Tattoo colors dangerous to health

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Tattoo colors in the body: anything but harmless

In Germany every tenth is tattooed, every fourth among young people - and the trend is rising. However, the risks and side effects of the tattoos are hardly known. They were discussed on June 6th and 7th at an international conference in Berlin. In five "sessions", international experts presented the latest findings from the sub-areas "analytics & exposure", "toxicology", "microbiology & hygiene", "technology" and "risk assessment & regulation". The event focused in particular on the safety of the means and colors used.

Ingredients of tattoo colors regulated by law
The biggest problem of the scene: Any tattoo artist can be armed with a trade license. This also regrets Maik Frey, spokesman for the industry association "German Organized Tattoo Artists". In addition to the approximately 6,000 legal tattoo studios, there are also around 20,000 illegal tattoo studios. Due to the lack of controls, the safety of the devices and colors used there is not guaranteed, explains Frey. In addition, there is a rapidly growing industry that wants to benefit from the need for tattoo colors. "In the past there were only three to five manufacturers, today there are five hundred," said Frey. While German colors are considered "rather harmless", Internet sales are a major security problem. Chinese dyes in particular are offered at reasonable prices.

Tattoo products have to be "safe for consumers and must not harm human health", decrees the Food and Feed Code. Since 2008, the tattooing agent ordinance has also given specific requirements for "tattooing agents and agents for permanent make-up". “However, there are no health assessments for individual substances regarding their use in tattoo agents. This means that it is often not known how substances brought into the body by tattoos work, ”says a statement by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in September 2012.“ From the BfR's point of view, there is a need for research primarily with regard to distribution and metabolism and deposition / excretion of the colorants as well as the other ingredients and possible cleavage products. "

Complications after the tattoo There are relatively minor complications after the tattoo, such as a rash, itching or inflammation with blistering. About six to eight percent of the tattooed people suffer permanent health problems. In addition, allergies are particularly common. In some cases, they only appear long after tattooing, triggered by sunlight, for example. A big problem is the nickel content of tattoo inks. There are specific guidelines for cosmetic products, explains the BfR. # "On the other hand, there is currently no regulation for tattoo products, even though the skin is no longer used as a protective layer for tattoo products,
because the agents are applied directly to the skin. ”Nickel is the world's leading contact allergen. "An average of 8.6 percent of the global general population has a nickel allergy," writes the health portal

According to Luch, the biggest problem is the lack of long-term research. "Nobody can currently rule out that tattooing agents can cause health damage after ten or 15 years - organ damage and tumor-like changes are conceivable." It was only around two years ago that an official monitoring agency discovered carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons when examining black tattoo inks. To what extent tattoo colors lead to cancer formation is unclear. “There have been increasing reports over the past few years that skin tumors have grown in tattooed areas. However, it is not clear whether this is a coincidence or a consequence of the tattoo, ”explains dermatologist Michael Landthaler.

It is also problematic that the colors used do not remain on the skin. "About a third of the amount of color gets into the body through the lymph," says Landthaler. Larger studies are needed to find out what happens to them. Physicist Wolfgang Bäumler from the University of Regensburg also emphasizes: "The colors do not stay where they are pierced", consumers should be clear about this before tattooing. "In the case of tattoos near lymph nodes, these are definitely as colorful as the tattoo."

Tattoo inks require further research "Based on our current data basis, we cannot give a reasonable assessment of the risks," summarizes Luch. There are still many questions and few answers. Above all, the financing of large studies and experiments creates problems. At the congress, researchers mainly presented smaller studies. The interim conclusion is that there are no absolutely safe tattoos. "If you see a tattoo as something purely cosmetic and want total security, just leave it alone," explains Mark Benecke from "Pro Tattoo". In order not to accidentally cover dangerous melanomas with a tattoo, dermatologist Nicolas Kluger advises to wait until the age of 25 to get the tattoo. Food chemist Michael Vocke adds: "If you want to get a tattoo, you should have the color shown and ask whether it meets the legal requirements". (lb)

Also read:
Tattoo: Health hazards from tattoos
Health risk from tattoo
Toxic substances in tattoo colors
Painful and expensive tattoo removal

Image: Sabrina Gonstalla /

Author and source information

Video: The dangers of tattoo ink traveling throughout your body


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