Red ink can be a problem…

Before this person (photograph by Lexci) had a severe reaction to the red ink, this tattoo was just a little maple leaf… Now I guess it’s a festering maple leaf-shaped mole?

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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

83 thoughts on “Red ink can be a problem…

  1. Why do so many people have bad reactions to red ink?

    This doesn’t look fun, it would be so gutting :(

  2. LMAO at “festering maple leaf-shaped mole”…
    but seriously that really sucks.

  3. I had a very similar reaction to the red ink on my back. We actually had to cut some of it out because it was so festered. What a nightmare. So painful! I hope your leaf heals quickly. :(

  4. This girl came in to our shop. She had the tattoo done over a year ago at another (reputable!) shop in town. It just got worse and worse. Even her doctor didn’t know what to do. He suggested she ask some tattooers what to do! It was VERY raised and VERY hard to the touch.

  5. Yikes! How long does this type of reaction take to set in? I got some red on my arm a couple of nights ago and I’m really hoping this doesn’t happen, it was part of a much bigger tattoo!

  6. Oh, the lenghts some people will go to just to show their Canadian pride… that sucks. I hope it can heal!

  7. I don’t think she reallly bothered with it too much… It’s still (relatively) maple leaf shaped. If she were to have traumatized to that extent I don’t think it would have held it’s shape? Who knows. It was brutal. I don’t know what she’ll end up doing with it. Everyone seems to be at a loss.

  8. One of my friends got a tattoo with some red outlines. She had a bad reaction and we ended up going into the shower where I cut out the red ink with a scalpel it healed really well theirs not even a scar and the rest of the tattoo looks fine.

  9. How are you supposed to know if you’re allergic to red ink? Will a tattoo studio let you come in and get a red line somewhere inconspicuous to test and see if you’re allergic?

  10. #15 I don’t see why not! Would you have to get an actual tattoo or does it work like hair colour where you just need a patch test?

  11. Maybe once it finishes acting up and the body deals with it its own way, it’ll look like a maple leaf shaped birthmark…

  12. i see so many nasty nasty red ink reactions. Why don’t artists insist on patch tests to prevent this sort of thing?

  13. What about colors with red in them (orange for example)would that cause trouble or just undiluted red pigment?

  14. Wow, that SUCKS! But like many other posters here, I also react badly to red inks. Not THIS bad, but it always scabs up pretty badly when I get it done. I never have that reaction with other colors.

  15. the red that i had done got really gooey(for lack of a better word) while healing and the rest of my tattoo was fine. the red just came right out and parts of it are really patchy

  16. #19- I have a pair of tattoos that have a lot of bright “hot pink” in them (does ink like this fall under the same category as “red”?) and those parts were really puffy and horribly itchy for several weeks while the rest of the ink (black with some yellow and green) had healed nicely. The pink eventually settled down, but the only thing we can find to blame it on is some sort of reaction. The irritated parts need touch-ups, but I haven’t gotten them yet– partly because the shop is far away, and partly because I’m worried about it happening again and messing things up even more. None of my other (black & white!) tattoos have done that. Ick.

  17. Wow, that’s absolutely horrible. How much red ink does it take to know whether or not you’ll have that reaction? I have a really small amount of it on a tattoo on my hips, and it never reacted at all.

  18. It’s not a reaction to the red ink, it’s the body’s way of saying, “I DON’T WANT TO BE CANADIAN ANYMORE!”

    I kid, I’m Canadian. The only reason I don’t have a huge maple leaf on my chest like the guy in Knocked Up is because I’m afraid of that much red ink.

    An old friend of mine started getting the red ink lasered off. I haven’t seen it since he began but last I heard it was working. FYI

  19. I have an all red tattoo on my foot/ankle and it developed this little lumps on it, but after I got it touched up they disappeared.

  20. can a red ink allerigic reaction not develop at any given time? that’s what i hear anyway. you might not be allergic to it for a long time, and then WHAM! allergy…

  21. #31, that can happen with other allergies (food, pollen, medicine, etc) i know, so i don’t see why that wouldn’t happen with red ink as well.

    this worries me – i was planning on an all red tattoo

  22. this scares me– seems like theres always someone new with a scary red ink allergy. im getting quite a bit of red in my next tattoo (this is the first tattoo ill have with red ink in it). yikes!

  23. That happened to a fellow I know, except his was a giant tribal Slipknot “S” that covered his whole forearm.
    Once it calmed down it turned into a lovely tattoo though, hopefully she has the same luck.


    It’s not a common allergy, most people don’t have to worry about it, but if you’re seriously freaked, see if your artist will tattoo a spot in an area you don’t care about/will get covered up.

  24. Where the hell have I been? I’ve never heard of red ink allergic reactions… ever. hm. How odd that everyone else in the world seems to have known but me… haha.

  25. haha, yeah, where have you been kt? i feel like i would have mentioned that tidbit to you before at some point.

  26. it seems to me more of a prblem that no one seems overly coherent on what is causing the reaction, and that no pro tattoo artist has posted a decent opinion on how to prevent the above happening, i for one would love to see an article writen on why this happens and mayhap how it can be avoided….rather than the problem simply being dismissed as “some people are allergic” or if there is already such an article mayhap someone could post a link?…i mean….fuckenhell….look at that thng…al they wanted was a cute lil tattoo.

  27. well, I’ve had a very similar reaction not to red, but to a blue ink tattoo – finally, the whole of it came off, i’ve only got a very faded outline where it used be. So isuppose its not only a red ink allergy, but probably an ink allergy in general, i dont know, as this was my only colored ink tattoo.. somehow i dont feel like giving it another try, as it was quite painful for months… but my black one is doing OK.

  28. i didn’t completely read through but i didn’t see mention of how there are many different types of red inks out there and there are some brands that lower the risk by so much that it does make it worth it. i don’t think my tattooist has run into an issue with his red inks at all but i can always ask him. i just remember him saying that he has very nice red inks.

  29. I’m surprised, I can’t even see a Wiki page on it. A good article on it would be handy indeed, but I’d be surprised if anyone has done really serious research into the reaction rates by brand, ink composition, etc. that would make for a well-weighted article.

    OK, if we have such a large community base here & on IAM, lets get some artists & guinea pigs together (human guinea pigs, of course…) and run ourselves some trials!

  30. This is a little of topic but, Shannon or any one have you heard of this new ink that is I think microscopic colored beads in some solution instead of current ink which is pigments, that in case someone would like to remove a tattoo when hit by a laser the colored beads dissolve within one laser sitting! I read this in a local newspaper in my city. Shannon am I crazy or is this true?

  31. #50

    I read about that too. In the Daily Mail, according to the article I read, there is some criticisms about it by professional tattooists, but it never said what said criticisms were.

  32. I have a lot of red on my back (as I said in number 6) and had a horrible reaction to it. We scalpeled some of it out because it festered, and I ran fevers for days. The entire back peice did that with any red in it, but years earlier I had a small amount of red on my arms with no reaction. Ergo, in my case anyways, I think it took a lot of red to make the difference. It’s likely that a patch test wouldn’t have helped me, and might not for a lot of other people…
    Just a thought.

  33. ok, here’s my “professional” opinion.

    First off, if you are concerned about having a red reaction, then any artist worth their machines is going to spot test you first. But of course, you have to be sure to raise your concerns with your artist, epsecially if you have a lot of work but not a lot of red work. I generally ask the question, if it’s a first tattoo, and it involves red, but 9 times out of 10, the person isn’t even sure what I am talking about.

    As for reactions happening later, or over time, I have heard of it happening, though off the top of my head, I’m not sure if Ive ever seen proof of it with tattoos. Maybe someone else has? It definatly does happen with foods and other allergies, like shellfish (I know this one first hand. I had nothing, then I hit puberty, and bam. Straight to the hospital due to some tasty, but now anaphalaxys inducing, crab). I would GUESS, that over time your body would hit its tolerance point, and you would build up too much histamine in your system. THen the actual histamine response would take place, which is the visual and sensory response we see and feel taking place.

    As for treatment, the standard is as follows (it is treated much like severe hives): Topical steroid creams first, then injected antihistamines (like benadryl), then injected steroids directly to the site. Depending on the doctor or dermatologist, and their knowledge of the industry, they may or may not, send you for lasering (which does work if you can dissapate the ink faster than the scarring can build), or, in very extreme cases (as pictured here), they will cut away the tissue and skin graft over top. those of us in the body mod industry know that skin grafts are not usually necessary, as the scarring will generally fade to almost invisible in about a year, if the site its self is very well cared for by the person who owns the body.

    and that, is my 2 cents. for more info, try searching “histamine reaction”, “allergic skin reaction and it’s treatments”, etc…. although the causes are different, the treatments are much the same at the body’s reacton is the same, just to varying degrees.

    and i would have posted sooner, but i like to spend my weekends outside in the sun and fun, rahter than in front of the computer!! :)

  34. Oh, and PS: there is no way to prevent a red reaction at this point, unless there is some wonderous new red, but not really red, ink out there that no one is aware of. It’s like a peanut allergy. Untill we can change the ol genes in the body, we are screwed friends.

  35. I have a tattoo on my leg that I had done about 3 years ago, and it has a large magenta/red area. The site reacted terribally. To this day, it gets dry from time to time. Recently, I have a tattooist, hit the are with water and witch hazel with their machiine to sooth the area and smooth it out a bit. To my surprise, it worked. Sure that area looks like garbage still compaired to the rest of the tattoo. But still a good tip in my opinion. It feels a lot better now.

  36. i have the same reaction in my leg it has been like that for a year and i dont know what to do to get rid of it

    can it be cut off or do you have to have it done by a docter

  37. I had a similar reaction in my tattoo, but it was no where near as bad as this. I have a black and red tattoo on my left calf/shin area. The red healed kind of patchy and there’s one star that has scarring in it, but it’s not raised like this picture.

    I have a lot of allergies in general, though, that seem to be getting worse as I age (pollen, pet hair and dander, dust, and the like) so I think maybe that has something to do with it? I don’t have any food allergies…

    Maybe the owner of that maple leaf has some general allergies themselves? I honestly don’t know if it would matter at all, but I think it might contribute somewhat to why the reaction was so bad?

    (sorry if this is all jumbled, I’ve barely slept in two days… damn allergies, haha)

  38. If were mine, I cut that sucker off and just do a slightly larger scarification over it.

  39. I can’t see how spot testing would be all that effective. I got a medium sized red tattoo and it was completely fine but a year later I got a large solid red tattoo (using exactly the same red ink) and had a bad reaction to that one. It wasn’t as bad as the one posted here but I’m definitely allergic. So I either developed an allergy to the ink after the first tattoo or it takes a large amount to set it off, in which case a spot test would have done nothing.

  40. I have some red ink on my right arm that I got in 1999 in NJ. I live in Australia and want to get some red ink on my left arm. Does anyone know if I’m at risk from an allergy even though I’ve had red ink done before?

  41. It is the forbidden, the bad color. :D

    The whole business with red ink is worrying. The best thing would be if there could be a complete research into the matter, but there are many obstacles.

    #50 and #52, yeah, I too vaguely remeber reading about that.

  42. I have a half sleeve which is mostly red – I might have thought twice about getting it done if I’d known about red-ink allergies before! I’ve had no probs with mine though over the last 3.5 years.

  43. I had a problem with yellow ink recently, I got a tattoo and like a month later the yellow part was somewhat itchy and raised. I left it alone and it is now almost normal. Did anyone else have this problem with yellow? My biggest worry is that if (I think I should say “when” because I visit my artist frequently) I get another tattoo with yellow (or red or whatever colour with the same component) it would end up like that guy’s tattoo. Any artists or enthusiasts who can give me an answer? Thx.

  44. has anyone tried documenting the reactions by brand of pigment?? of course every person will react differently, but are the reactions coming more from one brand of red than another??

  45. I had a pretty bad red reaction once, luckily it just dissapeared over time. I think my body just became un-sensitive to it or something. I also have other red that didn’t react. Different brand of tattoo pigments seem to do different things. The only thing that helped was anti histamine pills and topical creams.

    The whole capsulated tattoo pigment thing I think is nonesence. How are these microspheres going to be pounded at like 60 times per second and be shoved through skin with needles and stay in their tiny microspheres. It just makes me think that there’s one more thing for my body to have problems with and react to if they even do work.

  46. Wow, I’m glad I read this whole post, I’ve definitely learned a lot. Poor girl, though.

  47. i have a tatt of a japanese dogwood branch with flowers on it on top of my foot – only the tips of the flowers are red. i had it done in june 06, and it healed fine – then in about march of 07 the red started looking like the maple leaf and itching and scabbing over……. i’ve tried about 12-15 different creams etc on it and nothing has helped. my doctor seemed to think a tattooist would know the best remedy as he has tried cortisone creams and injections on ink allergies before and they havent worked. i just finally got hold of the tattooist that did it and he said he can tattoo over it with dettol (straight antiseptic) cos apparently that can help to draw out the red or at least disperse it a bit so it isnt as concentrated…….. scared tho cos it hurt like hell the first time round and this will be over scar tissue……… see how it goes i guess. i just want a normal looking tatt!

  48. I’ve got several tattoos over the years, all containing red ink. 1 1/2 yrs. ago i had a cover u done and the ed ink in it has swollen, itched, eeled, quit, and started the whole process over again, and again, and……… also, it cause the red ink in one of my old tatoos to do the same thing. Now almost 2 yrs. later, the red ink is gone from my old tatoo, and finally startung to disappear from the newer one, and much as I hate to have it ruined, I’ll be glad to see it go!

  49. Following extensive tattooing, a 31-year-old man developed symptoms similar to those of systemic sarcoidosis. Histological examination of the skin lesions, regional lymph nodes and the lung tissue revealed noncaseating granulomatous reaction. Uveitis was also observed, Electron microscopic examination of lung specimens revealed fragments of red tattoo granules. X-ray microanalysis of the pigment granules observed in red skin and lung lesions showed elements of mercury, aluminium and silicon. The finding of tattoo pigments in the lung tissues has not been previously described.

  50. i had a similar reaction with the tattoo on my ankle and the magenta ink used to shade the petals of the lotus flower.
    it bubbled and blistered terribly and stayed dry and itchy for MONTHS! when it finally healed enough nearly 8 months later i got it touched up with purple instead and it looks AWESOME
    it’s nearly completely healed, just a little scarring from the allergic reaction to the magenta on one petal.
    but for that 8 months i didn’t want anyone to see it :(

  51. I got a tattoo of a four-leaf clover with a red and gold Celtic knot behind it on my left foot about 2 1/2 weeks ago. in the last few days, I’ve noticed increased itching and swelling of only the red areas of the tattoo…the rest of the tattoo has scabbed and smoothed over, but the red parts remain raised. I’ve also lost of a lot of the deep red pigment in those areas, as well as the deep gold pigment along the left side of the tattoo (mostly right below my pinkie toe on the bone). will the allergy go away the longer I have it, or is it something I will have to continue to doctor from now on?? and how safe is it to get it touched up to replace the pigment lost?? will touching it up with another color, for instance purple (the original color he suggested…then didn’t care to educate me on all of the problems red ink holds when I asked if we could do that color instead), take care of it?? if someone could get back to me I’d appreciate it…I LOVE the tattoo and for the pain and money I paid for it, I want it to look as awesome as originally planned. my email is…thanks.

  52. OUCHIE!! I’m the same way- no red ink for me either- my body just gets rid of it.

  53. I know that if someone has hep. A,B or C, then you will react like this to red ink….and mainly red ink. That’s why if you have Hep. A,B or C tell the tattoo artist before you get a tattoo!

  54. Blimey, I have a large red forearm tattoo with a black outline. I had actually no reaction, it didn’t even scab, all I had was a single layer of skin-peel and it was totally 100% healed after a week or so. I guess I was extremely lucky. I’m glad I hadn’t seen this pic before I had it done or I may have deprived myself of something I had already waited (built up the courage over) years for.

    Just hope it continues to be fine and sans reaction!

  55. Hi all. I have a “tramp stamp” that is an Egyptian design and all but the red areas healed nicely. Those were raised, bumpy and most of the ink pushed out and now is light pink. Not as bumpy as once was but still bumpy. That tattoo was in 2003.

    October of 08, I finally finished a piece we’d been working on for almost a year. My tattoo artist is a great guy, wonderful reputation in the community and does fabulous work! He is aware of the “red issue” so we don’t do too much red in my work. Over the summer I traveled and got a cover up done by another artist/friend who did use a bit of red and I had no reaction to it. Weird. So when my regular tattoo artist decided to finish this one, he thought perhaps he’d try a bit of magenta in the design. The part of the design is a lotus and he “darkened’ some areas of the petals with the magenta….everything else healed beautifully, even that tiny bits of reds used for the lips (3 faces) and hair designs but the magenta? ONLY where he inked the lotus with the magenta is raised and itchy as hell. It looks super dry and I always think IF I put lotion or something on it that it might help. It itches so much I might have to go the dermatologist. I am thinking I will wait a while longer to see what my own body is going to do and then just go see the Dr. It still “LOOKS” good but it’s def not smooth. Not where the magenta is anyway.

    I can’t figure out why I reacted so bad to the red in the tramp stamp, NOT the red in this cover up or this design but rather the magenta. In any case, I hope it eventually goes down.

  56. Wow, that is really scary!!! I to have had an adverse reaction to my most recent tattoo. This tattoo has several different colors, such as red, yellow, orange and brown. I have had the tattoo for about a month, and at first it looked and it healed beautifully (it was exactly as Id imagined it). Imagine my surprise when I woke up one day feeling as though my tattoo was on fire. Now it has little red bumps in certain areas, and I cant tell if Im having an allergic reaction to the red, the yellow, the orange or the brown (or all four)ink, or the lotion I was using. Overall the tattoo looks normal, except for the bumps in certain areas. At times it itches like crazy. I am hoping that this reaction will cease on its own. I have made sure to keep the area clean and I have used Hydrocortisone to help with the itch. So far so good, the symptoms have not worsened (thank goodness). I also take Zyrtec (which is an allergy medicine) this has also helped.

  57. Wish I knew about this ‘Red Reaction’ before I got my tattoo on my forearm.
    It’s a Lotus flower, with some red lines around the petals and stem.

    It’s been about a month and it had seemed to have healed nicely.
    But then I got the mad itch and all the red areas became raised and bumpy.
    It was around the same time that I began washing it in the shower?

    Not sure what to do? Hopefully my body will just deal with it and it settles down?
    Otherwise it looks likely to be an ongoing nightmare?

    So far the suggestions for treatment I’ve come across are:

    1. Benadryl lotion
    2. True Tamanu oil
    3. Silver Sulphadiazine
    4. Anti histamines
    5. Steroid pills or injections
    6. Lazer removal
    7. Surgical removal

    Will try the non invasive treatments first, fingers crossed it goes away.

    But definitely no more RED TATTOOS! :(

  58. it looks like a tattoo on top of a bad scar…..people do that ya know….they ask you to tattoo around something cause its bothering them..they only want the topical pain to go away…that looks healed and the emotions look heald too.

  59. My first tattoo was a red star on my hand and it swelled up pretty bad and the whole star fell off when I was washing my hands and went down the drain. It looked like a sticker. It left a kinda sore pale red spot inside the black outline. I went back after it had healed and had it filled in twice with pink, which didn’t react the same at all. Now it’s at least 10 years later and the color is still pretty good. My second tattoo was all in black, blue green and yellow and it healed beautifully and smooth. So I defiantly believe it was the red. But, it was not nearly as bad a this.

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