Get access

Tattooing of skin results in transportation and light-induced decomposition of tattoo pigments – a first quantification in vivo using a mouse model


Wolfgang Bäumler, PhD, Department of Dermatology, University of Regensburg, 93042 Regensburg, Germany, Tel.: 49 941 944 9607, Fax: 49 941 944 9647, e-mail:


Abstract:  Millions of people are tattooed with inks that contain azo pigments. The pigments contained in tattoo inks are manufactured for other uses with no established history of safe use in humans and are injected into the skin at high densities (2.5 mg/cm2). Tattoo pigments disseminate after tattooing throughout the human body and although some may photodecompose at the injection site by solar or laser light exposure, the extent of transport or photodecomposition under in vivo conditions remains currently unknown. We investigated the transport and photodecomposition of the widely used tattoo Pigment Red 22 (PR 22) following tattooing into SKH-1 mice. The pigment was extracted quantitatively at different times after tattooing. One day after tattooing, the pigment concentration was 186 μg/cm2 skin. After 42 days, the amount of PR 22 in the skin has decreased by about 32% of the initial value. Exposure of the tattooed skin, 42 days after tattooing, to laser light reduced the amount of PR 22 by about 51% as compared to skin not exposed to laser light. A part of this reduction is as a result of photodecomposition of PR 22 as shown by the detection of corresponding hazardous aromatic amines. Irradiation with solar radiation simulator for 32 days caused a pigment reduction of about 60% and we again assume pigment decomposition in the skin. This study is the first quantitative estimate of the amount of tattoo pigments transported from the skin into the body or decomposed by solar or laser radiation.