Analytical survey of tattoo inks-A chemical and legal perspective with focus on sensitizing substances

Contact Dermatitis. 2021 Sep;85(3):340-353. doi: 10.1111/cod.13913. Epub 2021 Jun 22.


Background: Tattoo inks have been reported to elicit allergic contact dermatitis.

Objectives: To investigate the labels and the contents of metals and pigments in tattoo inks, considering restrictions within the European Union.

Methods: Seventy-three tattoo inks currently available on the market, either bought or donated (already used), were investigated for trace metals and pigments by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time of flight tandem mass spectrometry.

Results: Ninety-three percent of the bought tattoo inks violated European, legal requirements on labeling. Fifty percent of the tattoo inks declared at least one pigment ingredient incorrectly. Sixty-one percent of the inks contained pigments of concern, especially red inks. Iron, aluminium, titanium, and copper (most in green/blue inks) were the main metals detected in the inks. The level of metal impurities exceeded current restriction limits in only a few cases. Total chromium (0.35-139 μg/g) and nickel (0.1-41 μg/g) were found in almost all samples. The levels of iron, chromium, manganese, cobalt, nickel, zinc, lead, and arsenic were found to covary significantly.

Conclusions: To prevent contact allergy and toxic reactions among users it is important for tattoo ink manufacturers to follow the regulations and decrease nickel and chromium impurities.

Keywords: allergic contact dermatitis; hazardous substances; metals; regulation; tattoo inks.

MeSH terms

  • Coloring Agents / adverse effects
  • Coloring Agents / analysis*
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology
  • Drug Labeling / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Ink*
  • Metals / analysis
  • Tattooing / adverse effects
  • Tattooing / legislation & jurisprudence*


  • Coloring Agents
  • Metals