Regulating Tattoo Ink
Photo by Edgar Hoill
The long-debated issue within the tattoo community of regulating tattoo ink was recently discussed in this Chemistry World article, which is worth a quick read.
Generally, there's little to no regulation of tattoo inks in the US & UK, and it's largely self-policed. The big brands offer MSDS (Material Safety Date Sheets) to let you know what's in them. Here are some links to check those sheets for yourself: Intenze, Starbrite, and Eternal Ink. [Note the California-mandated warning on Papillon Tattoo Supply that states metals and toxic chemicals may be contained in inks -- although not specific to any brand.]
The debate tends to be whether self-regulation is better than that by the government. In the article, Alan Beswick, of the UK Health and Safety Laboratory says that perhaps it's better to keep it within the industry:
Beswick is keen to stress that he is wary of promoting regulation that would compel tattooists perform expensive testing on the dyes they purchase. 'I believe, and this is the case in many industries, that quality standards are raised from within and if clients and users of the inks start to ask questions of the suppliers then the chances are that those suppliers will have to up their game.'An argument against this, however, is that the market is flooded with ink suppliers from all over the world not taking the same precautions as the long-standing reputable brands. Pat Fish, whom I interviewed for Inked mag, says she won't use color inks anymore because she doesn't trust them, citing fungus found in batches of even famous inks. There are interesting arguments on both sides.
While there hasn't been an epidemic of poisoned tattoo collectors, many people do indeed have serious reactions, especially to certain colors. So you could ask your artist about the MSDS sheets if you're concerned. You may come off as a little uptight to some, but as Beswick notes above, it may encourage more artists, and then companies, to pay attention to what you're putting into your skin.