18 recalls of contaminated tattoo inks in recent years.

The study also highlights a broader issue with the tattoo industry’s approach to consumer safety. Despite tattoos being an ancient form of body art, the inks used today are not well-regulated, and there is a significant gap in knowledge about their long-term effects on health. Swierk’s research is a call to action for the industry to prioritize safety and transparency.

Tattoo artists and clients are advised to push for better labeling and manufacturing standards. The Alliance of Professional Tattooists Association supports this move, urging artists to review labeling guides and stay informed about new regulations to ensure safety and prevent allergic reactions or infections.

As the popularity of tattoos continues to rise, with surveys showing that nearly half of Americans aged 30 to 49 are inked, the findings of this study serve as a crucial wake-up call.