Lasers in Medical Science

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 1107–1112 | Cite as

Determination of the thermal and physical properties of black tattoo ink using compound analysis

  • Alexander HumphriesEmail author
  • Tom S Lister
  • Philip A Wright
  • Michael P Hughes
Original Article


Despite the widespread use of laser therapy in the removal of tattoos, comparatively little is known about its mechanism of action. There is a need for an improved understanding of the composition and thermal properties of the tattoo ink in order that simulations of laser therapy may be better informed and treatment parameters optimised. Scanning electron microscopy and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry identified that the relative proportions of the constituent compounds of the ink likely to exist in vivo are the following: carbon black pigment (89 %), carvacrol (5 %), eugenol (2 %), hexenol (3 %) and propylene glycol (1 %). Chemical compound property tables identify that changes in phase of these compounds lead to a considerable reduction in the density and thermal conductivity of the ink and an increase in its specific heat as temperature increases. These temperature-dependent values of density, thermal conductivity and specific heat are substantially different to the constant values, derived from water or graphite at a fixed temperature, which have been applied in the simulations of laser therapy as previously described in the literature. Accordingly, the thermal properties of black tattoo ink described in this study provide valuable information that may be used to improve simulations of tattoo laser therapy.


Black tattoo ink Laser therapy Thermal properties Scanning electron microscopy Thermal conductivity Specific heat 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Marie-Laure Abel and Dr. Steven Hinder at Surrey Materials Institute, University of Surrey for their support and guidance when analysing the ink samples and the University of Surrey for funding the project.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander Humphries
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tom S Lister
    • 2
    • 3
  • Philip A Wright
    • 2
  • Michael P Hughes
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Biomedical Engineering, School of EngineeringUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  2. 2.Wessex Specialist Laser CentreSalisbury District Hospital NHS Foundation TrustSalisburyUK
  3. 3.Department of Electronics and Computer ScienceUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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