What it will mean for you and your business

The Regulation of Cosmetic Tattoo Pigments

Frequently Asked Questions
March 6th, 2021

The regulation of pigments is complicated. When it comes to cosmetic tattoo, the focus is usually on the shape, the technique, and the colour… not so much on the chemistry of the pigment itself. The assumption from both technicians and clients is that pigments are checked for their safety or else they would not be able to buy them. This is not the case, not yet.

In December 2020, the European Union (EU) introduced new regulations that will restrict the chemicals in pigments (or “inks”) used for body art or cosmetic tattooing (aka Permanent Makeup, PMU). This will cause some brands to make changes to their pigments or withdraw some from sales.

As Australia looks to adopt similar regulations, with Queensland the first state to do so, Australian technicians and business owners need to be made aware of the facts surrounding the regulations. We have prepared answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that cover everything from the pigments themselves and the new regulations to who it impacts and how.

Pigments & Regulation: The Basics

  1. Who approves pigments for use in Australia currently?
    Surprisingly, no one. There are regulations for poisons that could be applied to tattoo pigments, but until now there has been no legislation to directly control what is used and what goes into people’s skin.
  2. Why does the government want to restrict or ban chemicals from tattoo pigments?
    Regulatory authorities, particularly health authorities, want to protect the public from chemicals that are potentially harmful to human health.
  3. Why is this happening now?
    In recent years, pigment manufacturers have started to use more and more exotic chemicals in search of brighter body art colours or better pigment retention with cosmetic tattooing. It is these chemicals that sometimes pose a health risk.Historically, pigments came from natural minerals and metal oxides such as iron oxides. Some old blues and greens contained lead, which was banned in all sorts of products years ago. Over the years, chemicals have replaced a lot of the minerals and oxides used in pigments. More complicated chemical dyes (colorants) have gradually replaced a lot of the metal oxides.

    There are a lot more ‘nasties’ finding their way into pigments, and therefore the skin of tattoo clients. The government objective is to regulate pigments to avoid potential health risks.

  4. If it is my skin, why can’t I put in it whatever I want?
    With 15% of Australians having at least one tattoo, if a popular pigment ingredient was found to be causing skin cancer, the scale of the health problem could be substantial. As well as the human cost, there could also be a large public health cost.
  5. Who will be responsible for making sure the pigments sold, bought and used are legal?
    The Queensland regulations, which are expected to be adopted by other Australian states and territories, cover everyone in the supply chain down to the business owner using the pigment. The Australian distributor or seller of imported pigments needs to comply, and the tattooing business owner (user) needs to comply.
  6. How long do I have to comply?
    To quote Queensland Health: “To enable sufficient time for the tattoo ink manufacturers, suppliers and businesses to comply with new requirements under the Medicines and Poisons Act, the tattoo ink provisions will commence 12 months after the commencement of the Act, i.e. late 2022.” 
  7. How many cosmetic tattoo pigment brands are affected by the regulations?
    All manufacturers that manufacture in Europe or sell into Europe will be affected. Some brands do not contain any of the restricted colorants, and some have them in most of their range. Consult your supplier to try and find out if the brand(s) you use will be affected by the restrictions.
  8. What about my old stock?
    12 months is not a long time to use up pigments (if you do want to use them up). The sooner you start buying compliant pigments, the less chance you will need to throw away illegal stock.
  9. What existing cosmetic tattoos contain pigments that will be ‘banned’?
    If you or your client are concerned, then there are effective methods for cosmetic tattoo removal, but this is entirely personal matter.
  10. Will there be penalties if I sell or use a pigment that does not comply?
    Yes, there will be. After the transition period for compliance has ended, the maximum penalty for a supplier is 100 penalty units (currently $13,300) and for a business or person using the pigment, 50 units ($6,650).To learn more about compliance, what is required, the transition period and the penalties, please continue to the next section where we dive deeper into the details surrounding the regulation of pigments.

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