Tattoo Artists Angry Over New EU Rules

08 January 2022

Tattoo artists say their art will lose much of its color, and their businesses' profits, because of new bans on some chemicals. The European Union (EU) laws went into effect on January 5. Thousands of chemicals used to make many ink colors are now illegal to use.

The EU says the restrictions help protect public health. Officials say the banned chemicals may be linked to cancer and allergies.

A man, wearing a protective face covering to prevent the spread of coronavirus, is tattooed at Paul and Friends tattoo store in downtown Brussels, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
A man, wearing a protective face covering to prevent the spread of coronavirus, is tattooed at Paul and Friends tattoo store in downtown Brussels, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

In Amsterdam, Tycho Veldhoen has worked in the industry for 25 years. He says he fears the loss of colors will have a huge effect on his work. And, he expects the damage will increase next year as more inks face bans.

Tattoo artists in the EU have had a difficult two years since COVID-19 hit with restrictions and lockdowns. Now, they say a perfectly avoidable crisis is hitting them even harder.

"There should have been a lot more preparation," Veldhoen said.

The EU disagrees that there was a failure to prepare, however. It says it started working with experts on the issue in 2016. The EU announced more than a year ago that January 5, 2022, was the measures' start date.

EU spokesman Eric Mamer said that this is not a surprise or something completely new. He called it a "generalization of practice" in the 27-member group.

Seven EU nations already had national restrictions.

The EU says there are legal substitutes for the banned inks. However, tattoo artists say those products move too slowly from manufacturers to tattoo businesses.

Angelo Bedani works for Boucherie Moderne in Brussels, Belgium. He said the new inks became available just a week ago, adding that "a bottle costs double compared to the one" before the ban.

The EU estimates that about a fourth of all 18- to 35-year-olds in Europe are tattooed. It says in the general population about 12 percent of people are tattooed.

The EU's chemical control agency, ECHA, said that cases of allergic and inflammatory skin reactions "are expected to decrease thanks to the restriction." It also said it might decrease cases of more serious health conditions, including cancer, as well.

Michl Dirks is an artist working to end the restrictions. His "Save the Pigments" petition has already collected signed support from 176,000 people.

Dirks says the ban is not supported by medical science. He also objects to the way the measure is being carried out.

Erich Maehnert, co-organizer of Save the Pigments, said such bans unfairly hurt the industry since people will seek to buy the products illegally. He predicts safety and product security will suffer.

Others say the small tattoo industry is easily targeted, while the tobacco and alcohol industries still hold much more influence.

The two men are already preparing for the next battle. Up to now the colors Blue 15 and Green 7 are permitted to be used until next year because there are no other choices to replace them.

In the Netherlands, Veldhoen is not happy with his current choices of inks. "A rose with brown leaves is a lot less attractive than a rose with green leaves," he said.

I'm Gregory Stachel.

Raf Casert reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

tattoo – n. a picture or word that is drawn on a person's skin by using a needle and ink

ink – n. colored liquid that is used for writing or printing

allergy – n. a medical condition that causes someone to become sick after eating, touching, or breathing something that is harmless to most people

practice – n. the action of doing or using something

inflammation – n. a condition in which a part of your body becomes red, swollen, and painful

petition – n. a written document that people sign to show that they want a person or organization to do or change something

attractive – adj. having a pleasing appearance