Up and down. The needle pierces the skin like a small drill and spits drops of ink into each hole. It can burn, burn. The pain passes, and the tattoo stays. What few wonder is what contain the liquids that end forever locked in their bodies. 12% of Europeans are tattooed, but Brussels has only taken timid steps to regulate the sector. Next year will have to pronounce on a proposal from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) that suggests veto 4,000 substances contained in tattoo inks and micropigmentation, the largest ban ever raised by this agency. Meanwhile, each country regulates (or not) the use of these products differently and chaos prevails.
Spain, one of the nine countries in Europe that has legislated on tattoo inks, has such strict rules that only one company has obtained the permits to market its products. The problem is that many tattoo artists do not use them, says Albert Grau, president of the National Association of Tattoo and Piercing Distributors: "They are of poor quality, they do not paint". The majority of the guild opts for inks not authorized by the Spanish Ministry of Health, but which are approved in the rest of Europe, thus facing a Crime against public health and prison sentences. "It is absurd that you can not use an ink that in Germany has passed all the controls", ditch Grau.
The tattooist explains that the main obstacle lies in the regulatory fit of the inks, which are considered personal care items, regulated by the decree of cosmetic products according to a non-binding resolution of 2008 of the Council of Europe. These products need permission from the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products to be sold in the country.
Luis has been a tattoo artist for 16 years. He has a studio in the center of Madrid. He asks to use a fictitious name and explains that it is easy to get inks that are not authorized. "They can be bought anywhere," he says with a pair of cans in his hand with a clear warning on the back label: not approved in Spain. "I use them with some clients and outside the country; I'm not going to make a bad name for doing a sloppy job, "he clarifies.
The tattooists ask to be able to use material used by other EU countries
The tattoo is so old that to find the first examples of this art you have to go back to prehistoric man. The sailors of James Cook they brought them to Europe from Tahiti, and even personalities of the European nobility of the 19th century, such as the Russian tsar Nicholas II or Alfonso XIII of Spain, were seduced by the art of engraving their skin.
Today, science has not proven to cause cancer, as confirmed by ECHA itself. This agency, to which Brussels commissioned a report evaluating the risks of these products, ensures that "there are studies that show that exposure to some substances found in inks can cause it." But it clarifies: "We do not seek to prohibit tattoos, but limit exposure to hazardous chemicals"
Jørgen Serup, president of the European Tattoo and Pigment Research Society, confesses that the ECHA study raises questions: "There are 4,000 substances. You imagine? It is impossible to manage! " It also asks which of them cause diseases. "I am a doctor, and it is impossible to know. There are still not enough studies and cancer is on all sides, in pollution, in smoke … it's like saying you'll have it by smoking a cigarette. "
12% of Europeans have already opted to burn their bodies
Serup believes that clinical reality should prevail over the toxicological approach. He explains that politicians never took an interest in tattoos, considering them an exclusive practice for segments of the population with low social status. "But that's not the case, almost 30% of young people have one," he adds. He believes that the EU should create common rules without exceeding the prohibition: "The ECHA proposal will not make any disease disappear, it will only help to create a submerged market".
Donis Muñoz has the same fear. This dermatologist specialized in tattoos considers that in Spain there is an "excess of legislation" that prevents knowing what products cause possible adverse reactions, such as allergies. The problem is that tattooists do not usually admit to using unauthorized material. "We are not going anywhere with standards that are almost impossible to apply. In addition, cause social alarm, "he says.
The only inks allowed in Spain are produced by Black Steel. Its owner, Armando Francés, explains that the authorities demand compliance with chemical composition and labeling requirements, among others. He himself sells in the rest of Europe inks that he can not sell here and is interested in the rules being relaxed. "At the component level, there is no difference," he says.
The United States is the leading ink market in the world, and products authorized in Europe are usually certified by the German laboratory Chemical Technological Laboratory (CTL). Even so, they can not be sold in Spain. "The tattooists do not want to live in illegality," says Luis. "But there's no other option."
Pilar Navaz, secretary general of the Spanish Federation of Tattoo and distributor, explains that another of the great struggles of the guild is the recognition of the profession of tattoo artist. "We have been in Congress several times and, in fact, there is a proposal not of law that remained in the drawer," he explains. He considers that the regulation of inks in Spain is absurd and recalls that certified substances in Europe, despite being banned in Spain, were allowed to use during several editions of the Mulafest, a convention in Madrid to which tattoo artists from all over the world come.
"We could buy safely in Europe, but this way we face the risk of penalties and counterfeits," he explains. "You have to understand that tattooing is not a passing fad, and kilos of ink are used every day in Spain," he warns.