Please cite this paper as: Tattoo inks contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that additionally generate deleterious singlet oxygen. Experimental Dermatology 2010; 19: e275–e281.
Abstract: In the past years, tattoos have become very popular worldwide, and millions of people have tattoos with mainly black colours. Black tattoo inks are usually based on soot, are not regulated and may contain hazardous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Part of PAHs possibly stay lifelong in skin, absorb UV radiation and generate singlet oxygen, which may affect skin integrity. Therefore, we analysed 19 commercially available tattoo inks using HPLC and mass spectrometry. The total concentrations of PAHs in the different inks ranged from 0.14 to 201 μg/g tattoo ink. Benz(a)pyrene was found in four ink samples at a mean concentration of 0.3 ± 0.2 μg/g. We also found high concentrations of phenol ranging from 0.2 to 385 μg/g tattoo ink. PAHs partly show high quantum yields of singlet oxygen (ΦΔ) in the range from 0.18 to 0.85. We incubated keratinocytes with extracts of different inks. Subsequent UVA irradiation decreased the mitochondrial activity of cells when the extracts contained PAHs, which sufficiently absorb UVA and show simultaneously high ΦΔ value. Tattooing with black inks entails an injection of substantial amounts of phenol and PAHs into skin. Most of these PAHs are carcinogenic and may additionally generate deleterious singlet oxygen inside the dermis when skin is exposed to UVA (e.g. solar radiation).