Back in the day – 1985ish – we used phenol to separate and isolate DNA. During one such attempt my pinky finger on my left hand got splashed with phenol. To this day, that finger is still smaller than my other pinky (no it wasn’t smaller previously).
Prior to that I spent five summers working as a carpenter’s helper. I primarily hammered nails before the advent of nail guns, with my 20 oz Estwing hammer. For about a month each summer, these Danish custom-home builders would build fence. It was a nice change to be out in the field. Some local dude owned million-dollar racehorses, and decided he wanted miles of solid oak fence to contain his investment. Me and another kid would spend a week painting posts – applying phenol-based creosote to oak posts to limit rot in the ground. Although being covered head-to-toe, including eyewear, some creosote would invariably splash on an exposed bit of cheek. To this day, whenever it gets really hot (every day in Brisbane) parts of my cheek will turn a dark color and it feels like my skin is burning.
Through fortune or wisdom, I don’t have tattoos.
Tattoo removal is increasingly required as the number of, particularly young, people acquiring tattoos is increasing.
A 21-year-old man is reported who underwent attempted removal of large dragon tattoo utilizing a tattoo machine that injected a phenol-containing solution. At the end of the 3-h procedure, he collapsed and died. At autopsy, large areas of white skin discoloration with focal necrosis and sloughing were present overlying areas of previous tattooing. Histological examination showed collections of eosinophilic fluid with a minimal chronic inflammatory infiltrate in better preserved areas, with focal areas of dermal necrosis. Toxicology was positive for phenol in cardiac blood and liver tissue. There were no underlying organic disease or injuries present which could have caused or contributed to death.
This idiosyncratic method of tattoo removal involving subcutaneous injection of phenol had resulted in death most likely from cardiotoxicity.
Fatal phenol toxicity following attempted tattoo removal
Wiley Online Library
Zhen Li M.D., Huang Zhang M.S., Shu-Hua Li M.D., Roger W. Byard M.D.