Can You Be Allergic To Tattoo Ink?

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If you’ve ever thought about getting a tattoo, the first question that probably crossed your mind was “Can You Be Allergic To Tattoo Ink?” The answer is yes.

There are many different factors that can cause an allergic reaction including skin type, skin coloration, and even personal history. If you have any of these conditions then there is a chance that you could be allergic to tattoos.

There are also people who experience an allergy as soon as they leave the shop after their tattooing session has finished which means it may not be something they were born with but rather developed during or after receiving tattoos.

What Is A Tattoo Allergy And How Does It Develop??

Can You Be Allergic To Tattoo Ink?
Photo: Can You Be Allergic To Tattoo Ink?

Credit: Instagram @ theuntattooparlor

Allergic reactions to tattoos are very rare. It is more common for the tattoo pigment to cause irritant contact dermatitis or generalized eczema on all types of tattoos especially new tattoos on people who have never had a tattoo before. This form of ink allergy can also be seen in piercings, permanent makeup, and even some cosmetic products.

This type of reaction usually occurs with red tattoo dyes that contain mercury sulfide as it used to be one of the most popular colorants for tattoos but there have been different formulations for this particular dye in order to avoid these side effects. Once you have allergic contact dermatitis from a tattoo, there is no point in receiving another because it will likely happen again unless you switch to a different color.

Pigment allergies and irritant contact dermatitis can occur immediately or take up to several months after receiving your tattoo, which means you will not be able to tell what the results maybe until it’s too late to switch dyes.

This type of reaction is an autoimmune response where your immune system has identified the ink as a foreign substance and sends out antibodies that cause swelling and itching as well as “flare-ups”. Some people even react more severely than others with large welts all over their body, hives, and even extreme fatigue along with fever which requires immediate medical attention.

These can also be seen in piercings and cosmetic tattoos but they usually only last a few hours to a few days. Most cases of tattoo allergies are related to the dye being used and those that have been shown to be most common include:

  • Mercury sulfide red-orange pigment colors, especially crimson red.
  • Yellow ink, usually cadmium sulfide yellow.
  • Green dyes, either chromium or copper-based.
  • Red iron oxide – red tattoo dyes with iron oxide are the most common cause of allergic dermatitis.
  • Green chromium oxide green or sometimes Prussian blue.
  • Blue ink, usually ultramarines (cobalt and aluminum-based) but also copper blues.

How To Tell If You’re Having An Allergic Reaction?

Can You Be Allergic To Tattoo Ink? | image 1
Photo: Having An Allergic Reaction

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Symptoms include:

  • Hives (raised, red bumps) which may burn or itch.
  • Red patches on the skin which can be blotchy or scaly.
  • Raised lines running along the outline of the tattoo, means ink has escaped from where it should be and has seeped into surrounding tissue causing swelling and irritation.
  • Blisters, pustules, or redness along the tattoo line.
  • Itching on the skin may indicate an allergic reaction to dye.

Tattoos are becoming more popular every year with over 15 million tattoos done in the US alone. With that said, it’s not uncommon to have questions or concerns about your tattoos later on down the road. One of those concerns is tattoo ink allergies.

When thinking of allergies most people think of anaphylaxis which is a life-threatening reaction that must be treated immediately by epinephrine and a trip to the ER. Did you know there are other types of allergies as well? Adverse reactions to chemicals/substances is one type of allergy most often seen in tattoo clients who already have considerable sensitivities to chemical-based products.

What does it mean to have a chemical allergy? It’s when your immune system reacts to the chemical itself. A chemical reaction can cause redness, watery eyes, rashes immediately or hours later, itching, and severe pain were applied. In some cases, clients have been prescribed antihistamines and steroidal creams in order to help control the symptoms.

Some clients will unknowingly have reactions to certain colors in tattoo ink which they may not realize until after they receive a tattoo because of how deep in the skin the pigment goes. This is why it is important to discuss any allergies with your tattoo artist before receiving a tattoo so they would be able to use ink that they know you won’t have an adverse reaction too.

Another type of allergy is photo-allergic reactions in which a client may or may not know that they have an allergy and can be seen hours after the tattoo has been applied. This type of reaction is when you are unable to go out in the sun for extended periods of time because your skin will blister, swell and become itchy when exposed to sunlight.
It’s also possible to get swelling and itching when you sweat or touch certain fabrics such as wool sweaters, etc. If this happens to you, make sure you let your tattoo artist know so they would be able to use appropriate ink coloring for the tattoos.

The last type we’ll discuss is allergic contact dermatitis. This happens when a person’s immune system reacts to direct contact of a chemical with the skin. If you have an allergy to nickel, for example, and your tattoo artist uses a metal needle that has been previously used by someone else and then put it in your skin, you will most likely end up having an allergic reaction to it later on down the road.

When Should You Seek Attention?

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Photo: Allergic To Tattoo Ink

Credit: Instagram @ emersonjesustattoo

You don’t need to see a doctor straight away and you can check for yourself if you believe it is something that will affect your life. If you notice any changes in your skin within 5 days of having the tattoo then this could be a sign of an allergic reaction.

At this point, you may be wondering how can I find out if I’m allergic to any substances? Check with your primary care physician or dermatologist for testing such as patch tests (patch testing involves placing small amounts of various chemicals onto patches which are then placed on your skin).

Some clients who think they may have an ink allergy only realize when they try laser treatments because their body is rejecting the ink pigments.

If you are having any kind of reaction to your tattoo seek medical attention immediately.

What Should You Do When You Are Having An Allergic Reaction?

If you are having an allergic reaction to your tattoos, it is possible that the ink may have caused this. Even if the tattoos were made by one of the top-rated artists in town or even the country, you should still consider getting rid of them completely and getting either laser treatment or another type of skin tattooing.

This way you can avoid further skin problems, including pain and scarring. It is also a good idea to test the allergy before actually going for a tattoo session – just apply some ink on your arm and wait 24 hours.

If no rash appears then maybe you can go ahead with it but if there’s any redness or itching happening at all, don even think about it! You should also make sure that the artist is using new needles for each individual client, this way you can avoid any problems like infections.

Tattoo allergy can lead to a blood infection, which is not really difficult to diagnose – if the skin becomes swollen and red then it might be infected.

If you notice that going to a tattoo parlor or going for any other type of permanent makeup causes your skin to swell up as well as redden, make sure you stop immediately! In case things get worse with bacteria getting even deeper into your body, visit a doctor as fast as possible.

How Can I Avoid Getting An Allergic Reaction From My Tattoos In The Future?

Allergic Reaction From My Tattoos
Photo: Allergic Reaction From My Tattoos

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Generally, the strength of an allergic reaction to tattoo ink relates directly to skin sensitivity. The more sensitive your skin, the greater chance there is for a reaction. There are many things you can do before getting tattoos that may reduce your chances of developing an allergy. Here are some tips:

Before you get your first tattoo, make sure it’s okay with your doctor if you have allergies or other medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Your doctor should also know about all prescription and over-the-counter medications you are taking, especially medication for psoriasis, eczema, or acne.

If you know that you have allergies, be prepared by bringing a list of your allergies with you when getting inked. Make sure your tattoo artist knows about them as well! The list should include medications, supplements, and anything else you may be allergic to.

Avoid tattoos that have red or yellow coloring in their ink. These colors are made from mercury sulfide which causes the most severe skin reactions.

Be sure to tell your tattoo artist if you’ve had any previous tattoos or piercings. If you develop bumps, itching, swelling, blisters, discharge. Or changes in color after getting a new tattoo (especially redness), refrain from touching it and see your dermatologist immediately as these could all be signs of an infection or other problem that requires medical attention.

Why Does It Seem Like More People Are Experiencing Allergic Reactions To Tattoos Than In The Past?

Experts say that it may be because there are more tattoos being done now than ever before. Around one in five Americans have tattoos. The concentration of people who are getting tattooed has increased.

Higher rates of melanoma and skin cancer in Americans could also be a factor in the rise of tattoo allergies. Though tattoos are inherently permanent, the pigment in them can fade over time. As a tattoo fades, it’s possible that people may be less likely to avoid long-term sun exposure on the areas of their body with tattoos, which can increase the risk for skin cancer.


How do you know if you’re allergic to tattoo ink?

You may notice swelling or inflammation around the tattoo. The skin may become itchy, dry, flaky, scaly, blistered, weeping clear fluid, or oozing yellow or bloody fluid. The area may change color or get lighter or darker than the tattooed area.

Can your body reject tattoo ink?

Yes, the body can reject tattoo ink. The degree of rejection depends on your own immune system as well as the type of ink and how it was applied.

Can you test for tattoo allergy?

Yes. A common test for tattoo allergy is a patch test, which involves placing a diluted form of the suspected allergen on your arm or back. If the skin turns red, itchy, or swollen, then you may be allergic to that substance.

How likely is an allergic reaction with tattoo ink?

It is very unlikely that you will have a reaction to a tattoo. However, it is possible if your immune system has a specific allergy to one of the chemicals in the ink.

Why can allergies develop after a tattoo?

Allergies may develop if the tattoo ink includes a chemical compound you are allergic to. Or, your immune system becomes sensitized to one of the chemicals in the ink used for the tattoo.


In the end, it is not known exactly why allergies to tattoo ink are becoming more common. There may be many factors involved, including the increased number of people who have tattoos and stronger or more toxic inks being used, as well as possible sunscreen issues with tattoos and higher rates of melanoma and skin cancer in general.