The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has launched an investigation after new research turned up troubling findings about toxic chemicals in tattoo ink. Recently published studies have found that the inks can contain a host of dodgy substances, including some phthalates, metals, and hydrocarbons that are carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. One chemical commonly used to make black tattoo ink called benzo(a)pyrene is known to be a potent carcinogen that causes skin cancer in animal tests.

Coloured inks often contain lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, titanium and other heavy metals that could trigger allergies or diseases, scientists say. Some pigments are industrial grade dyes ‘suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint,’ according to an FDA fact sheet. Now the FDA has launched an investigation into the long-term safety of the inks, including what happens when they break down in the body or fade from light exposure.

An estimated 45million people in the U.S., including at least 36 per cent of adults in their late 30s, have at least one tattoo. The FDA has the power to control tattoo inks under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, but up to now the agency has not flexed its regulatory muscles.

A spokesman for the agency said: ‘Because the dyes and inks used in tattoos have not been approved by FDA, we do not know the specific composition of what these inks and dyes may contain.

Who would have guessed that injecting chemicals under the skin might be a bad idea? In my youth it was mainly bikers, prisoners and military people who got tats. Now it seems everyone is doing it. Yes, I’m shocked to hear the FDA is, once again, asleep at the switch.

  1. pwuk says:

    OMG, that’s a horrible pic!

  2. bobbo, are we Men of Science, or Devo? says:

    I hate it when half the “news” is still shocking to me.

    Shocking to me is that tatooing materials are not already PROVEN safe. What else is licensing for?

    I don’t need any government inspector telling me whether or not injecting metal into my body is safe or not. Not that I have any tats you understand but I would have thought they were safe with sterilized needles “and everything.”

    Haven’t heard of any uptick in skin or liver cancer though.

    FUD or incompetency. Should we just let the free market figure this out for us or DEMAND our government protect us like sheeple?

    LIEberTARDS? Whats your verdict? Fweedom or Slavery?

  3. McCullough says:

    bobbo- It is you that is taking a Libertarian stand on this.

    I always assumed that tattooing was unsafe. Seems common sensical to me. So what’s the point in having an corrupt regulatory agency that does nothing. Why should we pay for it?

    Ha Ha, bobbo the LIEbertarian.

  4. bobbo, one of the few honest sensical pragmatic libertarians around says:

    McCullough–you say: “So what’s the point in having an corrupt regulatory agency that does nothing. Why should we pay for it? //// What should people do who happen to want tatoo’s? Its an activity you really can’t do for yourself==lacking the tools, materials, artistic ability, practice, templates, and so forth. So–it is “common sensical” to look to other people with the expertise to provide this. Lets call that society and the market? but dying for a tatoo doesn’t make any sense so why not have a well regulated market? Let’s call that an effective government.

    Who is this “we” that pays? I don’t see tats as a general welfare item so I would think the tatoo licensing fee and any special tat tax should cover all the costs necessary and appropriate for the service.

    FREEEEEEEEEEEDOM as only a well regulated free market can provide. Everybody gets what they want.

    You are exactly correct in defining me by the above as my sort of libertarianism.

  5. Floyd says:

    I have no tattoos. My uncle was in the Navy in WW 2, and his only tattoo was on his hand. His ink slowly diffused under his skin, and the tattoo wasn’t legible after 15-20 years.

    I know a lot of people, including my 30 year old daughter, who have a lot of tattoos. It just doesn’t make sense to inject ink under one’s skin, deliberately.

  6. Harry says:

    Clean as a whistle, I have no desire to mark my body up, pierce my ears, nose or dick, but to each his own just don’t ask me to pay for your personal choice. You bought it you own it.

  7. George says:

    I like tattoos. They let me know right off that the person I’m dealing with doesn’t have good judgement. If only all the druggies, alcoholics, abusers and criminals would self-identify then us decent folks would know who to avoid at a glance.

    All you tat people. We really don’t respect you. We may have to deal with you at work, or in public, and we’ll treat you with the politeness that society requires, but as soon as you walk away, the first thing we say to ourselves is, “What a damn idiot”.

  8. Buzz Mega says:

    There are “eras” of life. One of them is that period of time during which one decides that painting their car with graphics would be a great thing to do, except when they think about the diminished resale value.

    So they turn inward to something that will never have a resale value.

    Hence, tats.

    After tats settle, the individual is confronted with the need to posture, behave, reveal, conceal and prove themselves, no, really, to transcend the adopted attribute they have made of themselves; that of being a canvas.

    The least thoughtful among them being the ones that take a paragraph from literature that seemed sooo right at the time, and publish it as text on their shoulder or back.

    As a tribute to the dumbth that too often accompanies the acquisition of tats, note how very few of them mimic the natural patterns nature has decorated its other animals. A person covered in leopard spots or tiger stripes is altogether too rare. But would be a wonderful use of the technology.

  9. spsffan says:

    Does tattoo ink cause cancer? All I can say is I hope so!

    The benefits are several. First of all, tattooed young people are bad enough. So, better that they die off before they get old.

    Second, like George says, they are idiots. Not that I haven’t done some idiotic things when I was younger, but still, the sooner we are rid of them, the better.

    Third, well, anything that REDUCES THE SURPLUS POPULATION is, all other things being equal, a good thing.

  10. LibertyLover says:

    No need to regulate the ink. Just force all tattoo artists to post a sign that says, “Warning, injecting something under your skin you weren’t born with will cause your skin to slough off in a most disgusting manner.”

    Kinda like warnings on cigs.

    btw no tats here.

  11. LibertyLover says:

    #9, We need the young people to pay for our social security and medicare.

  12. LibertyLover says:

    #10, Sigh. Correction: We DON’T need to regulate the ink.

  13. NobodySpecial says:

    >Shocking to me is that tatooing materials are not already PROVEN safe. What else is licensing for?

    How do you PROVE it’s safe?

    Inject it in 45Million people and see if they get skin cancer later in life?

    Of course they might be self-selected for other risky behaviors so you really need to randomly tattoo 50% of the population at different ages.

  14. msbpodcast says:

    Now that I’m older (55+), lamer (M.S.) and less of a flamer, (I lived a wild, wild, wild and free life, 🙂 the only tattoo I’d consider getting is one on my chest saying: “Do Not Resuscitate!

    I never did it when I was younger because:
    a) I never could think of something I wanted to say that would last as long as a tattoo,
    b) the most beautiful and interesting tattoos I ever saw were on the skin of shapely Japanese women,
    c) the rest of them were on lamp shades. I didn’t feel like catching someone’s attention because of my tats. Okay, so I’ve got an overactive imagination:

    Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb: It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it is told.
    Catherine Martin: Mister… my family will pay cash. Whatever ransom you’re askin’ for, they pay it.
    Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb: It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.
    [to his dog, Precious]
    Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb: Yes, it will, Precious, won’t it? It will get the hose!
    Catherine Martin: Okay… okay… okay. Mister, if you let me go, I won’t – I won’t press charges I promise. See, my mom is a real important woman… I guess you already know that.
    Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb: Now it places the lotion in the basket.
    Catherine Martin: Please! Please I wanna go home! I wanna go home please!
    Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb: It places the lotion in the basket.
    Catherine Martin: I wanna see my mommy! Please I wanna see my…
    Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb: Put the fucking lotion in the basket! .

  15. Micromike says:

    Why is anybody surprised that our government is totally dysfunctional. Why does anybody think government regulation makes anything better or safer, it just means you have to pay a bunch of fees to sell the poisons.

    Shouldn’t consumers be smart enough to know they need to be very careful about injecting substances into their body?

    Every time some fool calls for more regulation I wonder why they can’t see regulation has not been the least bit helpful in protecting the public, it just means bribes have to be paid to do the same old stuff. Government is our biggest problem, don’t add to it because a bunch of people are reckless with tattoos.

  16. Snorkelbuddy says:

    Tats are common here in Hawaii and mean many things, especially tribal tattoos. Most of my friends have tats or are thinking about getting one and they are all over 30 & respectable people. No druggies, alcoholics, or gang members among them. So please, don’t judge a person because they have a tattoo.

  17. foobar says:

    Nice mix of “young people are stupid” and “governments are the source of all evil”.

    Mean age: 62

  18. MikeN says:

    In order to test tattoos, we should make them mandatory for the population. This is necessary so we can test to see if they are safe.

  19. MikeN says:

    If it were legal, liberals and trial lawyers would want the FDA to regulate cocaine.

  20. Sanford195 says:

    In the 90’s I was part of a group that developed a Q-Switched Ruby laser to remove tattoos. During the development process we had to learn and understand the molecular structure of the tattoo ink in order to determine the best wavelength, energy level and pulse width needed to reduce the size of the ink molecules so the body could transport the ink out of the skin.

    One of the characteristics of the original tattooing was that some of the ink would remain in the skin while smaller ink molecules that did not remain in the skin would be transported and then remain in the lymphatic system. This was not seen as a problem based on the fact that historically most tattoo inks were carbon-based. However, as time went on and people and tattoo artists wanted to increase the visibility and the durability of their tattoos other compounds were introduced which were not as benign as the carbon-based inks. Tattoo artists didn’t really publicize or make their customers aware of the fact that they were beginning to use inks that were not as benign as their customers might have thought. For example, Red ink frequently contains cadmium, Blue ink contains cobalt blue, chromium oxides or calcium copper silicate, Violet ink contains magnesium ammonium pyrophosphate, and so on. While attempting to make tattoos more colorful and more durable inks have become more and more exotic with fillers and additives that are less and less benign. People think these inks are just pretty and colorful and nice to look at and have no idea about the consequences of injecting them into their bodies.

    The point of this article and the FDA’s involvement is to educate those who are seeking or getting tattoos. Just like any other industry, someone needs to be watching because it is certainly not in the best interest of these corporations or in this case, tattoo artists to notify their customers that they are receiving low doses of known carcinogens. And to those dreamers who want to leave it to the industries to police themselves, can you say Lead, Asbestoses, Arsenic, PCB’s, Carbon Monoxide, Formaldehyde, Hexavailent Cromium, Acrylamide, Cadmium, etc. which were all commonly used and industry said they were safe.

  21. tcc3 says:

    #15 MicroMike

    Tough words from a fellow who can usually trust the meat at the grocery store, the drugs in the drug store, the water that comes from his tap, and who’s river is not on fire.

    Regulations are serving a purpose. Your refusal to recognize the purpose does not negate it.

  22. spsffan says:

    #19. It is and they do.

  23. MikeN says:

    #22 cocaine is legal?

  24. Likes2LOL says:

    Well, isn’t this a pisser for healthy conscious folks — now they’ll be limited to piercing, scarification & branding to satisfy their body art needs!

    Need some “creative” ideas? Check out or

    BTW, God (allegedly) doesn’t approve of any of this foolishness, as expressed in Leviticus 19:28. So why, you might ask, did He give us tattoo inks with lead, cadmium and chromium? Or, is this really the handiwork of Satan??

  25. msbpodcast says:

    In #20 Sanford195 said: While attempting to make tattoos more colorful and more durable inks have become more and more exotic with fillers and additives that are less and less benign.

    So how is that shade of plutonium “gun metal blue” working out for ya?

    and in #15 Micromike said: Shouldn’t consumers be smart enough to know they need to be very careful about injecting substances into their body?

    Duude, they’re thinking about getting fuckin’ tattooed. They have to be stupid and/or masochists and/or drunk off their ass to contemplate it.

    It hurts to fuck apply, (its permanent [and it hurts in the wallet to boot to get rid of,]) and the only thing on the average person’s mind (IQ only 100, which is the average, by definition, or below,) is “will he/she/they think its makes me look hot or will my ‘rents get pissed off enough at my tramp stamp?” because they’re thinking with their pubes, not their cerebellum.

    I thought of getting tattoos saying: “Open Here” like on military planes, but I thought better of it. Most of my friends at the time were stupid enough to use it as an excuse to carve me up like a turkey…

    Then I though of getting tattoos saying: “No User Serviceable Parts Inside“, but I figured that would just get me funny looks at the beach.

    Then I though of getting what looks like “S|wan” tattooed on my dick. (Honey that’s not “S|wan” that’s “Saskatchewan!) But that would be awfully painful for such a cheap-shot joke.

    Lately, I’m thinking of getting a simple chest tattoo saying: “Do Not Resuscitate.”

  26. msbpodcast says:

    In #21 tcc3 said: Regulations are serving a purpose. Your refusal to recognize the purpose does not negate it.

    Leave the poor schmuck alone.

    Maybe he’s one of those caveat emptor “free market” dweebs who thinks that its just too bad if his mother broke her hip tripping over a lousy broken tile at city hall or the state capitol that nobody ever got around to fixing because there was no money in the budget. (But hey, there’s never enough money in the budget, right? If there was we’d i>cut it.)

    Later on, he’ll take her out back and shoot her.

  27. Anonymous says:

    So, I’m curious. What’s your take on branding?! Believe it or not, some people are actually branding themselves as if they were cows or something too. They do this as another form of “body art”. So, do you think branding might be something that the government should also be looking into?

    I think someone once rhetorically said it best when he/she asked, “why would anyone be caught dead placing a picture on their body that they wouldn’t be caught dead hanging on their wall?!”

    BTW, I’m a biker. However, I don’t have any tats and I’m not alone here either. I made my choice a long time ago and I’ll fight to the death before I let anyone else place their symbol of ownership on me – cause I’m not a damn cow! But if I ever do get a tattoo, it’ll probably be my government issued SS# on the bottom of my foot or something – sort of like they did in Nazi Germany.

  28. McCullough says:

    #27. I’m a biker too. No tats, never saw a need, plus I have a phobia of needles.

  29. So what says:

    No tats and its a three day weekend so I am feeling lazy and way to lazy to google it or read the article. Does anybody know under what jurisdiction the FDA would have to regulate tattoo ink? Its not a drug per se, nor is it a food, a food additive maybe. Please post a link I will look at it Tuesday. Otherwise its off to the lake for beer and bikinis. I may be old but I am not dead.

  30. What? says:

    A tatoo makes me think the owner wishes to join the lower classes.

    Most Americans I’ve met hope to join a higher class group.

    Hawaiians are the exception.


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