Response of mouse skin to tattooing: use of SKH-1 mice as a surrogate model for human tattooing

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Tattooing is a popular cosmetic practice involving more than 45 million US citizens. Since the toxicology of tattoo inks and pigments used to formulate tattoo inks has not been reported, we studied the immunological impact of tattooing and determined recovery time from this trauma. SKH-1 hairless mice were tattooed using commercial tattoo inks or suspensions of titanium dioxide, cadmium sulfide, or iron oxide, and sacrificed at 0.5, 1, 3, 4, 7, or 14 days post-tattooing. Histological evaluation revealed dermal hemorrhage at 0.5 and 1 day. Acute inflammation and epidermal necrosis were initiated at 0.5 day decreasing in incidence by day 14. Dermal necrosis and epidermal hyperplasia were prominent by day 3, reducing in severity by day 14. Chronic active inflammation persisted in all tattooed mice from day 3 to 14 post-tattooing. Inguinal and axillary lymph nodes were pigmented, the inguinal being most reactive as evidenced by lymphoid hyperplasia and polymorphonuclear infiltration. Cutaneous nuclear protein concentrations of nuclear factor-kappa B were elevated between 0.5 and 4 days. Inflammatory and proliferative biomarkers, cyclooxygenase-1, cyclooxygenase-2, and ornithine decarboxylase protein levels were elevated between 0.5 and 4 days in the skin and decreased to control levels by day 14. Interleukin-1 beta and interleukin-10 were elevated in the lymph nodes but suppressed in the tattooed skin, with maximal suppression occurring between days 0.5 and 4. These data demonstrate that mice substantially recover from the tattooing insult by 14 days, leaving behind pigment in the dermis and the regional lymph nodes. The response seen in mice is similar to acute injury seen in humans, suggesting that the murine model might be a suitable surrogate for investigating the toxicological and phototoxicological properties of ingredients used in tattooing.

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