HSE proposes looser ban on hazardous inks than EU in first UK REACH restriction

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published its restriction opinion on limiting the amounts of hazardous substances in tattoo and permanent makeup (PMU) ink in a first for UK REACH, with derogations given to some chemicals that are banned in the EU.

In January 2022 an EU ban on over 4,000 chemicals used in tattoo inks and permanent make up came into effect, over fears the chemicals were potentially toxic and could cause genetic mutations and cancer. The move was criticised in the EU by industry figures, who said it would lead to the ‘criminalisation of tattoo artists’.

The restriction was adopted into EU chemical legislation in December 2020, but was not carried to the UK as retained EU law due to Brexit.

The environment secretary, with the support of the devolved nations, requested a similar review for Great Britain in April 2021 under Article 69(1) of UK REACH, the main piece of legislation relating to the regulation of chemicals in Great Britain registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals.

READ MORE: How UK chemicals regulation continues to diverge after Brexit

After a six month public consultation, HSE, which is the main agency responsible for UK REACH, has published its risk assessment and restriction opinion. It notes that due to a lack of data in general on the health impacts of inks, the proposed ban addresses a potential public health problem and aims to protect those receiving tattoos and PMU from adverse health impacts.

It suggests that substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction, skin sensitisers, or skin or eye irritants, should not be placed on the market in mixtures for use for tattooing purposes. A second option also proposed would remove substances from the scope if they are only classified as skin or eye irritants.

However, the HSE proposes a derogation for 19 pigments where it has “not identified evidence indicating they are unsafe if used in tattoo or PMU ink”. The European Chemicals Agency originally proposed these chemicals should be derogated, but in the opinion forming stage they were included in the EU restriction according to HSE. Two of these are pigment blue 15:3 and pigment green 7, which came under the EU ban a year later due to a derogation.

HSE said that in response to “widespread concern expressed by the tattooing community” it decided to propose a derogation for these two pigments, as the consultation found technically effective and safe alternatives have not yet been identified.

Dr Richard Daniels, HSE’s chemicals regulation division director, said: “Tattoo and permanent makeup inks could contain substances that are harmful to us. Some of these substances, for example, could trigger allergic reactions in the skin.

“While tattoo artists have measures to keep their work hygienic, there are currently no regulatory controls in Great Britain for substances in inks used for tattooing and permanent makeup.”

He noted that HSE have “listened carefully to the tattooing community” in making its derogation choices.

HSE originally included Pigment Red 83 (CAS: 72-48-0) and Solvent Violet 13 (CAS: 81-48-1) in its derogation, but it has decided not to after the review identified data indicating potential concerns for skin sensitisation for both substances. The Agency is intending to take forward a proposal for mandatory classification of these dyes for skin sensitisation under classification, labelling and packaging regulations (GB CLP).

Chloe Topping, assistant campaigner at the charity CHEM Trust, said: “It is very concerning that HSE’s restriction options are less protective than the restriction in force in the EU.

“People in the UK should benefit from the same level of protection for their health as our European neighbours, whether from skin irritation or potential cancer risk.”

A fresh consultation will now take place on the socio-economic factors of the proposal, as is required under UK REACH, running until April this year. If the restriction goes ahead it would be the first to have been made under the UK REACH chemicals regulation.