Nanoparticles from tattoos can travel inside the body

Henrietta Strickland
September 13, 2017

Chemicals in tattoo ink travel in the bloodstream and accumulate in the lymph nodes, which may cause them to become swollen and therefore hinder their ability to fight infections, a study found for the first time.

The research was conducted on the ESRF beamlines or experimental stations, ID21 and ID16B.

"When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlor where they use sterile needles that haven´t been used previously".

Most tattoo inks contain organic pigments, but also have preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese or cobalt. To do this, they will analyze human tissues and to study the chemical properties and structural pigments used in tattoo inks. Delayed healing, along with skin elevation and itching, are often associated with white tattoos, and by effect with the use of TiO2. It is commonly used in food additives, paints and sun screens. However, this type of chemical has also been linked to cancer and other skin conditions such as delayed healing and itching.

The potential threats of tattoos were previously investigated through in vitro chemical analysis of the inks and its degradation products.

"We already knew that pigments from tattoos would travel to the lymph nodes because of visual evidence". This is the way that the body can clean up the site of the tattoo, described Bernhard Hesse, one of the co-authors of the study.

However, it was unknown that it had travelled in a nano form, suggesting a behavior different from the particles at a micro level; as the way by which the nanoparticles react is not known, it might be problematic, he added. Researchers used x-ray fluorescence measurements on ID21, which allowed them to locate titanium dioxide at the micro and nano range in the skin and lymph nodes. They identified a wide range of particles in the skin which were up to several micrometres in size. The team reports strong evidence of the "long-term deposition" of toxic elements in the body, which they say could lead to chronic enlargement of the lymph nodes.

For the study reported in Scientific Reports on September 12, Wolfgang Bäumler, from University Hospital Regensburg in Germany, and colleagues used X-ray fluorescence to study the skin and lymphatic tissues of four deceased tattooed individuals.

Getting tattoos is nothing new, but now people are getting them in one of the last places you'd think of: the armpits! So, making permanent tattoo may have acute effects.

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