Can you be allergic to tattoo ink?

July 7, 2023

Tattoo Ink - NAAMA Studios Removes Unwanted Ink
Tattoo Ink - NAAMA Studios Removes Unwanted Ink

It is possible to be allergic to tattoo ink

You can be allergic to tattoo ink and usually the problem will be caused by a specific color of ink pigment. The negative reaction might not become evident immediately, and in rare cases the allergic reaction will occur decades after getting the tattoo. 

This shows just how mysterious the process of getting a new tattoo is when it comes to our biology. Though new research has greatly developed our understanding of how the lymphatic system responds to tattoo inks, the lack of regulation for tattoo inks has made it difficult to predict allergic reactions and to fully protect consumers. 

At the moment the best thing consumers can do is to research reliable ink manufacturers and choose tattoo artists who work with them to create safe tattoo designs. 

Why can red tattoo ink be harmful?

Red ink is viewed as so problematic in tattoo art and design that tomato sauce behemoth Heinz set out to develop their own safe red ink pigment in a beautifully orchestrated marketing campaign, targeted at their many fans with Heinz-inspired body art. 

It is likely a specific ingredient within red ink that will cause a person to have an allergic reaction, though that is not to say that all red inks are bad. It is entirely possible to get a safe, red ink tattoo if you do your research. 

In the past red tattoo inks were given their pigment using cinnabar or mercury sulphide. Adverse reactions were caused by the mercury content, a substance known to be harmful. 

Today there is a lot of research going on into organic tattoo inks and non-metallic components to make red inks safe for all.  

We don’t always know what’s in your tattoo ink

After interviewing academics on different tattoo inks we were surprised to find that sometimes, even with the best intentions in the world, it simply won’t be possible to find out exactly what’s in your tattoo ink. 

"We have seen a fair number of cases where there is a discrepancy between what's supposed to be in the bottle and what is actually in the bottle”, John Swierk, assistant professor at Binghamton University, tells NAAMA. “That may be a cause for concern". 

Of course there are many amazing tattoo ink manufacturers out there. The key is doing your research and finding where they distribute their ink. A good start would be the company that worked with Heinz to produce their skin-safe red ink, Electric Ink.

When to be concerned 

If your allergy, which should just display itself on the area of skin surrounding the tattoo, spreads throughout your body and you feel feverish, you may have an infection. Tattoo infection is serious, can cause pain and foul-smelling pus, and should be treated as soon as possible by a professional. 

Some people choose to remove an infected tattoo if it has caused them discomfort and pain with laser tattoo removal. This is where we come into this foul-smelling mess (we joke, infected tattoos should go straight to the doctor). 

Remove a tattoo that has caused an allergic reaction

Fortunately for tattoo lovers, with the LightSense® laser system, “red ink tends to be much, much quicker to remove," says Leslie, who regularly communicates with NAAMA’s clients about their laser tattoo removal requirements. 

So if a red ink tattoo has caused you an allergic reaction, why not remove it with the LightSense® laser system. The low-energy laser has been designed to be skin-safe and to work on a range of ink pigments. Read more about that here

When tattoo ink causes an allergic reaction

You can be allergic to tattoo ink and it can cause a range of symptoms from itchiness, redness and swelling, to blisters, lumps, and bumps. 

Do not panic if this is the case and speak to your tattoo artist as soon as possible about any allergic reactions. If this does not assuage your concern, speak to the experts in laser tattoo removal for guidance.

We’re contactable here for consultations. 

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