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French tattooists needled by ban of coloured ink


The French government plans to ban many of the products that make up coloured tattoo ink after a report claimed they could increase the risk of infection, allergy and cancer. The nation's tattooists are up in arms.



For French tattoo parlours life is about to become a lot less colourful.

The French government plans to follow a recommendation by the ANSM, the French National Agency for the Safety of Health Products, that 59 products used in creating coloured tattoo inks should be banned because they could increase the risk of infection, allergy and cancer.

The ANSM called for the ban as a precaution “for reasons of safety.” It, in turn, was reacting to a report in January by the French organisation of dermatologists which said some tattoo inks were "dangerous for the skin" because they contained "toxic metals" and hydrocarbons "the majority of which are carcinogenic." It warned of "allergic reactions" and "risks linked to pre-existing skin conditions."

"There is not enough data at this stage to be certain that they are harmless," said Cécile Vaugelade of the ANSM.

The French tattooing industry is up in arms. Its protests led to a delay in the implementation of the ban until January 1, 2014. On Wednesday, a delegation from the French association of tattooists, SNAT, went to the French parliament where they were met by a sympathetic Socialist deputy, Olivier Véran, who promised to try to have the ban delayed again.

The industry boasts 3,500 to 4,000 tattoo parlours in France and estimates that it performs 10,000-15,000 tattoos a day. A survey in 2010 by the polling agency Ifop calculated that 10 percent of French people have a tattoo, but that figure doubles to 20 percent for people between 25 and 35. The survey also found that those between 18 and 25 were the most enthusiastic about the idea of getting a tattoo in future.

SNAT argues that the measures won’t stop people wanting coloured tattoos but will drive them into the arms of “clandestine” tattooists who buy coloured inks on the black market, in particular from those scary Chinese manufacturers.

Tin-Tin, the president of SNAT and the “tattooist to the stars,” according to the newspaper Libération, used the visit to parliament as an opportunity to deliver his message to the media.

"They use this precautionary principle as a stick to beat us while they continue to sell carcinogenic tobacco," said Tin-Tin, whose clients have included John Galliano and Jean-Paul Gaultier. "If this ban goes into force, professional tattooists will be in danger of having to shut their parlours to the benefit of underground tattooists who work at home with no hygienic provisions, who buy ink from China and are never bothered by the authorities.”

"No link has been established between tattooing and skin cancer," he said. "These pigments they want to ban are not forbidden anywhere else in Europe."

The scientists argue that they simply don’t know how dangerous tattoo inks are and that they aren’t subject to enough research or legislation.

"First, we must know the components of the inks,” Dr Jean-Luc Rigon, a member of the French association of dermatologists told the Nouvel Observateur. “Then, we need to check that the components are allowed in human medicine. If they have never been used, they should be tested by independent laboratories, as a drug or cosmetic. This is common sense."

He amplified the point in an interview with 20 Minutes: “They are injected into the human body, but they do not stay where they are injected. One can find the ink in the lymph nodes and it is not clear what this may cause.”

Dr Nicolas Kluger, a French dermatologist based at the University of Helsinki, told L’Express newspaper that "the government has a list of products banned for in cosmetics. The logic is that if those products are toxic when applied to the skin. They must also be in the skin.”

The two sides disagree over the consequences of the ban. Vaugelade says that French tattoo artists will still be able to use "27 red dyes, 13 whites, 13 oranges 12 yellows, six blacks, and three browns. "

"False!" says Tin -Tin. "There would be very few high-quality officially permitted pigments, at most a few greens, two or three blue, one yellow and one white.”

Even such a small list is no guarantee. Kluger pointed out that “the most perfect ink will still produce reactions. In tattooing products there is no such thing as zero risk.”

The debate adds a new twist to the question facing the growing number of fashion conscious people who want a tattoo: how much are they prepared to suffer for their body art?

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