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Researchers from Binghamton University have found a significant disparity between the ingredients listed on tattoo ink labels and the actual contents of the inks, raising concerns about potential health risks associated with permanent tattoos.

Contents of tattoo inks mislabeled

The research focused on investigating the impact of light on tattoo compositions. Kelli Moseman, alongside colleagues Ahshabibi Ahmed and Alexander Ruhren, found that several tattoo inks contained undisclosed substances. This discovery prompted inquiries into whether these substances were byproducts or part of the original ingredients.

Researchers examined inks from nine U.S. manufacturers, representing various sizes, and six colors. Among 54 ink samples, a staggering 90 percent displayed significant deviations from their labels, including varied pigments and undisclosed additives. Interestingly, over half contained polyethylene glycol, a potentially harmful compound linked to organ damage through repeated exposure.

Other concerning substances found included propylene glycol, known for causing allergies, an antibiotic, and 2-phenoxyethanol, posing risks to nursing infants. These findings underscore the necessity for improved labeling and manufacturing standards in the tattoo industry, benefiting both artists and clients.

The study’s author, John Swierk, an assistant professor of chemistry at Binghamton University, expresses optimism that manufacturers will seize this moment to reassess their procedures. Also, he encourages artists and clients to advocate for enhanced labeling and manufacturing standards.

The FDA can now regulate tattoo inks

Recent developments have brought about regulatory oversight concerning tattoo inks within the United States. Until the enactment of the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA) towards the end of 2022, tattoo inks remained unregulated and were simply categorized as cosmetics. With this legislation, the FDA gained authority for the first time to oversee tattoo inks, which includes ensuring accurate labeling practices.

According to Swierk, there is ongoing exploration regarding the implementation of these regulations, and it is anticipated that this research will influence discussions surrounding MoCRA. This study represents a significant milestone as it is the first to specifically examine inks available in the United States comprehensively. It delves into both the pigments, which typically remain within the skin, and the carrier package, which suspends the pigment.