Junior Research Group "Tattoos"

The junior research group ‘Tattoos’ has been conducting research since 2017 into the health risks that can be posed by the chemical constituents of the inks used in the process.

As tattoos are applied to the middle, dermal skin layer, exposure cannot be compared with conventional uptake routes. The difficulties this produces for risk assessment can only be overcome by suitable research. A Europe-wide restriction of tattoo inks under the REACH regulation is currently being sought by the European Commission with the collaboration of the BfR. The current data situation, however, will not make it possible to arrive at a conclusive regulation. The BfR therefore considers the establishment of a  “positive list” of permitted substances  most reasonable in order to prevent manufacturers from switching to other substances with uncertain health properties which have not yet been banned.

A large number of toxicological endpoints play an important role in the estimation of the health risks of tattoo inks. A particularly important field of research of the junior research group is the question of whether tattoos can cause cancer. This issue is being investigated by analysing pigment degradation products using UV and laser radiation, for example. On the other hand, artificial skin models with integrated pigments are also established within the research group in order to examine their genotoxic potential with and without solar radiation.

Analysis of the pigment degradation products shows that in addition to the release of possibly carcinogenic substances, allergens are also released. Although allergies are among the most common side-effects of tattoos, the substances that trigger them are barely known or have never been reliably confirmed. Through chemical analysis, in chemico and in vitro methods and diagnostics on humans, the junior research group is attempting to track down and characterise the responsible allergens.

Interdisciplinary research between analytics, toxicology and clinics can therefore be regarded as a core competency of the junior research group.


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