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by Jess Campbell

It used to be the case that a tattoo symbolised rebellion and individuality – from the Hell’s Angels to the Navy, tattoos were a type of branding, a way of differentiating yourself from others. Now though, tattoos are about as commonplace as a man-bun on a barista, and you need only take a stroll down any well populated thoroughfare to see that their popularity is far from waning. But despite our leanings towards the ink-game, have you ever wondered just what’s in tattoo ink?

It’s a question scientists are beginning to raise, after tattoo artists in Europe are fighting a new ban on two commonly-used green and blue pigments. In Europe, individual countries have been required to label tattoo ink ingredients in an effort to limit certain chemicals that are thought to cause cancer, damage DNA, or trigger allergic reactions. 

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In an effort to harmonise tattoo ink rules across the continent, the European Union has called for a ban on pigments Blue 15:3 and Green 7, but artists are now disputing it, saying it doesn’t make any sense. Speaking to National Public Radio, Matt Knopp, owner of Tattoo Paradise in Washington, D.C., said, “It’s strange. You almost feel that, how are you only allowed to use certain inks? You can’t tell me that all these other inks are bad, especially when I’m using them in the States.”

In the United States, tattoo ink is almost completely unregulated and little is known about what’s actually in it. And if you read that with a typical roll of the eyes and a smug, “typical America” smile, unfortunately it doesn’t get much better here on home soil. Tattoo ink is unregulated here in Australia too, with the Therapeutic Goods Administration believing it’s not required to do so as taboo inks aren’t seen as therapeutic substances. 

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