In the western world, more than 80 million people decorate their skin with tattoos. Tattoo colorants are injected into the skin, like medical drugs. Most tattoo colorants are industrial pigments, and chemical industries have never produced them for human use but only to stain consumer goods. Up to 10% of tattooed people request removal of their tattoos because of an improved self-image or social stigmatization. In contrast to tattooing, physicians usually perform the tattoo removal. For that purpose laser light at very high intensities irradiates the skin to destroy the tattoo pigments. Based on a recent analysis of tattoo pigments, two widely used azo compounds were irradiated in suspension with laser and subsequently analyzed by using quantitative high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. The high laser intensities cleaved the azo compounds, leading to an increase of decomposition products such as 2-methyl-5-nitroaniline, 2-5-dichloraniline and 4-nitro-toluene, which are toxic or even carcinogenic compounds. Moreover, the results of the chemical analysis show that the tattoo colorants already contain such compounds before laser irradiation. Because of a high number of patients undergoing laser treatment of tattoos and based on the results of our findings in vitro, it is an important goal to perform a risk assessment in humans regarding laser-induced decomposition products.
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Vol. 80 • No. 2