How to find out just what is in tattoo ink

The growing popularity of tattoos, especially among young adults, raises concerns about the composition of tattoo inks and any potential long-term health effects they present.

Metallic contaminants in tattoo ink can be identified using Postnova AF2000 FFF system

The European Commission Joint Research Centre recently noted that about 12 percent of Europeans have tattoos, while other estimates indicate that as many as a third of young adults have got ‘inked’.

Responding to the trend, Postnova Analytics has published an application study outlining the laboratory techniques that can be used to analyse tattoo ink.

This focuses on the use of field-flow fractionation (FFF) inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to study the size and chemical composition of tattoo ink nanoparticles.

Tattoo inks commonly contain metallic impurities that can cause adverse skin reactions, including infections and allergies, which may manifest immediately after tattooing or years later.

The researchers found titanium dioxide (TiO2), copper oxides, and aluminium oxide in nanoparticles in several of the tattoo inks under study.

Inks were also found to contain chromium and nickel, both metals which may cause adverse skin reactions and cutaneous allergies after tattooing.

Metallic compounds were found in both solid and dissolved form in several of the tattoo inks analysed.

In the application study the Field Flow Fractionation (FFF) technique was used to reduce the complexity of tattoo inks containing several different toxic metals.

Using a Postnova AF2000 FFF system the researchers sorted the tattoo ink constituents by particle size using the interplay between crossflow field separation force and diffusion.

Using light scattering and ICP/MS detectors coupled to the FFF system, the researchers were then able to determine the particle size and elemental composition of individual components in the ink much more accurately than had been possible with non-separated samples.

The company says this study demonstrates the suitability of Field Flow Fractionation with light scattering (MALS) and ICP-MS for the comprehensive characterisation of different tattoo inks.

As well as particle size distributions from MALS data evaluation, ICP-MS allows statements on the elemental distributions of various metals as a function of the respective particle sizes.

This provides a valuable insight into the composition of tattoo inks, thereby facilitating the reliable identification and quantification of possibly allergenic ingredients.

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