Research shows that tattoo ink may cause cancer. Some inks used for tattooing may cause cancer and skin problems which can last for years, with red colour being the most lethal, according to a new report by European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
The chemicals in the ink are potentially toxic. Red inks were described as the most dangerous, with blue, green, and black ink also coming under the scanner.
‘Chemicals in the tattoo ink are known to cause many skin related problems including dermatitis, granulomas and cancer. Red ink is considered as the most dangerous because of presence of mercury sulphide.’
Red ink is said to be more dangerous because of the presence of mercury sulphide which has also been linked to dermatitis, swelling and soreness of the skin. Blue, green and purple inks are known to cause granulomas, which are little bumps on the skin.
The toxic ink could cause skin problems which could last for years, as well as increasing the risk of cancer. The agency is set to publish a list of suspect chemicals used in tattoo inks, which could result in many of them being banned across the European Union.
Other side effects could include serious allergic reactions to the ink and painful itching which can last for years, the report said.
"Many reports show concerns for public health stemming from the composition of inks used for tattooing," the agency said. "The most severe concerns are allergies caused by the substances in the inks and possible carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxic effects," it said.
Reports of health problems associated with tattoo ink prompted the agency to investigate. Despite being injected into the body, the inks are not currently regulated in the EU.
In the U.K, the Environmental Protection Authority released tattoo ink guidelines in 2012. They contain a list of substances that tattoo inks should not contain, but are not mandatory. The guidelines also included recommended maximum levels in the inks of heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In 2013 the Ministry of Health said a survey it carried out found most tattoos met the voluntary guidelines for heavy metals, but some did not.
At the time then-Director of Public Health Dr Mark Jacobs said it was not known with any certainty what risks were posed by the higher than recommended levels of heavy metals.
In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) has also warned of the dangers of 'black' or 'neutral' henna. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates chemicals in products including tattoo ink, cosmetics and color additives. But due to other public health priorities and a previous lack of safety evidence, the FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo ink and pigments.
A recent influx of cheap Chinese tattoo inks that aren't subject to safety checks are to blame, Rick Stevens, president of the Tattoo and Piercing Industry Union in the United Kingdom.