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Use of Hydrogen Peroxide to Visualize Tattoos Obscured by Decomposition and Mummification

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 38 Issue: 1 Dated: (January 1993) Pages: 147-150
W D Haglund; K Sperry
Date Published
4 pages
Tattoos are distinctive, potentially important acquired identifying features that last for the life of the bearer and persist into the postmortem period, but the accumulation of decompositional pigments in the skin and subcutaneum will obscure tattoo designs.
To visualize tattoos obscured by decomposition and mummification, the area of the skin to be checked should be gently cleaned with water to remove remaining detritus. Cotton or soft cloth can then be saturated with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and placed over the particular area. After 2 to 10 minutes, accumulated decompositional pigments gradually fade and the dermis is rendered a pale pink-tan. Any tattoos within exposed dermal regions can be readily identified and then photographed. Left undisturbed, decompositional compounds gradually diffuse back into "developed" areas and eventually reobscure exposed tattoos over several hours. Case reports involving the use of hydrogen peroxide are presented. 2 references and 2 figures