Drugs Health Pharma

Tattoo industry under scanner, inks may have harmful substances

HQ Team

February 28, 2024: A study sheds light on the alarming presence of undisclosed additives and pigments in tattoo inks used in parlors throughout the United States. With nearly 85% of examining inks containing potentially harmful substances, including compounds linked to organ damage, the research underscores the urgent need for increased transparency and regulation in the tattoo industry.

Analysis of 54 commonly used tattoo inks revealed 45 of them harbor undisclosed additives or pigments, posing serious health risks to unsuspecting tattoo enthusiasts. Among the most prevalent additives is polyethylene glycol, known to cause acute renal failure.

Risks of toxic chemicals:

Several ink formulations contain 2-phenoxyethanol, a compound associated with adverse effects such as lung and liver irritation, kidney damage, and nerve damage. The presence of these toxic chemicals underscores the potential health hazards posed by tattoo inks.

Call for transparency

Lead researcher Jonn Swierk emphasizes the study’s aim to raise awareness and prompt action within the tattoo industry. By advocating for better labeling practices and urging manufacturers to reassess their processes, the research seeks to safeguard the health and well-being of both tattoo artists and clients.

While the FDA issued draft guidance on tattoo ink safety, tattoos are classified as cosmetic products in the US, allowing for minimal regulation of ingredients. In contrast, the European Union implemented a ban on certain ink colors due to hazardous chemical content, highlighting disparities in regulatory standards.

Between 2003 and 2023, firms conducted 18 recalls of tattoo inks that were contaminated with a variety of microorganisms, some of which can cause serious infections. In the US nearly 100 million people have at least one tattoo.


While direct evidence of tattooing causing cancer is lacking, studies have revealed carcinogenic substances, such as PAHs, in tattoo inks. Long-term exposure to these substances raises concerns about cancer development, although reported cases of skin cancer in tattooed individuals are low. Challenges in detecting skin cancer in tattooed areas, as well as difficulties in assessing changes in moles due to tattoo pigments, underscore the need for caution. Recommendations include opting against tattoos for those concerned about risks or ensuring tattoo inks comply with safety standards.

The study was published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

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