EU regulation threatens colorful tattoo inks. Gray, white and black are still allowed


Dozens of colorful vials, a tattoo machine and a lot of sensitivity – these are the resources that Hamburg tattoo artist Sebastian Makowski uses to fulfill customers’ tattoo wishes. But soon they shouldn’t be too colorful: From January the EU will ban many ingredients that are contained in various common tattoo inks.

Makowski, who is the manager of the “oldest tattoo parlor in Germany” in St. Pauli, looks with concern at the approaching end for many colors. “Corona with the months of closings has shaken us badly. Then something comes on top. ”There is great uncertainty as to which colors he will soon be able to work with.

From January 4, 2022, many chemicals in tattoo inks will be subject to the restrictions imposed by the so-called REACH regulation throughout the European Union. Thousands of substances are then on the ban list. Many of them are potentially dangerous or not adequately researched from the EU perspective. The ban was decided in 2020, the transition period is now running out. According to the EU Commission, the goal is not to ban tattoos in principle. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) emphasizes that it is about “making tattoo inks and permanent make-up safer”.

In a year’s time, the tattoo industry will face further restrictions. From 2023 the EU also wants to ban certain blue and green color pigments. The reason: Their safety has not been proven, according to ECHA, the pigments are suspected of being carcinogenic. Most of the tattoo colors used to date will therefore soon be banned in their current composition, especially the colorful ones. Colors available on the German market in accordance with the EU regulation are currently only black, gray and white.



This color is EU-compliantPhoto: Marcus Brandt / dpa

Sebastian Makowski reckons that a third of his customers could soon be absent as a result. He expects his colleagues in the store to break in more severely because they work a lot more with bright colors than he does. “At least in part, that amounts to an occupational ban. It’s just frustrating, ”he says. “You feel let down, especially by politics.” Although he has a great understanding of the high safety requirements for colors, he does not understand the implementation of the REACH regulation and its conditions.

Daniel Rust, board member of the Federal Tattoo Association, confirms: “The mood in the industry is really bad.” He criticizes the incapacitation of customers through the regulation, which harms the entire industry. Before every tattoo, there is a multi-page information sheet, people consciously choose their new body jewelry. In addition, he has never had bad experiences with the colors in question: “I’ve been a tattoo artist for twelve years and of course I’ve already had tattoos that were infected. But that had nothing to do with the color in one case, but always with poor hygiene during aftercare. “

Christoph Liebich, dermatologist and owner of the dermatologist’s practice Dermazent in Munich, sees it differently. Many tattoo inks that have been on the market so far have not been proven to be harmless. “Many have never been tested in clinical studies. That means that tattoo dyes always have a high risk of triggering an allergy, and there is also the risk of cancer developing, ”he warns. He thinks the step to ban many of the substances it contains is “perfectly right”. After all, there are the highest standards for substances to be applied to the skin – so these should apply even more to substances that got under the skin.

Tattoos are no longer a niche trend; according to some surveys, around one in five people wear permanent body jewelry under their skin. The new editions are also unsettling many tattoo fans. At the end of the year, many had urgently tried to get an appointment to have their color tattoos finished, says Makowski – often in vain.


Black and white tattoos are still allowed

Black and white tattoos are still allowedPhoto: Marcus Brandt / dpa

Wolfgang Bäumler, Professor of Experimental Dermatology and Tattoo Expert at the University Hospital Regensburg, says: “I assume that under the new regulation in January a bit of chaos will break out among tattooists.” He points out how complex the catalog of requirements is new tattoo colors and how difficult it is to develop them. The EU Commission points out that there has been sufficient lead time for alternatives since the resolutions.

Bäumler also finds the ban on various substances contained in the paints controversial. He explains how complex the composition of the colors is: They each consist of around 100 substances, such as pigments and preservatives. With some you know that these are potentially harmful, but not with many. Instead of a general ban, a much more detailed risk assessment is needed, he demands.

But are colorful tattoos really history at the beginning of the year? Rust from the federal association is not initially assuming the general end of colorful body jewelry. After a certain dry spell, a palette of new, rule-compliant bright colors can be expected that manufacturers will bring to market at short notice, he estimates. It will be more dramatic in 2023 with the ban on green and blue pigments. “There aren’t really any real alternatives yet. But we still have a bit of air. ”Nevertheless, Sebastian Makowski on St. Pauli sees the industry as rather black in the truest sense of the word due to the conditions. “The fear of the future is not diminishing,” he says.

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