Tattoos are a popular form of cosmetic art in the United States. There are several well-known public health risks associated with breaking the skin barrier with tattoo needles during the tattoo process. These risks are typically addressed with thorough cleaning and disinfection of equipment between each tattoo recipient. However, ink safety is less often addressed. This oversight can lead to dangerous infections. In January of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detected a cluster of non-tuberculosis mycobacterial (NTM) skin infections and eventually traced the outbreak back to contaminated tattoo ink that was used on individuals who became sick. In response to this outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation into the cause of the contamination and disseminated advisory materials to consumers, tattoo artists and manufacturers.
The FDA can act on the basis of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), which grants the FDA power to protect public health from adulterated cosmetics. This can include many different things, but in this case the most applicable definition is a cosmetic that “bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users.” For various reasons, the FDA has not focused on cosmetics as much as some of the other products it regulates. Cosmetics are primarily industry regulated. However, the FDA is not the only body that can act in regards to safety of tattoo ink. State regulatory authority may provide the means for closing gaps left by the lack of FDA enforcement.
This 50-state survey examines regulations and statutes regarding tattoo ink safety in all 50 states and Washington D.C.