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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Allergic Reaction to Tattoo Inks

By September 7, 2010

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A while back I wrote a post about sensitivity reactions to red ink found in some tattoos. One of the comments written in response to that post caught my eye. I've bumped it up so people concerned about possible reactions to tattoos have a better chance of seeing it:
As a tattoo artist, I would say don't always trust every tattoo artist to know everything. There are some people who stumbled into their carreers in this field and don't know much about technique let alone the chemical compositions of the inks they use.

Having said that, I find very few people are allergic to pigments, but the ones who are are often allergic to red. These people are often allergic to other things containing red such as licorice, red candy, etc. I've had a dermatologist explain it to me as the phenol thaylene content in red pigments. Some people have just a mild reaction such as small bumps and redness; others will have the red in the tattoo scab violently and their body will actually push the pigment out over the long healing process. I've seen this happen and the tattoo might look perfectly fine except all the red is gone! Anyway, even a pretty well informed tattoo artist might not know the chemical breakdown of all their inks. So know what things you are allergic to before getting the tattoo, or let the artist know before you plan to go ahead.

~AMcDermed

What Are Tattoo Inks? | Tattoo Reaction to MRI

Comments

April 24, 2009 at 7:17 pm
(1) Nicole says:

I got a tattoo 12 years ago on my leg, its mickey mouse so theres red parts to it. In the last 6 months, I’ve developed these itchy raised bumps only on the red ink of my tattoo, wondering what i can do to get rid of it as I would like that tattoo covered up

October 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm
(2) Clare says:

I got my first and last tattoo 3 years ago it was fine at first. A few days later it became very sore, my foot swelled to twice the size and the tattoo had wet scabs on it. I had to go to hospital where they put me on antibiotics. When the tattoo finally healed it had pushed a bit of the colour out completely so now I have a tattoo with bits missing! I really want it to get it redone as there is a bit of colour missing and a lot of scar tissue but I am very worried it will happen again! I think I am allergic to nickel as I have had problems with piercings too!

November 7, 2010 at 7:37 pm
(3) Jamie says:

ive always been allergic to metal, ever sinc ei was a baby! i cant have piercings, ear rings, rings or any other type of metal on my skin to the point where im not aloud to wear belts because the metal on the belt buckle attacks my stomach. even when i was a baby, my mom would undress me and see circle rashes all down my stomach in a straight line from the metal buttons on my button up pajamas! i really want to get a tatto but dont know what to do? ive done research that red inc is the worst and people who are alergic to nickle and most of the other metals around, to go with a black ink because thats less seseptable to reactions! what do you think?

January 17, 2011 at 11:32 pm
(4) Morgan says:

I am allergic to metal too! cant have piercings or anything like that. Although i really want a tattoo. I have read so many different things but never from someone who is actually allergic to metal and who has gotten a tattoo.. i have heard of the skin rejecting the ink, the tattoo being raised(scar tissue), not healing properly (scabbing etc.), even that if highly allergic your body can go into shock. everyone thinks im stupid for even considering getting a tattoo, but im sick of talking about it n want to do it. i only live once right. but no tattoo is better than an ugly tattoo. and i really want to hear from someone who got a tattoo already n was allergic to metal.

November 16, 2011 at 12:58 am
(5) Noreen says:

I am allergic to metal and have 3 tattoos. I have also had 5 body piercings that I have since had to remove due to irritation. When I got my first tattoo (4 years ago) ,it was only a small one so the reaction wasnt bad at all. 2 years ago I decided to go get another which was a much larger design, after which I broke out in hives all over my body which lasted only the night since I was constantly taking allergy pills. About a year ago, I decided to tempt fait a 3rd time and got a small tattoo on my foot. This time I decided to take the allergy medicine prior thinking it would help. I should have ended up in the E.R that night but was too stupid to go plus didn’t want to hear “I told you so” from the people who insisted I get no more tattoos. Halfway through the tattoo I began getting itchy and feeling dizzy, but it was already halfway through so I wasnt about to stop. My reaction progressivly got worse until about an hour after my tattoo was done, I had tempararilly lost my hearing, vision, experienced difficulty breathing, and began to over heat. Thank God it was winter because the only thing that stabalized me was standing in the freezing cold in shorts and a t-shirt downing bottles of water. Although this happened I am still searching to find ways where I can get more tattoos. I am addicted. Talk to your doctor and also find a SMART AND TRUSTING tattoo artist that you can speak with to figure out which colours may be safer then others and so on. Good luck!

December 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm
(6) Bria says:

just like clare i had a tattoo done on my foot and it swelled horribly and it had wet scabs but it wasnt my first tattoo it was my second i also dont have any problems with my peircings i have three my tounge,my stomach,and my eye brow. I had a tattoo done years before on my back and there was never any itching everything turned out to be jus fine the healing process went great thats what inspired me to get more..I really want more tattoos bt i dont want them to end up like the one on my foot..What do you think i shou;d do? should i stick to black tattoos?..or should i just stay away all together?

March 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm
(7) Dee says:

I recently got a tattoo on my wrist while on vacation in Los Angeles. My last day in Los Angles, I noticed little bumps appearing around the tattoo design. As of today, the bumps are leaving; but now I see that where white ink is suppose to be. The ink is gone and I just see my skin. I went to the hospital and the doctor said I had an allergic reaction. The doctor told me to take benadryl for the itching. I have also been using aquaphor on it. What should I do for it to heal and for my skin to heal?

March 25, 2011 at 8:11 pm
(8) KAREN says:

iI just got a tattoo on March 16th. Its mostly green. the next night it started leaking my leg became very hot and red.I was at Drs next morning. Apparently it was an allergic reaction to the ink.Then a nasty infection set in 9 days later and its still no better atleast im not in the hospital

April 6, 2011 at 10:52 pm
(9) Jeana says:

My best friend and I got tattoo’s 15 years ago, we got the same tattoo, at the same time, in the same spot by the same artist. Her’s looks perfect to this day and mine. . . .not so much. The area that had the red ink is completely back to my normal skin color. For about a year after getting the tattoo it was 3D as I called it, it had the tiny white bumps with some fluid and the entire red portion was raised. The part that I’m now researching is, what am I allergic to, I used to just think it was the red dye but now after researching the metals used in the dye I’m thinking it may be one of those. I have SEVERE allergic reaction’s that show up in my lips swelling and then the skin around my lips tearing and then of course the lips get chapped from being ripped, but I (or the allergist) can’t figure out what I’m allergic to. I’ve never been to allergic to anything before except the tattoo situation. Any suggestions? Also, for anyone debating on whether or not to get one. . .don’t do it, just read Wikipedia’s article’s on tattoo dye and tattoo medical issues and you will see why!

July 4, 2011 at 11:38 pm
(10) Silvia says:

I got a flower tattoo on my left leg about 2 yrs ago and the colour are red and green.. The tattoo healed perfectly but then like 5 months ago I started to feel that it started to inflate and itch really bad only where the roses area though the green is stayed perfect to this day! Now the red part of the tattoo is still inflated and itches.. Each day the red gets lighter and lighter.. Is the an allergic reaction to the ink? Or What the heck is it lol?

August 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm
(11) Kelly says:

about 2 years ago my mother got a tattoo on her buttocks and almost immediately the entire tattoo site became raised, scaly and itchy, which through some research I’ve learned is the typical reaction to an allergy. To be sure that it was an allery, my mother was seen by her primary care physician and was refered to a dermatologist who diagnosed the marks as a severe allergic reaction. Some time after these symptoms occured she began to break out with rabdom patches of hives on her arms. They turned into sores and even though she was trying not to scratch at the sites, she was scratching at them in her sleep, which resulted in slow healing. The scabs have since healed but she now has purplish marks under her skin. The best way I can think to describe them is that they look like imperfect circles of tatoo. They look like dark bruises but unlike a bruise, instead of the soft, fading edges you’d expect to see in a bruise they have hard edges. These marks seem to be limited to her forearms which was where the scabby sores were. Has anyone heard of or seen this type of reaction?

April 27, 2012 at 3:53 am
(12) Julie says:

I booked to get my first tattoo about a month ago. The tattoo artist travels all over the world so my appointment has been cancelled three times.
I suffer from lots of skin allergies, metals, fish ( shelled fish ) some juices that come from certain fruit and the sun. I went to my docs because I have now developed an allergy to my leg shaver. Luckily when I was there I mentioned about getting my first tattoo. My doctor has advised me strongly not to get it. I really want one done but I think luck has played a part in delaying the tattoo. I now have to ask the artist to do a skin test and wait for a while to see If it’s okay. I think if people do have allergies they should get a skin test done before having a tattoo. Then again some tattoo allergies can take years to show up. I just don’t know what to do now ? Is it worth the risk ?

June 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm
(13) britney says:

i got my very first tattoo about 5 days ago and now i have weird bumbs on my skin. my tattoo is under my armpit kind of on my ribs and i have bumbs under my boobs, on my neck and on my ribs on the opposite side of my tattoo. their everywhere but on my tattoo. could this still be from the tattoo or no? it started occuring the day i got the tattoo on my ribs. my mom said goint to the doctor wouldnt do anything, what should i do?

June 20, 2012 at 7:59 am
(14) Cammy says:

I just got a new tattoo about 2 and a half weeks ago. A few days ago I started noticing itchy jumps in the color part of my tattoo. It’s brown ink with some yellow. And the bumps are only on the parts where the brown is very thick not just a thin line. I have tattoos with red in them elsewhere on my body and had no reaction to it. I was out on a new medication last week for an injury and was wondering since the tattoo hadn’t fully healed if it could just be a reaction to the medication? I really don’t want to have it removed I love it and have wanted this one forever. I’m just hoping it’s it and allergic reaction to the ink?

September 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm
(15) ashlee says:

I just want to remind everyone that as we get older our bodies change. Things we might not have been allergic to before we all the sudden are showing symptoms. If you are having NE reactions to things then you needed to go see an allergy specialist. Don’t ask other people who don’t phd’s. It’s good to get feed back from others but its the up most importance you talk to a doctor. Last night i had my first reaction to the red sure in my tattoo. It was itchy and it was like i had goose bumps and some of the red parts raised in the shape and design of my tattoo. I am only allergic to medicines more than anything else but just recently in the past four months i have been showing new allergies to issues outside of the medical scene. Pollens now affect me and now this red dye in my tattoo is affecting me. Time to go see the doctor!

September 23, 2012 at 1:21 am
(16) Christine says:

I have several tattoo’s I’ve never had a reation to the red b4 but this last redo I got has not healed in 3 months and soooooo itchy calling the doc on Monday sooo over the scabs buldges and the itch is driving me outta my mind!!!!!

October 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm
(17) samantha says:

hi, i got my 7th tattoo about two months ago all my tatts match so are all the same colors, black and purple, and never had a problem, allso, each tattoo i have has been done by a different artist, and this last one had hints of red in the accents of the lettering, now, two months later each and every accent where the red dye is has raised up in to little bumps they are kind of itchy and some are sore to the touch, im guessing im haveing an allergic reaction to the red dye, not sire what to do about it, ive read that if it a mild reaction the ink will probably work its way out of my skin over time and ill end up with no coloring in that area, but im really not sure…i havent been to the doc, dont really want to waste there time if there is nothing that can be done, but i am curious as to if this sounds like red reaction to any one else?? and if so, should i go see a doc or just let it ride out? hope some one can inlighten me… p.s. sory about my bad english im spanish. thanks in advance x

October 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm
(18) Kellie says:

Six months ago a couple of friends and I got the same tatoo on our legs, just above our ankles.. They turned out beautiful.. 3 lilies with our initials.. In the past 2 weeks I have noticed that along the edges of the lillies where it was colored in with a darker pink(red &white mixed) it’s starting to feel as though it’s raised and it’s soo itchy.. Could this too be a reaction.. This late in the game?

November 4, 2012 at 3:12 am
(19) PaddyBoy says:

My Wife had a Bouquet tattooed on here Ankle 2003 .
Some day ago 11/01/2012 she noticed where the
red ink was done, It was Raised… this is a bit strange for me.
Are there heavy metals in the composition of Red Ink?

November 11, 2012 at 6:49 am
(20) Kirst says:

I have 11 tattoos. I’m alergic to quite a few things but have had tattoos over the course of the past 8years. I have discovered I’m allergic to coloured ink. My reaction isn’t that bad though, my body rejects the ink and pushes it out and leaves behind scar tissue. I discovered my allergy about 3 years ago after having red ink tattooed. Apparently red is the most common colour to be allergic to, there’s also green and blue that I’m allergic to. My reaction has always been in the healing process. Best way to deal with it for me has been just cover the tattoo in a antiseptic cream as often as possible. That seems to calm the reaction and locks most of the colour in as scar tissue. No more coloured ink for me but if your determined to have one, get a tester first, see how bad your reaction is going to be :)

November 22, 2012 at 10:30 am
(21) Ellis says:

i am allergic to PPD which is found in Black henna tattoo’s and dark hair dyes will it be same for me to get a black tattoo as it is dye i am allergic too not ink ? someone help I’m desperate for one !!

January 2, 2013 at 2:41 pm
(22) Jennifer says:

Since everyone seems to think its only metals that you can be allergic to, and most think only red, being derived from nickel, think again. I have 3 black tattoos. After the first one I had no reaction. Years later I got the second on my ankle and it was a horrible mess. Itchy bleeding sores and now, few years later, is black scar tissue. Allergies are to proteins so even hemp and vegan inks are potentially allergenic. I learned later that I was allergic to peas and turns out black ink is derived from something in the legume family. After the second one, and the allergic reaction, I still have flare-ups, now with both. I must have developed the allergy between the two tattoos, but they will both react now. Allergy testing WILL NOT work because allergies often don’t develop for years. I desperately want more, but it is definitely NOT worth it. I’ve also noticed that if I accidentally ingest something I’m allergic to, my tattoo allergies will flare up again. Something to think about for those of you with recurring allergies. Get tested for a wide variety of food allergies. Some are not at all obvious.

January 24, 2013 at 1:16 am
(23) jess says:

I have a black and red butterfly tattoo i have had it for two years now but just recently the black part started getting itchy and it bubbles up but it doesnt do it all the time, I need help cuz i dont know what else it could be?

February 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm
(24) Ashley says:

I started getting tattoos a few years ago. I have my whole leg socked out. No problems, all different colors including red. I go to the same tattoo artist every time. Last summer he tattooed a dagger on my other calf. He was out of our usual red ink, and borrowed a different brand from our usual. It seemed to heal fine, and then about 6 weeks later it started to raise up and get itchy where all the red is. It is painful, and looks 3D. I have been using ointment like aquaphor and hydrocortisone cream. It seems to be getting a little better, but there is some scar tissue I’m worried isn’t going to heal right. I haven’t been to a dermatologist, but I may try that soon. We have since done other work with my usual red, and it seems to be healing fine. I am keeping my fingers crossed I was allergic to the brand because of different metals used, and not going to have this problem with all red from here on out. Good luck to anyone with this issue!

July 19, 2013 at 6:41 pm
(25) DJLidh1990 says:

I got a tattoo about three weeks ago on my thigh, a few days later i noticed there was a rash type thing on the back of my thigh, i have eczema so i just assumed it was that but it looks completely different, i got another one about 2 weeks ago on my other thigh and the same rash has appeared on the back of that thigh, i don’t know what this is, can anyone help? It’s red and sort of bumpy, very itchy and sore.

August 1, 2013 at 2:22 am
(26) kayla says:

Im not saying that your tattoos aren’t severe allergies. But a severe allergy is def what happend to me. I have had my tattoo for two years, the first six months it was fine. I have seen several doctors/dermotlogists and have asked for the tattoo to be removed. Everyone keeps wanting to “treat” it. I had red hearts filled in with darker red shading and the red part of my tattoo has morphed over time into some weird looking oozing bleeding scab. I have been on anti biotics for months, several biospies (no cancer or bacterial infection) and puzzled derms. Nobody really knows why my body reacted that way to red ink the but entire ordeal has been expensive and a nightmare. I am not allergic to a goddam thing. No foods allerigies, nothing. I have two others tattoos that are completely fine (one with dark pink ink). Im not discrediting others, but “little raised bumps” is not a severe reaction. If you guys saw my tattoo you would literally think that i scraped it across the pavement and had a scab on my foot. Its an oozing bleeding scab that I have had on my foot for two years. NObody will remove it. It is no longer red, but a gigantic morphing oozing scab. I have asked repeatedly for it to be removed yet everyone i treat wants to “Treat it”. THere is nothing left except for the tattoo to be completely cut out of my foot, most likely involving a skin graph. In the biopsies the pathologists found no sign of red ink, just infection resulting from the no longer existing pigment. It has been festering on the top of my foot for two years now and has not gotten better. Please think twice about your tattoo

August 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm
(27) JeannerRollins says:

Hi i got a tattoo 5 day’s ago. Within 48 hou
rs my foot and ankle were swollen. Very sore and red .
My doctor put me on heavy antibiotics. I really need someone knowledgeable to assist me. Do you think its a reaction to the dye or bad needle???? Please help. Can i send a pic
Thanks

August 31, 2013 at 12:08 pm
(28) Chantal says:

When i was little had my ears pierced 5 times and every time they got infected. Then is seventh grade i pierced them myself and put those colored paper clips in them (rubber coating) and they never go infected. So my grandmother brought to my attention that i was probably allergic the the nickle. She was right. I have plenty of earrings that irritate me but i only wear them for short periods of time and everything is ok.
So 3 days ago i got my fourth tattoo. Its a lower back tattoo about the size of my palm and has quite a bit of red in it. That night i when to the club and had to leave early because i had red blotches all over my face, arms, and chest. I didn’t know what to do so i drank lots and lots of water and my boyfriend gave me an antibiotic he got for his dry socket. Thankfully it went away and i went to bed. The next morning i woke up with a 102* fever and a cold sore. I went to a walk in clinic because i don’t have a doctor set up yet and she gave me a pill. The next morning i woke up with red itchy rashes on my right arm. I have has to call off two days of work because i look like a freak show. CAN SOMEONE HELP ME OUT? I don’t know what to do.

September 5, 2013 at 9:49 pm
(29) debbie says:

I’ve had a number of tattoos 13 in total from the same artist. But one on my wrist I had 18 months ago is very swollen and so itchy to the point I scratch it it bleeds, I’ve tried a few creams prescribed by my gp but nothing stops the itch, its red ink which I also have on my thigh, that one is fine, how do I stop it itching and swelling?. Ive seen another tattoo artist and she said my body is trying to push it out, but couldnt recommend anything please help

October 5, 2013 at 3:09 pm
(30) Heav'n says:

I too am allergic to metal. As I’ve aged it has died down. My reactions are not as violent as they used to be. I can now wear jewelry that isn’t pure and can eat foods with low dosages of zinc, iron, and mercury (like seafood). I have been looking into getting a tattoo for the past few years. I desperately want one, but don’t want to have a violent reaction. I’ve done quite a bit of research and have found that some brands of Virgin Tattoo Ink don’t use metals at all. The chemicals are all natural and metal free. I have also found that, at the far end of the professional level, there are chemical engineers that can personally manufacture tattoo inks according to the customer. They are people that can manipulate the chemicals to provide the desired pigment without the life threatening substances in whatever case it may be. The article I read was from someone with a selenium allergy I believe. I do believe this is the most expensive option, but it is an option nonetheless. I am still doing research because i’d still like a tattoo. I am willing to sacrifice the fancy colors if it means i’ll get the tattoo without the reaction. By the looks of it, virgin ink may be the way to go. Ask your closest PROFESSIONAL tattoo artist about it. They should be able to help, just remember it’ll cost a whole hell of a lot.

October 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm
(31) Christie says:

Red tattoo ink contains nickel. Anyone having a nickel allergy should not have red tattoo ink. If your belly button breaks out form your button on your pants or you can’t wear jewelry, you are probably allergic to the nickel.

December 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm
(32) Cindy Soto says:

I am also allergic to any jewelry that isn’t real gold.. I got a tattoo in August around my ankle and a week later thought I had what looked like mosquito bites, didn’t think anything of it.. Saturday got another, much bigger than the last, and today noticed the same reaction.. lots of mosquito bite looking bumps.. It was and is a miserable feeling but the last reaction went away.. and hopefully this one will too.. I now know I have an allergy to the tattoo ink, which I never even thought was possible..

January 14, 2014 at 8:54 pm
(33) sheena says:

I have a total of 6 ,tattoos 1 on my wrist the lower part of my ankle my foot and 3 on my back I just recently went and got a cover-up done on the one by my ankle it goes from my ankle up my side it was done beautifully in the beginning October I had its drawn in and I waited till November to get it colored in by December it was healing but by the end of December it started getting scaly and really itchy now I have what looks like a 3d tattoo with horrible coloring horrible itching horrible everything I am so ashamed of it that I will not wear shorts or short skirts nothing that shows that leg can somebody tell me what can be done I am making an appointment to go to the doctor to see what he can do I have tattoos I have piercings but this last tattoo I would not recommend you getting any

January 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm
(34) Clare says:

I have exactly the same symptoms with purple. Apparently I am allergic to aluminium found in purple ink. Itchy as hell, very bad scarring and all of the purple parts of my tat are raised and ugly.

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