Long perceived as a form of exotic self-expression in some social fringe groups, tattoos have left their maverick image behind and become mainstream, particularly for young people. Historically, tattoo-related health and safety regulations have focused on rules of hygiene and prevention of infections. Meanwhile, the increasing popularity of tattooing has led to the development of many new colours, allowing tattoos to be more spectacular than ever before. However, little is known about the toxicological risks of the ingredients used. For risk assessment, safe intradermal application of these pigments needs data for toxicity and biokinetics and increased knowledge about the removal of tattoos. Other concerns are the potential for phototoxicity, substance migration, and the possible metabolic conversion of tattoo ink ingredients into toxic substances. Similar considerations apply to cleavage products that are formed during laser-assisted tattoo removal. In this Review, we summarise the issues of concern, putting them into context, and provide perspectives for the assessment of the acute and chronic health effects associated with tattooing.
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