Microbiological survey of commercial tattoo and permanent makeup inks available in the United States

J Appl Microbiol. 2018 May;124(5):1294-1302. doi: 10.1111/jam.13713. Epub 2018 Mar 12.


Aims: Tattooing and use of permanent makeup (PMU) has dramatically increased over the last decade, with a concomitant increase in ink-related infections. The aim of this study was to determine whether micro-organisms are present, and if so, the number and their identification in the commercial tattoo and PMU inks available in the United States.

Methods and results: We surveyed 85 unopened tattoo and PMU inks, purchased from 13 companies. We incubated 100 μl of ink samples on trypticase soy agar plates for bacterial growth, 7H10 Middlebrook medium for mycobacterial growth, and Sabouraud dextrose medium for fungal growth. In total, 42 inks were contaminated with micro-organisms (49%). Thirty-three inks were contaminated with bacteria, 2 inks with fungi, and 7 inks had both bacterial and fungal growth. Mycobacteria were not detected in any of the examined tattoo and PMU inks. In 26 inks, microbial concentrations ranged between 101 and 103 CFU per ml, but higher counts (>103 CFU per ml) were recorded in 16 inks. We identified 83 bacteria by their 16S rDNA sequences, including 20 genera and 49 species. Strains of Bacillus spp. (53%) were dominant, followed by Lysinibacillus fusiformis (7%) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (5%). Thirty-four (41%) possibly clinically relevant strains were identified, including P. aeruginosa, Dermacoccus barathri and Roseomonas mucosa, some of which have been previously reported to be associated with human skin infections.

Conclusions: The results indicate that commercial tattoo and PMU inks on the US market surveyed in this study contain a wide range of micro-organisms, including pathogenic bacteria.

Significance and impact of the study: Microbial contaminants in tattoo and PMU inks are an emerging safety concern for public health. This study provides evidence that microbial contamination of tattoo and PMU inks available in the United States is more common than previously thought and highlights the importance of monitoring these products for potentially pathogenic micro-organisms.

Keywords: US market; identification of bacteria; microbial contamination; microbiological survey; pathogenic bacteria; permanent makeup ink; tattoo ink.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Cosmetics*
  • Fungi / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Ink*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Tattooing / adverse effects*
  • United States


  • Cosmetics