Background European Council resolutions on tattoo ink introduce sterility and preservation of inks to protect customers. Inks used in Denmark are typically purchased over the internet from international suppliers and manufacturers from the US and the UK. In Denmark tattoo inks are regulated and labelled according to REACH as if they were plain chemicals.
Objective The objective of this study was to check the microbial product safety of unopened and opened tattoo ink stock bottles. Packaging, labelling, preservation, sterility and contamination with micro-organisms were studied.
Methods Physical inspection and culture of bacteria and fungi.
Results Six of 58 unopened stock bottles (10%) were contaminated with bacteria and one of six samples (17%) of previously used stock bottles was contaminated. The bacterial species represented bacteria considered pathogenic in humans as well as non-pathogenic environmental bacteria. Yeast or moulds were detected in none of the samples. A total of 31% of the manufacturers informed only about the brand name. No information about content, sterility, risks or expiry date was indicated on the label. A total of 42% claimed sterility of their inks. A total of 54% labelled a maximum period of durability of typically 2–3 years. The physical sealing was leaking in 28% of the products.
Conclusions The European Council resolutions regarding safety of tattoo inks are not effective. Stock bottles of tattoo ink may contain bacteria pathogenic to humans and environmental bacteria, and packaging, labelling and preservation of inks are of inadequate quality. Claim of sterility can be erroneous.