Tattoo inks get under your skin, you wear them for a lifetime. So that you can rely on the safety of your tattoo, the EU is looking into the ingredients of tattoo inks. Green and blue (pigments Green 7 and Blue 15:3) have been banned since the beginning of 2023.

These two pigments, Green 7 and Blue 15:3, are particularly important. The REACH regulation established the first EU rules for tattoo inks at the beginning of 2022, and since the beginning of 2023 the aforementioned pigments have been banned. Why is that? What should you know about your tattoo?

REACH Regulation and its content

The REACH regulation deals with tattoos and tattoo inks in its annex, which came into force as a first step in January 2022, as a result of which almost all tattoo inks used in Europe up to that point were withdrawn from the market. Tattoo studios using inks that do not comply with REACH face penalties.

The REACH regulation specifies the ingredients which must no longer be present in tattoo inks. Limit values of substances have to be complied with, as well as the mandatory requirements on tattoo ink labels, with only one exception: so that inks could still be used at all and tattoo studios would not close down in rows, pigments Blue 15:3 and Green 7 were given an extended deadline, which meant that these tattoo colours were only restricted for the time being, but not completely out of the running.

It is perfectly possible to produce tattoo inks that are REACH-compliant. So far this has only happened to a very limited extent, since they were inexpensive and widely available. The sense and nonsense of the REACH regulation is debatable. The fact is that the tattoo ink ingredients classified as problematic trigger allergies. Other chemicals that were previously allowed to be used in tattoo inks not complying with regulations can cause genetic mutations and cancer. As the lymphatic system partially removes and dissolves tattoo inks, their ingredients also put a strain on the lymphatic system and the liver. Therefore, the regulation is not about harassment, but about protecting health and life. The exact level of risk associated with ingredients individually remains to be seen – committees responsible for that were merely “unable to rule out” negative effects and an increased risk of cancer.

The chemicals banned in tattoo ink under REACH have also been forbidden for hair dyes and other cosmetics since 2009. As a result, the extension of the ban to tattoo inks is only logical.

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EU-wide problems with the supply of paints

Because there were no colors on the market for a while, artists were mainly tattooing in black, white and grey at the beginning of 2022. The problem was not only that many colors were simply not compliant, but also that the manufacturers of REACH-compliant colors could not keep up with the production of the suddenly required quantities. The market was empty until production was converted accordingly.

It is perfectly possible to produce tattoo inks that are REACH-compliant. However, so far this has only been done to a very limited extent, with inexpensive and widely available inks. Understandably, tattoo artists prefer to work with inks that they have known for many years and whose behaviour and processing they have come to appreciate. Besides, it is understandable that colours are purchased as cheaply as possible. These inks have not been legally available for a good year now.

Black, grey and white have also been problematic. Nevertheless, manufacturers were able to produce sufficient quantities of these tattoo ink colours as early as 2022, which did not happen so quickly with other colours. In some cases, completely new products had to be developed. Even the suppliers of ink manufacturers had delivery difficulties.

Additionally, there were difficulties of a legal nature, as it was not at all clear the documents required to purchase inks legally. At times, tattoo artists did not even know what information they had to look out and how they could recognize reputable, legal offers. Many of the European manufacturers simply did not have any REACH-compliant inks in their range.

Around two thirds of colours were affected by a ban

In 2022, numerous appointments were cancelled or postponed because tattoo artists could not get any colours. That was the case again in 2023. Pigments Green 7 and Blue 15:3 are not only contained in tattoo green and blue inks, but also in a large number of mixed colours. Therefore, the range of available products is still shrinking. Obviously, doing without bright colours in the long term is not an option, since tattoos are art and art needs colour.

At the end of 2022, it was already clear that pigments Green 7 and Blue 15:3 would no longer be allowed to be used from January 4, 2023. However, not much happened. Despite the experience of the previous year, manufacturers did not have any alternatives in their range. Instead, tattoo studios and tattooists were informed that most colours would be missing from the range from 2023 on.

Inks containing pigments Green 7 and Blue 15:3, which were still REACH-compliant in 2022, had no longer to be used as of January 4, 2023, which was particularly hard for tattoo artists who stocked up on colourful inks last year. Prices for tattoo inks have risen significantly with the entry into force of REACH, but the remaining ink stocks still have to be disposed of.

It is estimated that around 66% of the tattoo inks used to date contain pigments Green 7 and Blue 15:3. As manufacturers were not required to provide precise information on ink ingredients until January 2022, this is not a definitive figure. A lot of manufacturers claim that there is no viable substitute for these two pigments. Therefore, no REACH-compliant new shades without these two pigments can be expected in 2023 for the time being.

Will future tattoos be done without green and blue inks?

In the future, green and blue inks will be obtainable again. Now colours not containing those problematic pigments are already available and they are fully REACH-compliant. One example is the “Viking” range from the manufacturer Dynamic Inks.

However, some manufacturers have made it clear to tattoo ink suppliers that the range of available shades will be significantly smaller in 2023. This applies to the following manufacturers and ranges:

  • Quantum Ink
  • World Famous Limitless
  • Kuro Sumi Imperial
  • Permablend

The list is not complete. In addition to green and blue, violet, turquoise, brown and grey tones are also missing from the aforementiones colour series.

If you planned to have a motif with plants or from the sea engraved in 2023, this will of course hit you hard. If you do not want to miss out on your desired motif, you had better wait for another year or two so that the entire colour palette will be available again.

You might also like to talk to your tattoo artist about this subject. Artists are creative – they always find a solution. You may even like an alternative design of your desired motif without those problematic colour tones. We hope you do!