Synchrotron-based ν-XRF mapping and μ-FTIR microscopy enable to look into the fate and effects of tattoo pigments in human skin

Sci Rep. 2017 Sep 12;7(1):11395. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-11721-z.


The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body. We used skin and lymphatic tissues from human corpses to address local biokinetics by means of synchrotron X-ray fluorescence (XRF) techniques at both the micro (μ) and nano (ν) scale. Additional advanced mass spectrometry-based methodology enabled to demonstrate simultaneous transport of organic pigments, heavy metals and titanium dioxide from skin to regional lymph nodes. Among these compounds, organic pigments displayed the broadest size range with smallest species preferentially reaching the lymph nodes. Using synchrotron μ-FTIR analysis we were also able to detect ultrastructural changes of the tissue adjacent to tattoo particles through altered amide I α-helix to β-sheet protein ratios and elevated lipid contents. Altogether we report strong evidence for both migration and long-term deposition of toxic elements and tattoo pigments as well as for conformational alterations of biomolecules that likely contribute to cutaneous inflammation and other adversities upon tattooing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport
  • Coloring Agents / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Microscopy*
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemistry
  • Particle Size
  • Skin / pathology*
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared*
  • Tattooing* / methods


  • Coloring Agents
  • Organometallic Compounds