Identification of organic pigments in tattoo inks & permanent make-up using laser mass spectrometry

by Science Editor
Scientific Report

In this report the authors take an alternative approach to tattoo pigment analysis and uncover some undisclosed ingredients within tattoo inks and PMU pigments that are available in the market place.

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Identification of organic pigments in tattoo inks and permanent make-up using laser desorption ionisation mass spectrometry.

Abstract: Nowadays, about 12% of the European and 20% of the US population are tattooed. Rising concerns regarding consumer safety, led to legal restrictions on tattoo and permanent make-up (PMU) inks. Restrictions also include bans on certain colourants. Both ink types use organic pigments for colour-giving, plus inorganic pigments for white and black and colour tones. Pigments are only sparingly soluble in common solvents and occur as suspended particles in the ink matrix. Their detection and identification therefore pose a major challenge for laboratories involved in monitoring the legal compliance of tattoo inks and PMU. We overcame this challenge by developing a direct laser desorption ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry method.......
Industry Significance Rating:

Informative - General industry awareness.


F1000Research Version 2. 21/11/2017 [revised 2018 Jan 8].

Authors: Niederer M, Hauri U, Kroll L, Hohl C.
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The authors describe their novel approach to analysis of tattoo inks and Permanent Makeup (PMU) pigments via laser mass spectrometry, their methods involved "screening of 396 tattoo inks and 55 PMU taken from the Swiss market between 2009 and 2017".

The authors found that the number of individual colourants utilised in tattoo inks (18) was greater than those discovered within in PMU pigments (10). Of highest concern the researchers discovered that four of the colourants identified among the samples examined contained prohibited pigments i.e. colourants not compliant with European Resolution (ResAP 2008) specifically Pigment Green 7, Pigment Red 122, Pigment Violet 19 and 23, Niederer et al. found these prohibited colourants within some of the samples of both body art inks and PMU pigments.

It is worth noting that the 4 prohibited colourants were only found in 12% of the PMU pigments as compared to 32% of body art tattoo inks, the researchers concluded that; "
legal compliance of PMU was at a higher level".

Also of particular concern the authors mentioned that "banned pigments are rarely declared, but rather masked by listing non present legal pigments and label forging". In other words in most instances the presence of banned colourants was being concealed by false labelling on the products.

These types of findings are likely to trigger more stringent regulatory controls both within the EU and other geographical locations as health officials are not likely to ignore the recommendations of scientists such as Niederer in their calls for "urgency of widespread market controls".


Scientific Report,  body art tattoo ink, PMU pigment, mass spectrometry, banned colourants, false labelling, regulatory compliance


The Education Team here at keeps a close eye on the scientific and medical literature for new publications relating to cosmetic and medical tattooing that may be of interest to customers. The intent is to alert industry members to important publications within the literature to expand the knowledge base particularly in relation to high impact reports.

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