Test before You Tat: Ink Allergies Can Ruin Your Tattoo


Latex is a common allergy, one commonly addressed by tattoo artists who instead use vinyl gloves. But rarely do artists address another less common but no less serious allergy: the ink. The Food and Drug Administration is also concerned about ink allergies and is researching how the body metabolizes tattoo ink to understand more about the potential health risks. Knowing this, anyone prone to allergies, should think twice before getting a tattoo.


Beware of the Red

Ink makers concerned about allergies manufacture hypoallergenic tattoo inks, but no company has yet come up with a suitable form of red ink. Keep this in mind if you have sensitive skin. Also understand that you are not guaranteed hypoallergenic inks in any case because of an unregulated market.

No one really knows if tattoo inks are toxic or not. They contain many compounds not normally found within the skin, such as manganese, aluminum, ferric hydrate and iron oxide to create the colors you see. Some of these elements have been cause for concern in beauty products over the years, such as aluminum in deodorants. For someone with allergies, the risks of reaction become greater with the addition of these unusual compounds. And because the consequences of an allergic reaction to tattoo ink are serious, they merit strong concern.

Allergic Reactions to Tattoo Ink

If you have an allergy to tattoo ink, you won’t know until it’s too late. Once the ink is injected into the skin, it can cause pain, swelling, itching and scarring. In some cases, the allergic reaction only occurs when the tattoo is exposed to sunlight.

Others can suffer from little red bumps on the skin or hard lumps under the skin called granulomas. Although they can be treated with steroid creams and injections, in some cases, you might have to have the tattoo removed before the bumps will go away. In addition, particles of tattoo ink migrate to the lymph nodes. In someone prone to allergies, this can cause a systemic reaction.

What to Look For

Some swelling is normal when you get a new tattoo. It should gradually diminish by two weeks after your tattoo is applied. If swelling remains, or if you feel itching and burning at the site of the tattoo, seek a dermatologist’s advice on how to handle the reaction.

Post-Tattoo Treatment Matters

Even if you have no allergic reaction to the tattoo itself, be careful about post tattoo care. Some ointments can also cause allergic reactions. Tattoo artists recommend keeping the skin most and covered by ointment to avoid skin flaking and disrupting the tattoo image. But some creams, such as A&D Ointment (which contains cod liver oil) can cause an allergic reaction. Choose hypoallergenic ointments only, such as Vaseline.