Nanoparticles from tattoos travel inside the body, scientists find

The elements that make up the ink in tattoos travel inside the body in micro and nanoparticle forms and reach the lymph nodes according to a study published in Scientific Reports on 12 September by scientists from Germany and the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, Grenoble (France). It is the first time that there is analytical evidence of the transport of various organic and inorganic pigments and toxic element impurities as well as in depth characterization of the pigments ex vivo in tattooed tissues. Two ESRF beamlines have been crucial in this breakthrough.

"When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlour where they use sterile needles that haven´t been used previously. No one checks the chemical composition of the colours, but our study shows that maybe they should," explains Hiram Castillo, one of the authors of the study and scientist at the ESRF.

The reality is that little is known about the potential impurities in the colour mixture applied to the skin. Most tattoo inks contain organic pigments, but also include preservatives and contaminants like nickel, chromium, manganese or cobalt. Besides carbon black, the second most common ingredient used in tattoo inks is titanium dioxide (TiO2), a white pigment usually applied to create certain shades when mixed with colorants. TiO2 is also commonly used in food additives, sun screens, paints. Delayed healing, along with skin elevation and itching, are often associated with white tattoos, and by consequence with the use of TiO2. Scientists from the ESRF, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Ludwig-Maximilians University, and the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt have managed to get a very clear picture on the location of titanium dioxide once they get in the tissue. This work was done on the ESRF beamlines or experimental stations, ID21 and ID16B.

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