Research conducted by NICNAS in 2014 and 2015 found:
Amines (derivatives of the chemical ammonia) are present in certain tattoo inks used in Australia. The presence of these amines in tattoo ink preparations is banned in jurisdictions such as the European Union.
Certain inks contain pigments (such as Pigment Red 22) that are not permitted in Australia.
Other tattoo ink colourants contain carcinogenic breakdown products.
Findings in the report suggest that inks purchased from unauthorised resellers on eBay carry the highest safety risk. However, a survey conducted at The Australian Tattoo and Body Art Expo 2015 by NICNAS found that nearly all tattooists obtain inks from authorised Australian distributor, Protat Tattoo Supplies. None had ever purchased inks off eBay.
News that some tattoo inks contain carcinogenic agents has been seized upon by the mainstream media, inspiring a slew of negative articles about the tattoo industry.
The backlash has led Josh Roelink, President of the Australian Tattooists Guild, to defend the professionalism of the industry. In a statement given to Inked Australia, Roelink said that professional tattooists in Australia purchase their inks from legitimate suppliers, while ‘amateurs’, who administer tattoos in unsafe home environments with inks purchased online, are the ones putting consumers at risk.
“It’s not just cross contamination issues that are the danger, but also the ink ingredients of pigment bought on online marketplaces, especially those with legitimate brand names sold on eBay which are almost always fake imports from China,” says Roelink to Inked Australia. “There is no telling what is in those inks, it’s a major concern for us.”
Tattoo ink safety: what tattooists need to know
“The important thing is to do your due diligence,” says Danny Gumm of Gallagher’s Professional Associations branch – a specialist provider of insurance to the tattoo industry.
“Always buy your inks from a legitimate distributor, and ask for the material safety data sheet (MSDS) and EU CTL Certification for every ink you buy. If they can’t produce this documentation available, then you can’t be sure that the ink is safe and you should purchase elsewhere.
“You should also have full malpractice insurance cover in place,” explains Gumm. “It won’t protect you against using non-compliant ink, but it does ensure that you’re covered for liability arising from any tattoos you give, and also for any professional advice you provide to your clients.”
How to make sure your tattoo ink is safe
In addition to having the right insurance policy in place, tattooists can take extra steps to ensure that they’re using the safest inks available on the market. Based on the NICNAS findings, tattooists should:
Only purchase inks from legitimate distributors, and always ask for a material safety data sheet and proof of EU CTL Certification.
Check the labelling of ink containers. NICNAS found that labelling on some ink containers indicates they are not intended for tattooing, despite being sold as such.
Check the ingredients list for every ink used. Some ink brands contain inaccurate listing of ingredients on their labels and may be unsafe.
If you’re not sure about the quality or safety of an ink brand or pigment, avoid it and contact NICNAS or NSW Health for more information. You can also talk to a broker about tattoo ink safety and your health and safety obligations, and make sure you have the right insurance cover in place.