Overview

Last update 1 September 2017

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In Australia, NICNAS is responsible for the regulation of chemicals present in tattoo inks. This report describes activities undertaken in 2014–2015 to identify tattoo inks used in Australia and to characterise the chemicals in these inks.

NICNAS conducted this study by:

  • using desktop research to determine the tattoo inks likely to be used in Australia and ingredients of these inks
  • surveying tattooists in Sydney to get an indication of tattoo inks used in Australia
  • commissioning comprehensive chemical analysis of a representative selection of the tattoo inks identified.

The main findings from these activities were:

  • Desktop analysis identified 89 unique chemicals in tattoo inks likely to be used Australia.
  • There was good agreement between the outcomes of interviews with tattooists and desktop research regarding tattoo inks used in Australia.
  • Inks not intended for tattooing are used for this purpose.
  • Ingredients listed on the labels of some tattoo inks were incorrect.
  • 19 unique colourants were identified in the sample of tattoo inks analysed and specific patterns of use for certain colourants.
  • The presence of certain metals in tattoo inks is associated with the use of specific colourants.
  • The amines identified in the tattoo inks are associated with the use of azo pigments as colourants.
  • The presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in tattoo inks is associated with black tattoo inks and the use of Pigment Black 7 (carbon black) as a colourant.

The regulatory status of the analysed tattoo inks and their chemical components is also discussed.

Based upon the findings, NICNAS makes the following recommendations, to protect human health, for consideration by the relevant authorities:

  • Advise state health authorities that specific tattoo inks:
    • are not compliant with regulations for the supply and use of these products in Australia
    • are marketed with incorrect ingredient information or are not intended to be used for this purpose.
  • The information in this report can be used in risk assessments and subsequent consideration of public health risk management controls, if warranted.

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