Ink from tattoos builds up in the lymph nodes of the immune system

The chemical substances in tattoo dyes can reach the lymph nodes of the immune system in the form of nanoparticles, which remain inside, with consequences still unpredictable.

The tattoos have ceased to have negative connotations, or associated with specific groups of people, such as artists, bikers and convicts to become considered a form of body art, to the extent that we can find true works of art on the skin of some people. They are applied by injecting colored inks into the dermis , and are meant to stay in the body for a lifetime. However, despite its growing popularity, especially for two decades, tattoos have not yet been the subject of rigorous studies that analyze the health consequences of those who decide to tattoo .

For the first time, research by the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the University of Munich, which has just been published in Scientific Reports , shows that microscopic particles of chemicals ( nanoparticles ) that are part of the dyes of tattoos not only reach our lymph nodes , but remain in them permanently, with consequences still unpredictable today.

To carry out the study, the researchers obtained post-mortem samples from the skin and lymph nodes of four donors from the Institute of Legal Medicine at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich; two tattooed donors, and two not tattooed. Chemical analysis of donor samples with tattoos revealed elevated levels of copper, aluminum, iron, chromium, nickel, cadmium and mercury in nodules and skin, as well as very high levels of titanium.

These findings led them to state that the inorganic pigments that are part of the ingredients used to produce tattoo inks are impurities toxic to the human body . But the most remarkable thing for scientists is that they not only found microparticles in the skin, but found that the chemicals had reached the lymph nodes in the form of nanoparticles.


For the authors of the study it was surprising to find the lymph nodes colored with the tattoo ink in the form of nanoparticles because, although they had already noticed that the pigments of the tattoos traveled to the lymph nodes, as mechanism of cleaning the body, they did not imagine which they did in “nano” form. This implies that they may not have the same behavior as the particles at a micro level and therefore do not know how nanoparticles react in the body over a broad time frame.

And what is a nanoparticle? It is a microscopic particle with at least one dimension smaller than 100 nanometers; being a nanometer one billionth of the meter. They are the object of study for the scientific community due to possible potential applications in many fields, from biomedicine to electronics, through agriculture or chemistry.


The group is determined to continue with other experiments in this line to explore possible adverse effects on the long-term organism of tattoo pigments as well as being able to examine the load of pigments and heavy metals that reach other organs and internal tissues , in order to track any possible biodistribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body.

At the moment they warn that those who are interested in getting a tattoo should first check not only if the needles are sterile, but also the chemical composition of the inks that the tattoo artist will use, and keep in mind that it is not possible at the moment to know what effects this practice can have on your health.