Nanoparticles from tattoos can travel inside the body

Most tattoo inks contain organic pigments, but also have preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese or cobalt.
By Amy Wallace   |   Sept. 12, 2017 at 9:41 AM
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Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Scientists have discovered that micro and nanoparticles from tattoos can travel inside the body and reach the lymph nodes.

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, is the first to show evidence of the transport of various organic and inorganic pigments and toxic element impurities as well as a characterization of the pigments in tattooed tissues.

"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. No one checks the chemical composition of the colors, but our study shows that maybe they should," Hiram Castillo, one of the authors of the study and scientist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, or ESRF, said in a news release.

Most tattoo inks contain organic pigments, but also have preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese or cobalt. The second most common ingredient used in tattoo ink is titanium dioxide, or TIO2, behind the most common ingredient, carbon black.

TIO2 is a white pigment applied to create certain shades when it is mixed with colorants. It is commonly used in food additives, paints and sun screens. Some negative side effects of white tattoos include delayed healing, skin elevation and itching from the use of TIO2.

"We already knew that pigments from tattoos would travel to the lymph nodes because of visual evidence: the lymph nodes become tinted with the color of the tattoo," Bernhard Hesse, ESRF visiting scientist, said.

"It is the response of the body to clean the site of entrance of the tattoo. What we didn't know is that they do it in a nano form, which implies that they may not have the same behavior as the particles at a micro level. And that is the problem: we don't know how nanoparticles react."

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

The study found a broad range of particles in human skin but only smaller nanoparticles were transported to the lymph nodes, which could lead to chronic enlargement of the lymph node and lifelong exposure.

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