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PLoS One. 2014 Mar 26;9(3):e92787. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092787. eCollection 2014.

Black tattoos entail substantial uptake of genotoxicpolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in human skin and regional lymph nodes.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.
Department of Organic Chemistry, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.
Department of Forensic Medicine, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany.
Department of Dermatology and Venereology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.


Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have tattoos, which predominantly contain black inks consisting of soot products like Carbon Black or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). We recently found up to 200 μg/g of PAH in commercial black inks. After skin tattooing, a substantial part of the ink and PAH should be transported to other anatomical sites like the regional lymph nodes. To allow a first estimation of health risk, we aimed to extract and quantify the amount of PAH in black tattooed skin and the regional lymph nodes of pre-existing tattoos. Firstly, we established an extraction method by using HPLC-DAD technology that enables the quantification of PAH concentrations in human tissue. After that, 16 specimens of human tattooed skin and corresponding regional lymph nodes were included in the study. All skin specimen and lymph nodes appeared deep black. The specimens were digested and tested for 20 different PAH at the same time.PAH were found in twelve of the 16 tattooed skin specimens and in eleven regional lymph nodes. The PAH concentration ranged from 0.1-0.6 μg/cm2 in the tattooed skin and 0.1-11.8 μg/g in the lymph nodes. Two major conclusions can be drawn from the present results. Firstly, PAH in black inks stay partially in skin or can be found in the regional lymph nodes. Secondly, the major part of tattooed PAH had disappeared from skin or might be found in other organs than skin and lymph nodes. Thus, beside inhalation and ingestion, tattooing has proven to be an additional, direct and effective route of PAH uptake into the human body.

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