Safety of Tattoo Pigment

By Meghan Bialt-DeCelie ‘19


Figure 1. Researchers assess the effects and pathways of tattoo pigments in human skin and lymph nodes.

The safety of tattoo pigments and its pathways in the body has rarely been investigated. Researchers, led by Dr. Ines Schreiver from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, used X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to explore the biokinetics involved in tattoo pigments in the human skin at the micro and nano scale.

Tattoo pigments can be comprised of organic compounds, heavy metals and even nanoparticles, specifically titanium dioxide nanoparticles. At the micro level, when a pigment is injected in the skin, it can either be passively or actively removed from the skin and led to the lymph nodes. The pathway of nano scale particles is not as well understood. XRF mapping revealed that nano sized particles are able to travel to the lymph nodes while pigment particles of larger micro scale sizes stayed in the skin. The presence of the nanoparticles can potentially be concerning since it causes enlargement of the lymph nodes. Using µ-FTIR microscopy, researchers were also able to identify a higher concentration of lipids around the pigments. The µ-FTIR also revealed conformational changes of proteins near the pigments because of the pigments hydrophobicity.

Studying the effects and pathways of tattoo pigments is useful for creating safer tattoos, but this research can also be valuable for understanding the specific compounds studied in the body. Titanium dioxide nano particles are widely used not only in tattoo pigments but in cosmetics, paints, and other common goods.


  1. Schreiver, et al., Synchrotron-based ν-XRF mapping and μ-FTIR microscopy enable to look into the fate and effects of tattoo pigments in human skin. Scientific Reports7, (2017). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-11721-z.
  2. Image retrieved from:

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