Market survey on toxic metals contained in tattoo inks

Giovanni Forte, Francesco Petrucci, Antonio Cristaudo, Beatrice Bocca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tattooing practice is adopted worldwide and represents an important socio-cultural phenomenon, but, the injection into the skin of coloring agents as metals might pose a risk for allergies and other skin inflammations as well as for systemic diseases. In this context, 56 inks for tattooing purchased from 4 different supply companies were analyzed for metal concentration. Aliquots of pigments were microwave digested by nitric acid, fluoridric acid and hydrogen-peroxide and Al, Ba, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, Hg, Mn, Ni, Pb, Sb, Sr and V were quantified by sector field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Limits of quantification varied from 0.07 ng/ml (Cd) to 10 ng/ml (Al and Fe); recoveries ranged from 92% (Cd and Sb) to 109% (Sr); within- and between-day precisions were 3.2% and 4.67% on average. The relative contribution of metals to the tattoo inks composition was highly variable between brands and colors, even in pigments with the same base color. Elements found as the main components of inks were as follows (in μg/g): Al, 1.59-5893; Ba, 0.058-1226; Cu, 0.076-31,310; Fe, 0.717-88,443; Sr, 0.174-36.4. Toxic metals as Cd, Mn, Pb, Sb and V were over the 1 μg/g in a few cases, while Hg was in traces. Among the allergenic metals, Cr was the highest (0.315-147 μg/g), followed by Ni (0.037-9.59 μg/g) and Co (0.0028-6.43 μg/g) then. On 56 tattoo inks, Cr, Ni and Co exceeded the safe allergological limit of 1 μg/g in 62.5%, 16.1% and 1.8% of cases, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5997-6002
Number of pages6
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Nov 15 2009


  • Inks
  • Metals
  • Skin allergies
  • Tattoos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering


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