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French Ink Laws

French Ink Laws

Last year France was in danger of being restricted to colourless tattoos. We all know you can’t go wrong with good old black and grey, but the idea of colour being outlawed entirely makes us incredibly concerned so we looked into these French ink laws to find out more.


Words – Annie Griffin

The reasoning behind this bizarre ban was based on the content of the inks. The French government was acting on the advice of the French National Agency of Medicine and Health Products (ANSM). The agency, in turn, was following up on a study by the French Association of Dermatologists which alleged that many tattoo inks contained toxic metals. The ANSM released a report saying that 59 ingredients in tattoo inks might cause increased risk of infections, severe skin reactions and even cancer. The ban did not apply to inks without any of these ingredients, but would have reduced the high-quality pigments available to a couple of greens and yellows and maybe a blue or two – hardly an extensive colour palette.

The French tattoo community was outraged at the decision. There was not enough conclusive research on the ANSM’s claims to justify a ban. France’s Association of Tattoo Artists (SNAT) expressed concern that many professional artists would be forced to close their shops due to the ban. This would drive clients underground and into the clutches of the scratchers, who have no interest in the customer’s safety and would happily use banned inks. SNAT appeared in the French parliament to argue the case and met with Olivier Véran, a socialist deputy who helped them delay the ban until January so more studies could be conducted.

French ink laws

After all this, the proposed ban turned out to be based on a misunderstanding. Some one in the government office in charge had misread a table. The tattoo association hired a specialist who read through 3600 pages of government regulations and determined that nothing needed to be changed. The health ministry rescinded its objections, and the future of French tattooing is cleared to be as colourful as its past.

But the situation raised some thought-provoking issues regarding the regulation of the tattoo industry. On the one hand, a lack of proper regulation allows anyone to buy a tattoo starter kit from eBay and set up practice. On the other hand, external regulation could result in misinformed and rigid restrictions. The affair in France shows us that if the tattoo community co-operates with governing bodies we can work with them and achieve positive outcomes while retaining the benefits of self-regulation.