Tattoo Inks, Cancer and Other Chronic Diseases: Gaps in research and regulation

February 22, 2024
2:00 pm US Eastern Time

Slides & Resources

Slides and Webinar Q&A

David Kriebel: Tattoo inks, cancer, and other chronic diseases: gaps in research and regulation.

David Kriebel: Webinar Q&A


CHE blog from Andre Green, MSW, April 2024: On the Brink of Ink: The impact of tattoos and their safety

European Chemicals Agency. Tattoo inks and permanent makeup.

Foerster M et al. 2020. Tattoo inks and cancer. Cancer Epidemiology 65: 101655. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2019.101655

Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). 2022. Chemicals in tattoo inks & permanent makeup: EU wide restriction covering over 4,000 substances enters into force today.

Kriebel, D. 2007. The reactionary principle: inaction for public health. Occupational and Environmental Medicine Sep;64(9):573-4.

Negi S et al. 2022. Tattoo inks are toxicological risks to human health: A systematic review of their ingredients, fate inside skin, toxicity due to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, primary aromatic amines, metals, and overview of regulatory frameworks. Toxicology and Industrial Health 38:7, https://doi.org/10.1177/0748233722110087

Sabbioni G and Hauri U. 2016. Carcinogenic Tattoos? Epidemiology Biostatistics and Public Health 13:4. https://doi.org/10.2427/12018

Schaeffer K and Dinesh S. 2023. 32 percent of Americans have a tattoo. Pew Research Center.

US FDA. 2022. Cosmetics Facts: Tattoos and Permanent Makeup


View the webinar Q&A at this link.

Download our Webinar Highlights fact sheet for key findings and quotes from this webinar.

Nearly a third of adults in the US have at least one tattoo, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. People choose to have tattoos for many reasons, including, in an increasing number of cases, as a way to honor a loved one.

However, little research has been conducted to assess possible health effects of tattoos. Tattoo inks can contain a variety of toxic chemicals, including chemicals classified as carcinogenic or probably carcinogenic to humans. These include metals such as arsenic, chromium (VI), cadmium, nickel, and lead; polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); and aromatic amines such as 2-naphthylamine. There are also important questions about how the immune system responds to inks in the epidermis, even if those inks are not made from inherently hazardous substances. 

The European Union adopted restrictions on tattoo inks in 2020, and the requirements of the restriction came into force in 2022. Within the US, the Food and Drug Administration has authority to regulate tattoo inks, but does not do so.

In this webinar, Dr. David Kriebel discussed the existing evidence on possible health effects of tattoos, including cancers and autoimmune diseases, and the need for additional research to understand possible hazards. The webinar was co-moderated by Dr. Rachel Massey, Senior Science and Policy Advisor, CHE and Andre Green, Network Coordinator, Cancer and Environment Network of Southwest Pennsylvania. 

This webinar was brought to you in partnership with the Cancer and Environment Network of Southwest Pennsylvania and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

There was simultaneous interpretation in Spanish.

Tintas de tatuaje, cáncer y otras enfermedades crónicas: Vacíos en investigación y regulación

Casi un tercio de los adultos en los Estados Unidos tiene un tatuaje, según una encuesta reciente del Pew Research Center. La gente elige tatuarse por muchas razones, entre ellas como forma de honrar a un ser querido.

Sin embargo, se han realizado pocas investigaciones para evaluar los posibles efectos de los tatuajes en la salud. Las tintas de los tatuajes pueden contener diversas sustancias químicas tóxicas, incluidas sustancias clasificadas como carcinógenas o probablemente carcinógenas para el ser humano. Entre ellas se encuentran metales como arsénico, cromo (VI), cadmio, níquel y plomo; hidrocarburos poliaromáticos (HAP); y aminas aromáticas como la 2-naftilamina. También hay preguntas importantes sobre cómo responde el sistema inmunitario a las tintas en la epidermis. 

La Unión Europea adoptó restricciones sobre las tintas para tatuajes en 2020, y los requisitos de la restricción entraron en vigor en 2022. Dentro de los Estados Unidos, la Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos (FDA, por sus siglas en inglés) tiene autoridad para regular las tintas para tatuajes, pero no lo hace.

En este seminario web, el Dr. David Kriebel discutió la evidencia sobre los posibles efectos de los tatuajes en la salud, incluidos cánceres y enfermedades autoinmunes, y la necesidad de realizar más investigaciones sobre los posibles riesgos.

Este seminario se ofreció en colaboración con Cancer & Environment Network of Southwest Pennsylvania y Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

Featured Speaker

David Kriebel, ScD is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Director of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, which collaborates with industries, government agencies, unions, and community organizations on the redesign of systems of production to make them healthier and more environmentally sound. Dr. Kriebel’s research focuses on the epidemiology of occupational injuries, cancer, and non-malignant respiratory disease.  He has published more than 130 peer reviewed articles and co-authored two textbooks: Research Methods in Occupational Epidemiology with Harvey Checkoway and Neil Pearce (Oxford University Press 2004), and A Biologic Approach to Environmental Assessment and Epidemiology, with Thomas J. Smith (Oxford University Press, 2010). He has won numerous teaching awards for his courses in epidemiology and biostatistics as well as occupational and environmental health, and in 2023 he received the EPICOH Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his contributions to the field of occupational and environmental health. He also frequently speaks to community groups and participates in advisory committees on the role of science in democratic decision making, particularly in cancer prevention. He received his doctorate in epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health.

El Dr. David Kriebel es profesor emérito del Departamento de Salud Pública de la Universidad de Massachusetts Lowell y director del Centro Lowell para la Producción Sostenible. El Centro Lowell colabora con industrias, organismos públicos, sindicatos y organizaciones comunitarias en el rediseño de los sistemas de producción para hacerlos más sanos.