Tattoo, side effects

Last updated on: 10.05.2023

Dieser Artikel auf Deutsch

This section has been translated automatically.

Tattoos are not a European invention. The Englishman James Cook first reported tattooed people in the South Seas. Tatau" was the name of this art of the Polynesians, which became "tattoo" in English and "tattooing" in German. "Tatau" means "artful hammering".

This section has been translated automatically.

To be distinguished are:

Acute side effects

  • Technical errors during tattooing (e.g. incorrect depth of the injectate)
  • Wound healing disorders
  • Acute local infections
  • Allergic local or systemic acute reactions

Chronic side effects

  • Areactive deposition of pigments in lymphatic organs (e.g., lymph node anthracosis)
  • Allergic local or systemic late reactions
  • Toxic/allergic reactions due to UV exposure
  • Chronic infections (bacterial/viral)
  • Isomorphies (Köbner effects - psoriasis/ichen planus)
  • Granulomatous immune reactions (sarcoid local or systemic reactions/uveitis)
  • Non-allergic other reactions

Other tattoo side effects

  • Keloid formation at injection sites
  • Benign/malignant neoplasms (epithelial/lymphatic)
  • In the case of large-area tattoos, reduced sweat secretion in the tattooed area

General information
This section has been translated automatically.

The process of tattooing basically consists of a perforating puncture of the skin, whereby simultaneously with the piercing a color, usually of metallic origin, is injected into the skin.

Care must be taken to ensure that the puncture is neither too superficial nor too deep. In the first case, the injected colorant would only be introduced into the cell layers of the epidermis, from where it would be rapidly eliminated by epithelial regeneration. In the second case, if the pigments are placed too deeply, there is a risk of bleeding, which would cause the colors to run, which would be tantamount to an artistic catastrophe, because, after all, local fidelity is the be-all and end-all of "tattooing".

Basically, it must be emphasized that the pigments used in tattooing are not medical products in the sense of the law. They are therefore not developed for applications that would be necessary to guarantee a permanent stay in the dermis or a contact with body fluids without danger. Furthermore, standardized approval studies are lacking, as they are an indispensable prerequisite for any drug.

The pigments are essentially metallic and metalloid substances. In a larger cross-sectional study of 226 analyzed tattoo inks, the following elements were found:titanium, iron, chromium, copper, zirconium, manganese, bromine, nickel, niobium, strontium, zinc, barium, molybdenum, lead, vanadium, tungsten (Kiszla BM et al. 2023). Titanium was found in high concentrations in almost 91% of the samples; titanium dioxide is a well-known brightener used in tattoo inks. However, titanium dioxideis rated as non-toxic to humans even at high doses. Zirconium (zirconia), used as a pigment additive to coat titanium dioxide particles, was found in over 40% of tattoo inks. It is also considered relatively nontoxic. Iron (ferric oxide) was found in nearly 90% of the samples and serves as a darkening agent. Iron is also generally not considered toxic. Only exceptionally high concentrations of iron can be potentially harmful. However, the metals of greatest concern are chromium, nickel, copper, barium and lead.

In descending order, concentrations of cadmium, barium, mercury, soluble copper, arsenic, zinc, antimony, and lead violated regulations, whereas levels of cobalt and tin did not (Kiszla BM et al. 2023).

Side effects that may occur during tattooing can be attributed to consequences caused on the one hand by the injuries to the skin itself, and on the other hand by the introduced foreign substances themselves. Exact incidences of adverse health effects after tattooing are not available, because corresponding studies are missing. In this respect, the publications refer either to cross-sectional studies of the applied materials or to individual case reports of side effects in which the various ingredients can be associated with dermatological complications.

This section has been translated automatically.

Decorative tattoos have become a mass phenomenon, especially in industrialized countries. Every 4th German over 18 has them, almost every 5th woman. France is not behind. There, the proportion of those under 35 is > 30%. In the US, there was a tattoo increase from 16% to 21% between 2003 and 2013 (Tighe ME et al. 2017). And further, but more medically concerning, in all Western industrialized countries, the trend of large-scale tattoos is steadily increasing (Bagot M et al. 2017). The consequences of this trend are currently not yet foreseeable.

The stinging of a tattoo is indisputably an invasive procedure. Here, the health condition of the client, the skill and experience of the tattoo artists, the ambience of the institution, hygiene measures and, above all, the composition and quality of the injectate are to be checked.

In the legal sense, a tattoo represents a factual bodily injury, which is not illegal only if it is done impliedly with mutual consent. The consequence: As with a medical intervention it is to be demanded that each Tatoo aspirant is to be informed verbally and in writing about the risks and complications.

Further the § 294a SGB V obliges physicians in principle to report complications with tattoos to the health insurance companies. And professionally, in case of incapacity to work due to complications, there is no entitlement to continued payment of wages, because the employer only has to bear the "normal risk of illness" of the employee.

Clinical picture
This section has been translated automatically.

Technical tattooing errors (incorrect injectate depth).

Technical tattooing errors can be caused by incorrect injecting depths. On the one hand, too high an injection depth leads to unsightly, blurred lines. On the other hand, pigments can widen via the lymphatic channels due to a too high injection depth. This means that the risks arising from the color or the color pigments themselves are increased again by a too high puncture depth. Technical errors should be rare in professional tattoo studios today.

Acute complications

Acute infections: The majority of tattoo recipients report minor short-term discomfort and discomfort during the wound healing process after tattooing. Fresh tattoos that have not fully healed, as with any other wound area, are at increased risk of bacterial infection.

The incidence of microbiological (mainly bacterial, less commonly viral) infection from contaminated inks, tools or procedures, is unknown. Estimates are as high as 5% of tattoo recipients. Although cases of transmission of leprosy, syphilis, cutaneous tuberculosis, or atypical mycobacterioses are now the exception. The risk of transmission of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV viruses has also been reduced by hygiene regulations, but has not disappeared. This applies especially to exotic countries, where Europeans like to get tattoos for cost reasons (Bonadonna L 2015).

The lymphatic drainage situation: In the case of whole body tattoos, up to 40 g (or more) of pigments are injected into the organism. It is undisputed that stung pigments not only remain locally in the dermis, but also enter the lymphatics where they are mostly deposited areactively (Beavis A et al 2012). In the presence of black pigments, the parenchyma stains dark accordingly (Lymph node anthracosis / Biguria R et al. 2016; Manganoni AM et al. 2014). Lymph node anthracosis can pose differential diagnostic problems in malignant melanoma, especially when evaluating a sentinel lymph node. Less frequently, stained pigments in particular cause inflammatory lymphadenopathies. This raises differential diagnostic problems regarding dignity (Beavis A et al. 2012; Manganoni AM et al. 2014).

Allergic reactions to inks: Numerous communications have been published on the allergic potential of inks over the last twenty years. In a larger Finnish series of 31 patients, 16 (52%) exhibited allergic dermatitis to tattoos, mainly to the red ink (75%, 12/16). Itching, redness and swelling, not infrequently combined with running of the colors are the symptoms. Logically, the therapy of an injected allergen is a major medical challenge.

Contact dermatitis to a red tattoo ink: Sensitization to p-phenylenediamine (PPD) has been a frequent focus in the past. PPD was present in inks up to often 10%, but in black hennas up to 50%, sometimes leading to bullous local reactions, occasionally even to anaphylactoid reactions. In PPD-sensitized individuals, massive swelling (e.g., facial edema) can be observed after re-exposure, e.g., to hair dye (Le Coz CJ et al. 2000; Barbaud A et al. 2005; Shavit I et al. 2008).

Tattooed chromium salts (green pigments) also cause sensitization. Here, too, dermatitic reactions can occur in the case of external chromate contact (e.g. as occupationally induced chronic hand dermatitis). Furthermore, allergies to cobalt (blue pigments), azo dyes or quinocridone-based dyes (red pigments) are known. For example, a tattooed person who became sensitized to a red tattoo ink based on cinnabar (mercury sulfide or cinnabar) developed a severe itchy exanthema after eating fish a few months after the tattoo. High levels of mercury derivatives were subsequently measured in this fish.

Inks and UV influence: Phototoxic local reactions were observed with yellow tattoos based on cadmium salts (Greve B et al. 2003; Bjornberg A 1963). Newer inks, often in different colors can change their physical and chemical properties under UV influence, even years after tattooing. Thus, the formation of toxic, or sensitizing also potentially carcinogenic metabolites may occur.

Non-allergic other reactions

Nanoparticles: A number of tattoo inks now contain nanoparticles. Their effects on the organism are largely unknown. They cause oxidative stress, may be genotoxic, and may cause inflammatory and immune reactions.

Dibutyl phthalate: Some black inks contain dibutyl phthalate. This substance is known to be an endocrine disruptor.

Other Inflammatory Tattoo Reactions

Isomorphies: Is omorphic reactions: In the presence of active psoriasis or eruptive lichen planus, a tattoo may cause a Köbner phenomenon. Generally, psoriasis realizes in the tattooed area within days to 1 month after completion of the tattoo (Kluger N et al 2017). The appearance of lichen planus (pemphigoides) after "body-tattooing" is also likely to be an isomorphic stimulus effect with a correspondingly high eruption pressure (Lim A et al. 2020).

Keloids: Not predictable are keloid reactions after tattooing. Incidences are not known. However, they should not be underestimated. It is recommended not to tattoo clients who already have keloid anamneses.

Tattoo-induced tumor formations: A direct causal relationship between tattoos and neoplasms (of the skin) has neither been proven nor ruled out, but can be assumed.

It is undisputed, however, that tattoos can obscure the diagnosis of benign or malignant tumors. In the case of melanoma, this can lead to tragic consequences.To date, well over 100 cases of epithelial pseudomalignant and malignant tumor formation within a tattoo have been reported. Thus, the occurrence of solitary but also multiple keratoacanthomas has been reported several times. Frequently, the epithelial neoplasms occurred exclusively within red ink areas of tattoos (Kluger N 2010; Healey B et al. 2018;Cui W et al.2007). The distal limbs, sunlight-exposed areas are preferentially affected. This suggests a role of UV in pathogenesis (Badavanis G et al. 2019).V.a. the occurrence in young and healthy individuals and the relatively short period, usually only one year, between tattoo application and tumor formation suggest that the coincidence is not purely coincidental (Rahbarinejad Y et al. 2023). Of note, red tattoos were most frequently mentioned in association with epithelial lump formation. Vermilion, which contains mercury sulfate, was frequently used in this context. More recently, cinnabar has been replaced in red tattoos by organic dyes such as azo pigments, quinacridone, and polycyclic compounds (Badavanis G et al. 2019; Rahbarinejad Y et al. 2023). It is predictable that tumor incidences will increase as tattoos and tattooed individuals age.

Leiomyosarcomas/basal cell carcinomas: Reports of basal cell carcinomas or squamous cell carcinomas in tattoo areas; there are other anecdotal reports of leiomyosarcomas and basal cell carcinomas.

Pseudolymphomas/cutaneous lymphomas: There are reports of pseudolymphomas (lymphadenosis chronica benigna) that had developed after tattoos in the tattoo field (Chen YF et al. 2009; Campolmi P et al. 2011; Camilot D et al. 2012; Moulonguet I et al. 2014). Single case reports concern the occurrence of cutaneous lymphoma in a tattoo area (Armiger WG et al. 1978). Kluger N et al 2022 reported cutaneous follicular lymphoma .

Inflammatory granulomatous reactions: Sarcoid cutaneous and systemic reactions can also be observed after tattoos. The cutaneous sarcoid reactions are usually difficult to distinguish from cutaneous sarcoidosis. It is possible that there is identity. Reports of the occurrence of systemic sarcoidosis after tattoos may support this assumption. For several years, uveitis after tattoos has been reported under the name TAGU (Tattoo Granulomas with Uveitis). These remote immunologic reactions can occur with or without sarcoid reactions in the tattoos themselves. In combination with a sarcoid skin affection, this symptom complex is reminiscent of the Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome, the uveomeningoencephalitic syndrome.

This section has been translated automatically.

On January 4, 2023, the Tattoo Annex of the so-called REACH Regulation came into force. It led to the EU-wide ban of "Pigment Blue 15:3 (copper phthalocyanine) and "Pigment Green 7". The ban has enormous tattoo implications, because these color pigments were previously "REACH-compliant", i.e. common for tattoos and contained in many mixed colors, such as violet, brown, turquoise or pink.

This section has been translated automatically.

  1. Armiger WG et al (1978) Primary lesion of a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma occurring in a skin tatoo: case report. Plast Reconstr Surg 62:125-127.
  2. Ashinoff R et al. (1995) Allergic reactions to tattoo pigment after laser treatment. Dermatol Surg 21: 291-294.
  3. Badavanis G et al (2019) Late-onset pseudoepitheliomatous hyperplasia developing within a red ink tattoo. Dermatol. Online J 25.
  4. Bagot M et al. (2017) Tatouages, la diffusion de la pratique et la diversité des produits utilisés justifient de nouvelles precautions. Bull Acad Natl Med 201: 1019-1021
  5. Barbaud A et al. (2005) Accident anaphylactoide à la PPD d'un tatouage provisoire: faut-il attendre un décès pour limiter cette pratique. Ann Dermatol Venereol132: 71-72
  6. Bazex J et al (2020) Uvéites et tatouages. Bull Acad Natl Med 204: 616-621.
  7. Beavis A et al (2012) Tattoo pigment lymphadenopathy mimicking metastasis in vulvar cancer. Obstet Gynecol 120:442-444.
  8. Biguria R et al (2016) Inguinal lymph node anthracosis: A case report. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open 4: e814.
  9. Bjornberg A (1963) Reactions to light in yellow tattoos from cadmium sulfide Arch Dermatol 88: 267.
  10. Bonadonna L (2015) Survey of studies on microbial contamination of marketed tattoo inks. Curr Probl Dermatol. 48:190-195.
  11. Bourgeois P et al (2023) Lymphatic Alterations Under Tattoos: Preliminary Reports of One Observational Study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 16:257-265.
  12. Camilot D et al. (2012) Cutaneous pseudolymphoma following tattoo application: report of two new cases of a potential lymphoma mimicker. Int J Surg Pathol 20:311-315.
  13. Campolmi P et al (2011) Cutaneous pseudolymphoma localized to black tattoo. J Am Acad Dermatol 65:e155-157.
  14. Carvajal Bedoya G et al (2020) Tattoo Granulomas With Uveitis. J Investig Med High Impact Case Rep 8:2324709620975968.
  15. Chen YF et al (2009) Cutaneous plasma cell granuloma: report of a case with novel histologic and immunohistochemical findings. Int J Dermatol 48:409-411.
  16. Civatte J et al (2007) Piercing et tatouages: la fréquence des complications justifie une réglementation. Rapport de l'Académie nationale de medicine. Bull Acad Natl Med 191: 1819-1838.
  17. D'Alessandro R et al (2021) Tattoo induced sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis Vasc Diffuse Lung Dis 38:e2021030.
  18. Greve B et al (2003) Contact dermatitis from red tattoo pigment (quinacridone) with secondary spread. Contact Dermatitis 49: 265-266
  19. Healey B et al (2018) Eruptive keratoacanthomas within a red ink tattoo: A case report (Case Report). Case Reports in Clinical Medicine. DOI: 10.4236/crcm.2018.78041
  20. Holzer AM et al (2007) Adverse effects of Q-switched laser treatment of tattoos. Dermatologic Surgery 34: 118-122.
  21. Kaatz M et al (2008) Body-modifying concepts and dermatologic problems: tattooing and piercing. Clin Dermat 26: 35-44
  22. Kiszla BM et al. (2023) Quantitative analysis of restricted metals and metalloids in tattoo inks: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Chemosphere 313:137291.
  23. Kluger N (2010) Issues with keratoacanthoma, pseudoepitheliomatous hyperplasia and squamous cell carcinoma within tattoos: A Clinical Point of View. Journal of Cutaneous Pathology37: 812-813.
  24. Kluger N (2016) Self-reported tattoo reactions in a cohort of 448 French tattooists. Int J Dermatol 55: 764-768.
  25. Kluger N et al (2017) Tattooing and psoriasis: a case series and review of the literature. Int J Dermatol 56: 822-827.
  26. Kluger N (2017) Cutaneous Complications Related to Tattoos: 31 Cases from Finland. Dermatology 233:100-109.
  27. Kluger N (2018) Tattoo-associated uveitis with or without systemic sarcoidosis: a comparative review of the literature. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 32:1852-1861.
  28. Kluger N et al (2022) Primary cutaneous follicle center lymphoma within a tattoo. Ann Dermatol Venereol 149: 281-283.
  29. Koh MJ et al (2009) Multiple epidermal cysts occurring in a tattoo. Singapore Med J 50:e376-377.
  30. Le Coz CJ et al (2000) Allergic contact dermatitis caused by skin painting (pseudo-tattooing) with black henna, a mixture of henna and paraphenylenediamine and its derivative. Arch Dermatol 136: 1515-1517
  31. Lim A et al (2020) Lichen planus pemphigoides after body tattooing. J Cosmet Dermatol 19: 3048-305.
  32. Manganoni AM et al (2014) Pigmentation of axillary sentinel nodes from extensive skin tattoo mimics metastatic melanoma: case report. Int J Dermatol 53:773-776.
  33. Moulonguet I et al. (2014) Nodule developing over a tattoo: challenge. Cutaneous lymphoid hyperplasia (pseudolymphoma). Am J Dermatopathol 36:88-9, 101-2.
  34. Navarro-Vidal B et al (2015) Verrugas vulgares sobre un tatuaje. Med Clin (Barc). 145: e35.
  35. Negi S et al. (2022) Tattoo inks are toxicological risks to human health: A systematic review of their ingredients, fate inside skin, toxicity due to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, primary aromatic amines, metals, and overview of regulatory frameworks. Toxicol Ind Health 38: 417-434.
  36. Papo T (2007) Macrophage mediated myofasciites: a systemic disease or post-vaccinial tatoo? Rev Neurol (Paris)163: 981-984.
  37. Petersen H et al. (2015) Chemical purity and toxicology of pigments used in tattoo inks. Curr Probl Dermatol 48:136-41.
  38. Rahbarinejad Y et al (2023) Pathogenesis, Diagnosis and Management of Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Pseudoepithelial Hyperplasia Secondary to Red Ink Tattoo: A Case Series and Review. J Clin Med 12:2424.
  39. Serup J et al. 2015 Tattoo complaints and complications: diagnosis and clinical spectrum. Curr Probl Dermatol 48: 48-60.
  40. Shavit I et al (2008) Delayed hypersensitivity reaction from black henna tattoo manifesting as severe facial swelling. Am J Emerg Med 26: 515e3-515e4.
  41. Tighe ME et al (2017) A Survey of Metals Found in Tattoo Inks. Journal of Environmental Protection 8 No.11.
  42. Wanat KA et al. (2014) Human papillomavirus type 27 associated with multiple verruca within a tattoo: report of a case and review of the literature. Int J Dermatol 53:882-884.
  43. Yang Y et al. (2022) Systemic sarcoidosis presenting as facial palsy, granulomatous tattoo reaction and sarcoidal scar. Indian J Pathol Microbiol 65: 709-712.

Last updated on: 10.05.2023