New findings link certain tattoo ink colours with cancer risk.

If you needed another reason to reconsider your new tattoo, this could be it.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have released new findings that link certain types of tattoo ink with cancer. Weirdly, some colours are riskier than others – with the international colour for danger, red, topping the list.

Blue, green, and black followed closely behind. But before you panic, you should note that it’s not all tattoo inks that are potentially causing cancer.

According to the ECHA, a recent influx of cheap Chinese inks entering the market could be to blame, as they haven’t undergone the stringent testing for carcinogens as other brands. (Post continues after gallery.)

“Many reports show concerns for public health stemming from the composition of inks used for tattooing,” said the coverage from The Sun. 

“The most severe concerns are allergies caused by the substances in the inks and possible carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxic effects.”

While cancer is the worst possible scenario, scientists also warn the other risk factors are still quite troublesome.

“Other side effects include serious allergic reactions to the suspect ink and painful itching which can last for years.”

So how has this been allowed to happen? And should we be requesting a certain brand of ink before our next tattoo?

According to Terry Slevin, the chair of the Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee for Cancer Council Australia, nothing has yet been proven in terms of the definite links between tattoo inks and cancer.

Red tattoo ink is the worst offender when it comes to containing carcinogens.

"Various theories have been put forward about possible adverse effects of tattooing.  However, so far there is no evidence we are aware of, of anyone having had a cancer diagnosed that is directly attributable to tattooing," says Slevin.

"But that does not mean it is not possible. We know from other chemical exposures that it usually takes decades before we start seeing the health effects. This is an area where more research is certainly warranted given the enormous increase in the number of people being tattooed and the amount of skin being exposed to tattoo ink."

His advice to those worried about cancer-causing ingredients in tattoo ink is simple: don't get a tattoo.

The latest tattoo trend- blackout tats. (Post continues after video)

"For those determined to do so, ask if the tattoo inks being used comply with the European standard known as ResAP (2008) 1. If your tattoo artist does not know what that means it may be wise to find one that does," Slevin explains.

“There is a valid reason for concern around this issue – and it’s certainly something we think the Australian Government should be looking into."


The tattoo industry in Australia is far more regulated than many countries, but while you might need a license to perform tattoo work here, the brands of ink and equipment are not included in the health and safety checklist.

Put simply, it means tattoo guns must be sterilised, but no certain brand of ink is specified.

With 14.5 per cent of our entire population sporting at least one tat (and one quarter of those under 30) it's fair to say that this is an issue that's set to affect millions.

And it's not the first time tattoo ink safety has been brought to our attention. In 2013, an ABC investigation found that many tattoo inks sold in the country contain toxins and possible carcinogens.

Cheaper or 'knock off' tattoo inks are to blame for the cancer fears.

For Melbourne tattoo artist Jacob*, the possible health issue lies with the knock-off inks that are almost impossible to detect once in use.

"I think a large part of the problem would be artists buying cheaper imitation inks from places like eBay, rather than an official retailer," he reveals.

"Of course each state and country has its own occupational health an safety regulations and that's what governs the state of our workplace, but there isn't much offered in the way of accreditation. A large part of it comes down to how much honour the individual artist has, and how much they care about their clients."

So, maybe think twice before visiting the tattoo parlour - your next tatt could have health effects that will follow you for decades to come.

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