Boris Pramatarov, 33, is overflowing with ideas as he enters his tattoo studio, Tattoo Studio Because, located in a picturesque neighborhood in the south-east of Brussels.
“I’m really excited to design super small tattoos and work on designs that add meaning to my clients’ lives,” he told DW.
Originally from Bulgaria, Pramatarov has been designing tattoos for four years in Belgium and has recently started experimenting with using colored tattoo inks.
“I find using colored ink on skin really enhances my designs. The tones are beautiful and the colored tattoos look great on skin,” he said.
Tattoo artist Boris Pramatarov thinks colorful tattoos show off his designs and look good on the skin
But her enthusiasm for showing off the color and shine of her tattoos was short-lived after a pan-European ban came into effect this week, limiting tattoo inks and makeup containing dangerous chemicals that can cause the cancer and other health risks.
“The pandemic has already impacted our business and now we have this new restriction in our industry. I can still adapt my tattoo style to black and white designs only. But for artists who only create tattoos colored, they may need to change base outside of the EU to continue their work,” Pramatarov told DW.
Mikki Bold, a Rouen, France-based tattoo artist who has been in the industry for 13 years, agrees with Pramatarov. “I regularly use colors and without colors, a whole part of my work disappears,” he told DW.
The EU has banned 4,000 chemicals such as certain azo dyes and isopropanol alcohol, a common ingredient in tattoo inks. Its chemicals legislation, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) explains that safer alternatives to these harmful chemicals are readily available on the market.
The new rules also apply to tattoo inks imported into the EU, the European Chemicals Agency said. The new restrictions are expected to reduce serious health effects like cancer, chronic allergic reactions and other inflammatory skin reactions linked to inks used for tattoos and permanent makeup.
But the ban has caused a lot of frustration in the tattoo industry. Around 175,000 tattoo artists across the EU have signed a petition to highlight how the new rules would kill their businesses and encourage illegal ink supplies.
The pigments tattoo artists refer to are Blue 15:3 and Green 7, for which there are currently no substitutes available on the market.
“There are alternatives for yellow, red and orange pigments, but we have no qualms about their quality. There is no alternative for blue and green pigments. This causes 60% of the colors to disappear in 2023 and makes colorful tattoos impossible,” the tattoo artist Bold said.
Acknowledging industry concerns, a European Commission spokesperson told DW: “We have introduced support measures to help the industry. For example, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has launched an awareness campaign especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Carson Bruns, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Boulder, Colorado in the United States, uses nanotechnology to develop tattoo inks with biomedical properties. He explained that there are alternatives to restricted blue and green pigments.
“In our lab, we’re using nanotechnology to develop blue pigments that don’t contain the banned chemicals and change color when exposed to heat and ultraviolet light,” he told DW.
“So if you went out and it was a very sunny day and you weren’t wearing sunscreen, little blue dots will appear and act as a warning that you should probably put on some form of sunscreen to protect your skin. So that’s the kind of biomedical aspect of our alternative that we haven’t commercialized yet in the United States and around the world,” he added.
Tattoo artist Angelica Spinardi says her clients’ safety is always important
As tattoo artists and ink suppliers in the EU try to find more alternatives, Michael Dirks, an Austria-based tattoo ink expert, thinks ink suppliers should also be wary of labeling correct of their products.
“From now on, it is very important that ink suppliers specify that the ink is a ‘tattoo mixture’ as part of their labeling. It is not enough to say that the ink is ‘REACH compliant’ “isn’t enough,” he told DW. .
How do customers feel?
While ink suppliers and tattoo artists are always on the lookout for legal and safe alternatives, some tattoo enthusiasts don’t mind getting inked with color the traditional way.
“I would always take a colored one. Like people say cigarettes are bad and keep smoking them or eating meat gives you colon cancer over time. But nothing is guaranteed,” he said. Hanna Torseke, 24, at DW.
Brussels tattoo artist Angelica Spinardi says the ban won’t really change the demand for black ink tattoos either.
Tattoo artist Angelica Spinardi designs tattoos that convey her clients’ personal stories and feelings
“I don’t think people who are fond of color would go for a black tattoo. Also the industry is no longer considered underground and is very professional. In fact, over the last decade inks containing little or no metals and no harm to animals are already used. I truly believe it’s only a matter of time for new color ink to come to market,” she said.
Edited by: Rob Mudge