Toxic Tattoos? Zeolite To The Rescue

Is tattoo ink toxic in Australia? This is a question that those of us considering adorning our bodies with permanent inky art, are likely to ask.

Australia imports tattoo inks from Europe, USA and China. Research has shown that tattoo inks use over 200 different types of dyes and additives.

A report from the Australian Government’s National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) shows what is in the ink that is under the skin of more than 2 million Australians and about 100 million Europeans. And it is not pretty.

The report investigated 471 different tattoo inks likely to be used in Australia, made up of 89 unique chemicals. They interviewed 22 professional tattoo artists and sourced 49 specific tattoo inks likely to be used in Australian tattoo parlours for detailed chemical analysis.

Of the 49 inks NICNAS tested, only four complied with the European standards.

The major concern was the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of chemicals known to be carcinogens. PAHs were found in more than one-fifth of the samples tested and in 83 per cent of the black inks tested.

Other non-compliant components include barium, copper, mercury, amines and various colourants.

More recently, the EU went so far as to ban popular coloured tattoo inks over safety risks.

The EU new law, which came into force in 2022, limits the use of chemicals that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) says are hazardous.

Some of those linked to cancer, reproductive difficulties and skin irritation are contained in mixtures for tattoo inks and permanent make-up (PMU)

After conducting an assessment into the health risks of chemicals in tattoo inks, the ECHA concluded that the use of some 4,000 chemicals should be limited, including isopropanol alcohol which is a common ingredient in inks.

Alarmingly, in Australia, tattoo and body art inks remain largely unregulated. Australia imports all its tattoo inks and currently has no regulation for the use of chemicals in pigments, and PMU pigments are currently unregulated in all jurisdictions. This is despite Australian research that some of the chemicals may be harmful.

In 2016, a report by the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS ) found that one in five tattoo inks used in Australia contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of chemicals known to be carcinogens.

PAHs were found in more than one-fifth of the samples tested and in 83 per cent of the black inks tested.

Of the 49 inks NICNAS tested, only four complied with the European standards.

Can tattoos cause cancer

The ECHA report notes that there is currently no direct evidence of tattoo ink causing cancer, but research has found instances of pigment particles from the inks spreading into people's lymph nodes.

According to the Cancer Council: "Over time, macrophages take up pigment and may transport it into the lymphatic system and lymph nodes. This means other tissue in the body can be exposed to potentially carcinogenic materials in the tattoo ink."

Are vegan or organic tattoo products safer?

The trend towards vegan food and organic products suggests that organic inks will be healthier or safer. Over the past two decades, many ink manufacturers have made the transition from mineral inks to organic inks. About 80 percent of these inks are carbon-based, while 60 percent may also use azo pigments.

Some organic inks will be produced using animal products, such as bone char, beetle shellac or animal fat glycerin. Other organic compounds used for pigmentation can be beeswax or cod liver oil.

Manufacturers making vegan tattoo inks for the vegan market will usually replace animal by-products, such as animal glycerin, with a vegetable glycerin.

While many of the toxins in organic inks may be missing, they can still contain heavy metals, such as titanium oxide. They are also not completely free of risks, with the risk of contamination in the production process still present depending on the production environment and sterilisation methods.

Be safe

If you are committed to your inking, find a reputable tattoo artist who is experienced and registered with your local state government Health Department. It’s also wise to enquire if the business itself is registered. Laws relating to tattooing are different in each state or territory, so check the laws in your state by visiting the government Health Department website.

Don’t be shy to ask where your artist has sourced their products and materials. Other great questions to ask your prospective artist are how they sterilise their equipment, and what other safety precautions they have in place prior to and whilst performing the tattoo art.

What kinds of reactions may happen after my tattoo?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that you might notice a rash—redness or bumps—in the area of your tattoo, and you could develop a fever.

More aggressive infections may cause high fever, shaking, chills, and sweats. Treating such infections might require a variety of antibiotics—possibly for months—or even hospitalization and/or surgery. A rash may also mean you’re having an allergic reaction. And because the inks are permanent, the reaction may persist.

Contact your health care professional if you have any concerns.

How to detox heavy metals and other possible contaminants post-tattoo

The safest way to detox heavy metals from your body after having a tattoo is by taking zeolite. Heavy metals and chemicals are drawn into the structure of each superfine zeolite particle where they are captured and permanently bonded.

We would recommend 1 level teaspoon of zeolite powder or 4 capsules per day one week prior to your tattoo and then continue on this daily regime for as long as any tattoo symptoms like itching, redness and swelling persist.

The FDA has received reports of bad reactions to tattoo inks right after tattooing and even years later. So it is wise to continue to take zeolite whenever any symptoms reoccur.

We would also recommend adding zeolite powder to the cream your tattoo artist gives you to apply post-tattoo. Alternatively, you can make your own zeolite lotion.

How to make zeolite lotion

  • ¼ level teaspoon zeolite powder
  • 1 rounded tablespoon natural moisturising lotion

Put zeolite powder into a very small bowl. Add about a quarter of the lotion then blend together until smooth. Add the remaining lotion and mix well. Store in a small airtight jar.

1 ABC News 2016

2 ABC News 2022

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