Tattoos - more than just colored skin? Searching for tattoo allergens

J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2021 May;19(5):657-669. doi: 10.1111/ddg.14436. Epub 2021 May 6.


During tattooing, a high amount of ink is injected into the skin. Tattoo inks contain numerous substances such as the coloring pigments, impurities, solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives. Black amorphous carbon particles (carbon black), white titanium dioxide, azo or polycyclic pigments create all varieties of color shades in the visible spectrum. Some ingredients of tattoo inks might be hazardous and allergenic chemicals of unknown potential. In Germany, about 20 % of the general population is tattooed and related adverse reactions are increasingly reported. Since tattoo needles inevitably harm the skin, microorganisms can enter the wound and may cause infections. Non-allergic inflammatory reactions (for example cutaneous granuloma and pseudolymphoma) as well as allergic reactions may emerge during or after wound healing. Especially with allergies occurring after weeks, months or years, it remains difficult to identify the specific ingredient(s) that trigger the reaction. This review summarizes possible adverse effects related to tattooing with a focus on the development of tattoo-mediated allergies. To date, relevant allergens were only identified in rare cases. Here we present established methods and discuss current experimental approaches to identify culprit allergens in tattoo inks - via testing of the patient and in vitro approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allergens
  • Coloring Agents / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Ink
  • Skin
  • Tattooing* / adverse effects


  • Allergens
  • Coloring Agents