HomeDiseases and DisordersAllergiesAllergic Reaction to Tattoo Ink – Symptoms and Signs

Barring a medical procedure for removal, a tattoo is yours for life. Getting tattooed, though, is easy. Aftercare (and treating a possible allergic reaction to tattoo ink, symptoms and signs of which will be readily apparent) is the hard part.

It Hurts!

Tattooing injures the body’s largest organ, the skin. If done by a professional, though, it hurts very little. It feels more like a sharp scraping than a piercing of the skin. This scraping deposits insoluble ink deep within the dermis and creates the relative permanency of a tattoo.

allergic reaction to tattoo ink symptomsThe Aftermath

Once the ink is under your skin, it needs to stay there! Otherwise, time and money have been wasted. The body reacts to the foreign substance – the tattoo ink — and the breach of the skin surface by flooding the area with antibodies. This is a normal part of healing.

Scabbing is expected but means a loss of pigment. Standards for keeping ink color in the skin, instead of “healing itself” out of existence, is to keep the area clear of cellular and scabby formations with gentle cleansing (without scrubbing). Also, an antibiotic ointment should be applied, at least for a few days.

Allergic Reaction

An allergic reaction to tattoo ink is rare and recognizing an allergic reaction can be confusing. Symptoms may mimic those of the normal healing process; it may present with localized swelling and redness. But, this also happens when a tattoo is healing normally.

Signs of a true tattoo ink allergic reaction involve flaking or scaling and odd blistering. Small pustules (similar to pimples) may form, and sebum may ooze from the tattoo site. An allergy can present as a rash or irritation. It may appear as some other skin anomaly, such as flushed or purplish reddening, at the tattoo site.

Tattoo inks are made from harsh substances. That is why they are relatively permanent and vibrant. One of the biggest culprits for allergic reactions is red ink. Some red inks have iodine in them, and this can cause a reaction in someone sensitive to it. Iron oxide, mercury sulfide, ferric hydrate, aluminum, and manganese are also used in other colors. All inks have caused allergic reactions in someone at one time or another, though red is the most common. Yellow, green, and brown inks follow red for frequency of allergic reactions.


The simplest way to address an allergic reaction to tattoo ink, symptoms of which are minimal but annoying, is to ask what chemicals are in the inks. That way, if a reaction occurs, you at least know what might have caused it and can alert a doctor to your exposure. Most skin allergies are cured with antibiotics or time. In extreme cases surgical tattoo removal may be necessary.

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