• Tattoo inks contain two parts -- a pigment and a carrier solution
  • The research team detected small particles that could be harmful to humans
  • There is no framework to regulate the contents of the inks 

Today, tattoos are used as a form of self-expression. However, the art of tattooing is very old. It was initially used by people for ceremonial and religious reasons. With such a vast history, relatively little is known about what goes into the tattoo ink. A new research, which took the mantle to analyze tattoo ink components, has come up with interesting results.

The research team analyzed almost 100 tattoo inks, and found that even in cases where there was an ingredient label present on the products, the list was often inaccurate. More importantly, they also detected small particles that could prove harmful to the human body.

Their research was presented Wednesday at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society.

According to SciTechDaily, tattoo inks contain two parts -- a pigment and a carrier solution. The pigment may be a molecular compound such as a blue pigment, a solid compound such as titanium dioxide, or a combination of the two.

The carrier solution, on the other hand, carries the pigment to the middle layer of skin and generally makes the pigment more soluble.

The inception of this study can be attributed to the laser technology used for tattoo removal.

"The idea for this project initially came about because I was interested in what happens when laser light is used to remove tattoos," said John Swierk, principal investigator. "But then I realized that very little is actually known about the composition of tattoo inks, so we started analyzing popular brands."

What is concerning is the leeway these tattoo inks get in the United States. The inks are unregulated in America, and, as a result, their composition is largely a mystery.

Even the tattoo artists, who were interviewed by the scientists, were oblivious about the make-up of tattoo inks.

"Surprisingly, no dye shop makes pigment specific for tattoo ink," Swierk noted. "Big companies manufacture pigments for everything, such as paint and textiles. These same pigments are used in tattoo inks."

He also added even though tattoo artists must be licensed for safety reasons, there was no framework to regulate the contents of the inks themselves.

The results surprised even the scientists. "Every time we looked at one of the inks, we found something that gave me pause," Swierk said. "For example, 23 of 56 different inks analyzed to date suggest an azo-containing dye is present."

Worryingly, azo pigments can be degraded by bacteria or ultraviolet light into a different nitrogen-based compound that is a potential carcinogen, according to the Joint Research Center, SciTech Daily reported.

Moreover, about half of the 16 inks that were analyzed using electron microscopy contained particles smaller than 100 nm. "That's a concerning size range," Swierk said. "Particles of this size can get through the cell membrane and potentially cause harm."

After a few more tests and peer-review of the data, scientists will add the information to their website "What's in My Ink?"

"With these data, we want consumers and artists to make informed decisions and understand how accurate the provided information is," Swierk concluded.

Tattoo, Woman, Coffee
Representation. Pixabay-Annie Spratt