Tattoos are fashionable but not without risk: they cause long-term deposition of pigments and toxic elements in the body that penetrate into it in the form of nanoparticles, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.
Its authors — researchers from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich and the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt — have been able to locate the presence of a common component of the inks used, titanium dioxide, in the lymph nodes of tattooed persons.
“This can lead to chronic swelling and permanent exposure,” says a summary of the study released by the ESRF, adding that “slow healing, localized swelling of the skin, itching occasionally seen after a tattoo, are all undesirable effects associated with white tattoos, and therefore with the use of titanium dioxide “.
This white pigment, which is used as a base for certain shades of color, is also used in food additives, sun creams and paints.
The inks injected into the skin during a tattoo often contain organic pigments but also preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese or cobalt.
“When someone wants to get a tattoo, he or she is often very careful about choosing the right salon, the one where sanitary standards are respected, where new sterile needles are used,” says Hiram Castillo of the ESRF. “But no one asks what is the chemical composition of the colors used.”
Until now, the potential dangers of tattooing have been studied only by in vitro chemical analyzes of inks. And the staining of the lymph nodes had already been observed visually.
“But what we did not know was that the pigments travel in the body in a nano form (…) and this is the problem: we do not know today how the nanoparticles react,” explains Bernhard Hesse of the ESRF, lead author of the study.
To obtain ex-vivo proof of pigment transport and toxic elements in the body, the research team used the ultra-powerful X-rays of two lines of synchrotron lights.
It was found that particles derived from tattoos could be transported passively by blood and lymphatic fluids, or actively by immune cells that phagocytate them, before being deposited in lymph nodes.
Next step in the research: analyze other samples of tattooed patients with adverse effects, and possibly link them to the properties of the pigments used on their skin.