Swollen Red Ink

SumChic discovered after the fact that she’s allergic to red tattoo ink…

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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 BMEzine.com LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by BMEzine.com LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

71 thoughts on “Swollen Red Ink

  1. It’s probably been said here a bunch of times, but what is in the red ink that causes this with some people?

  2. It actually made for a nice aesthetic effect though i’m not sure if it’ll progress. Hopefully not.

  3. Yeesh. I have a big piece planed for some time in the next year which is going to have a fair bit of red and the whole red ink allergy thing has had me concerned for a while.

    I cant seem to find much info on what brands of inks or even what ingredients in the red that can cause reactions.

  4. I’ve got a lot of red work and have had off and on reactions to red ink. For me, it really depends on where on my body the work is done. My legs reacted terribly, but anything closer to my trunk healed quite well.

  5. teadream – the best thing to do is just have the artist do a test spot with the ink they will be using

  6. I seem to be allergic only to Eternal’s Dark Red… I had two separate pieces done at the same time, and both of them had a terrible time healing (almost 3 months), and there are spots where i actually have divots in my skin… It’s really weird.

  7. yup, i had quite a bad red reaction [it didn't get too infected, but the skin just dissolved and fell off].

    try a cycle of anti-histamine, anti-bacterial and skin-healing creams [tattoo goo can be good, or sudacrem etc.]. use one each day, or for half a day as they all only help fix one aspect of the problem [allergic reaction, infection or skin healing].

    i had a colour-test done with a full dange of colours in two different brands [two rainbows right at the top of my thigh] and found out i’m allergic to pretty much all red pigments in both brands. damn…

    the problem tattoo healed eventually [it took 2 weeks just to dry up, 3 months to heal fully], though faded and with big holes where the skin came off entirely. so yeah, they do heal, just not as nicely as they should!

  8. I had a lot of red put into my elbow a couple of years ago. It took forever to heal, but also caused some red that was put in a couple of sessions earlier (small amounts) to swell up along with some red that was done a couple years prior that I’d never had a problem with. All of my other tattoos were fine.

    My ribs were done mostly red a couple of years after that with what I guess is a completely different type of pigment and I haven’t had any problems with that, but sometimes the stuff in my arm will still swell up and get itchy when my skin is irritated by something else.

  9. I had the same reaction as Corky, spots where the healing was so had I’ve got the skin divots. Lame. You’d think they could make a hypo-allergenic ink.

  10. How long would it take for an allergic reaction to appear? (i’m planning an all red tattoo, and i’d like to do a test spot as i’m very sensitive and allergic to many things.)

  11. awesome that these red ink reactions are being posted a week after I get my red big red tattoo ;)
    oh well

  12. That’s a shame, it’s cute…but is the star on the right suppose to have the colours jumbled? Just wondering…

  13. I had red reaction on my lower leg where the skin fell out, but i also have red on my stomach and chest that i didn’t have any issues with. The piece on my stomach i had a real bad reaction to a turquois ink but not to the red areas. My leg oozed and bled for 17 days before it dried up but ended up healing up great after about 2 months. Only lost one tiny spot of ink.

    If you are going to do a test line, do it in the area where the tattoo will be, and give it 2 weeks.

  14. i think that it depends on the brand of red ink. unfortunately i’ve heard that cheaper/lower quality inks give people a reaction. i think the patch test is a great idea.

  15. I was also going to point out the star on the right. The pattern doesn’t fit. I hope that wasn’t a mess up. Otherwise, its a great tattoo and it’s a pity she had a reaction to the ink.

  16. Same feeling as Jay — went to get my nice lovely tribal with red red flames and a gratuitous tiger, did not get any allergical problems, then came back and started reading posts about how horrible the red ink is.

    How many (percent-wise) people have this allergy? Judging by the comments here about 90%, but then I guess mostly people who did get the reaction cared to post…

  17. I react to red ink too, with extended healing times, a bit more swelling and extra, drive-me-mad itchiness. It settles down eventually to look the same as other colours. My tattooist gets the most hypoallergenic inks he can but says you can’t make red ink without *whatever you have to have to make the colour red* (sorry, that’s not very helpful but I can’t remember exactly) so a lot of people react in varying degrees to red, and blue as well. Spot testing is a great idea, you might be like me and able to have red anyway, or you’d be best off picking another colour.

    Am finishing up a full sleeve but am going to wait a while before I do anything else, give my body a chance to calm down.

  18. I’ve avoided red because I also have a reaction to red food colouring (cherry popsicles, red cough syrup, that kind of thing – makes me very jittery and hyper and anxious). So I have blue and black tattoos instead! I didn’t want to mess with it, even though the two tiny spots of red that I have didn’t react.

  19. There are several pigments of red in use, so it can happen that one is allergic to one ink mix, but not to the other. it can also happen that a pigment one is allergic to is blended into another color just to change the tone a bit.
    The bad thing is that the composition of the inks is kept secret. So if you are allergic to a certain pigment, you can never be sure if the ink is safe for you, even you would know what pigment you are allergic to. I think that we as the users should demand the manufacturers to supply a full listing of the components of the inks.

  20. I had this reaction from a tattoo done on my wrist which put me off red until I got my chest done (the next piece I had done). It’s an ink issue and I believe it happens with certain brands of ink rather than red ink in general. I know this as I have red on my wrist which flaired up in much the same way and a massive amount of red on my chest which didn’t. The guy who did my chest said it’s something to do with red ink containing iron to get the red pigment, to most this isn’t a problem but a large majority of people this will cause the above reaction, you should have no worries about it healing just don’t itch it as it will remove the scab and make it look patchy. Also avoid cheap inks and only ask for the best (this is after all permanently scarred on your body).

  21. Aww, that sucks. It’s a cool tattoo. Hope the irritation goes away.

    Like others here, I had bad red reactions…it takes longer to heal on me and itches like crazy. It also falls out and flakes like whoa. But after it heals, it looks great! Good luck. :)

  22. I have at least one and a half square feet of red on me, two different brands – National and Intenze. No problems with either, apart from being a little dry longer than other colours have been. I’m just lucky that way.

    I’ve had it explained to me that red is a denser pigment and it takes longer for the skin to assimilate it, hence reactions like the above, which may not be true allergic reactions, just longer healing time compared to other colours. Makes sense to me.

  23. Ah good ol’ red ink allergies! I have one as we speak that looks identical. Eventually the puffiness & swelling goes down, and it heals up just fine.

  24. Hah .. who doesnt .. i dont talk to many people that dont .. though this one is very raised

  25. Giles – It has to be something with the Eternal Dark Red… I’ve had no problems with any other red. I’m thinking about going all CSI on it’s ass and figure out what might be the culprit… Will let you know what I find.

  26. yea…the reaction didn’t start until a month later. I went through it’s healing process with no problems and then, about a month later, i spend a few days out in the sun at amusement parks and it started to flare up. It’s been sometime since that picture was taken. That’s when it looked “nice” and just itched a lil bit. Well now, every night i wanna rip my wrist off, and i try to refrain from scratching it. It’s all flaky and peely now. I put lubiderm on it every day to make the flakyness go away, but it still itches like hell. I honestly don’t know what to do. I can deal with the itchyness, but I’m hoping the flakyness will go away reallllll soon.

    Oh and about the design of the tat. Yeah, i got it at a really shitty place. The shading isn’t too good, and he did fuck up on the colors….kinda pissed me off a lil bit. But that’s what I get for going to some place cheap. But i don’t mind cuz i wanted it real quick. And i can always get it touched up later And the reversed colors don’t bother me too much anymore because it makes the star different…and I’ve always been the different one in my family…

  27. I have the same thing. I’ve had to deal with it for a long time now. It 2 combined allergies. I seem to have a slight allergy to to red ink (because my other tattoos are fine) and also a slight allergy to metal/nickel. If I wear cheap rings, my skin will go red and bump up.

    My red ink is on my pelvis. When my belt buckle touches my tattoo for long periods of time, the whole area flares up and takes days to get it to calm down.

    Heat can also set it off, which is probably why this did after prolonged exposuer to the sun.

    But, unfortunately, it will probably end up itching slightly….forever. But don’t worry too much, you get used to it and it’s not all that bad.

  28. very nice tat sahem about the allergy to red ink – maybe a different make of red ink would be ok…ive had three dfferent types of red ink in my skin and i’ve only reacted to one of them.

  29. My month-old tattoo on my arm is fully healed on the black but slightly raised on the red sections still. The dark red shading still hasn’t healed fully, they got very thick scabs and deep pits for a while but they look fine now. Still, it feels really interesting to run your finger over, as its bumpy due to alternating stips of colour.

  30. This is rediculous. These kinds of reactions should be reported so thatthe FDA can come down on these manufacturers. I think that the general public as well as health professionals have a bad consensus towards tattoos in the first place, therefore, discouraging people to seek a dermatologist. Instead people rely on oinments that have been recommended by work of mouth. Truth is that most of these red pigmants contain toxic toxins. We should have the right to know the ingredients that are contained in the inks considering that it is something that’s injected into our skin. No different than the ingredients required on foods that we put in our bodies. There are too many red ink reactions complaints, something really should be done about this.

    I had the same experience. I even had considered tattoo removal because the itching was unbearable. I submitted a complaint to the FDA. I do recommend that those of you who had this experience should do the same.

    As far as spot testing. That is not realiable, because local reactions can occur months after.

  31. i to am a victim of red ink….for my wedding shower i took all my girls to the tattoo parlor for some memorable work. i have had work done there before and was very satisfied with the out come. my tattoo healed up great and looked wonderful at my wedding 2 months later but by the third month the red ink areas swelled up and became intensly inchy and was driving me crazy. out of 10 of us girls only 2 of us had any red ink in our tattoos, both of us are still having problems 1 year and seven months later our tattoos are still not healed. the artist has dry needled mine once and my friends 3 or 4 times already. i met another person in my community that has the same issue but even worse(same artist)his has been dry needle 6 times already and still looks like shit, very swollen and irritated. is there really anything hey can do to help us, or are they just trying defuse our anger.

  32. Ive had a small tattoo done on my arm it was only meant to be my wee dogs name, her paws and the dates when she was born and when i lost her, it was only meant to be black and nothing else but the tattooist *friend HUH* thot he’d put a bit of crimson color in to take the plin look away and now i have an allergic reaction to it and all i get from him is its my health because im on thyroxine for my thyroid which is rubbish because ive already been to my doc, it’s swollen and the itch is sending me round the bend, ive tried everything so now im gonna go see another tattooist i know who does a removal thing, £30 an inch, out of pocket thro no fault of my own, and thie tattoo only cost a fiver too Grrrrr

  33. if its any consolation, i had Iron Maiden tattooed in red and black, wrapped completely around my ankle and the same thing has happened with the red! but it has somehow affected the black outline too….ive tried all creams etc…as i had it tattooed back in early May of this year….Now im gonna go to the doc, as its getting itchier by the day!

  34. Well ive been to the doc, i cant get steroid pills or cream because it puts blood pressure up and ive already got high BP so he gave me Betnovate for the itch which only works for a wee while and DiprBase moistirizer for the dry skin, anyway spoke the the tattooist today again and he’s told me to get Emla cream from the chemist to numb the area and we’re gonna flush so here’s hoping this works or i’m gonna have to cut my arm off lol

  35. hi all,

    i have the same issue with my tattoo, the problem was with the ink used….scream ink…..it was recalled(the whole colour line not just red) after the work was done…my artist has gone over the affected area with a dry needle to open up the area and allow the ink to come out. this process may have to be repeated a few time before all the ink has been purged from the body. scream in not the only pigmants that can cause this reaction the problem is the high levels of heavy metals in the ink.

    i believe that to protect the industry there needs to be some regulation in place to monitor the ingedients in the ink ….from what i understand there can be great differences in any brand of ink from one batch to another.(scary)

  36. …”my artist has gone over the affected area with a dry needle to open up the area and allow the ink to come out”
    posted by : tracie on November 25th, 2007 at 1:37 pm
    Try ussing a wattered down needle instaed of a dry needle run …

    There can be differant irrantants that can eefect your tattoos such as: the soap being used,what kind of sun block ,perfumes etc…

  37. I just got a tattoo of a sword going through a geisha head and alot of blood coming from her face. Acouple days later all the red blood raied and in some parts look like red warts, but i also have a huge chest pice with a good portion of reds never had a problem and still looks amazing. Chest pice done by 10 veteran, geisha head done by just starting out new guy. witch has done my leg and has reds and no reaction. Clueless, pissed, itchi, sad.

  38. I posted this in another forum, but thought it might be usefull here too-. I had a half sleeve done 5 weeks ago, 50% of which was using dark red ink (eternal ink brand). The red parts healed very slowly, and were VERY raised and bumpy to begin with. I consulted my tattoo artist and he said i had a skin allergy to red ink which isnt too common, but it happens. The tattoo scabbed over as normal after approx 1 week using Bepanthen. When the scabs came off naturally, the red areas remained very bumpy, sore and itchy, more itchy than normal, and it was very flakey, like dandruff on your arm. The rest of the tat healed up fine, but the red didnt. for anyone experiencing somthing similar, DONT PANIC, heres what to do – AFTER scabs have come off naturally using Bepanthan or whichever method u prefer, take some anti-allergy tablets containing antihistamines (pirotin or whichever brand) this will help reduce swelling and itchyness.Next, buy an Aloe Vera plant (very common and easy to find house plant) snap off small portions of the chunky leaves and squeeze the liquid on to your skin, its quite slimey like egg white, but its incredibly good for your skin, much better than any cream with Aloe vera ‘extract’. Let it dry naturally and absorb into your skin.Do this twice a day. Also, buy some decent Vit E skin cream from a store, The Body Shop do a good range but whatever you can get is good, apply once a day. So, 5 weeks after my intial panic of having a messed up tattoo, its all good, it took a few weeks of what seemed like no progress, but it WILL heal up fine. If you are left with any spots of colour loss, most tattoo artists should touch it up for you free of charge.

  39. I think its the copper in the red ink that gives it the red pigment. Most people that are allergic to cheap jewlery will have a reaction to red ink. Cheap jewlery is usually copper dipped in nickel alloy. So really its a copper allergy. hope this helps

  40. I’ve had a peice done in March 07 using the red scream ink, and it is still really raised, itchy, I’ve had a severe infection form it which had me in the hospital every 24hrs for almost a full month…now i’m back to dry needle it again for the second time to see if we can leach any further color out…I’m hoping that the scarring wont be too bad and i’ll be able to put a different color into where the red is now…I have a huming bird on my calf and its mostly black and shading but i did the head, tail and wings in red…Smart move…funny thing about this is my brother did a red scorpion on his arm by the same artist using the same ink and he’s totally fine, not a problem at all…

  41. sadly I am having a huge problem with Eternal ink..I have a red rose on my left arm taht I had no problem with at all..my artist used a different brand of ink for my right arm and its not healing and there are pussy bumps and it itches like mad! I am wondering what happens when you run a dry needle over the tattoo? does it take away the ink or what?

  42. So I have had a terrible spider on my arm for 2 years and am just learning about this now. people suck. Since it has already been so long would the antihistamine, aloe vera treatments work? It doesn’t really itch anymore but it is ugly and scabs up when exposed to the sun or tanning bed. I’ve spent 2 years with the thing so I’ve adapted to it but if I could just get it healed, I could finally cover it up..

  43. I got a small tattoo done on my left bicep. It’s mostly black but has three small red triangles. Its been almost 3 weeks now and the red triangles definately took longer to heal and are elevated from the remainder of the tattoo. It’s not itching yet *touchwood*
    I’m gonna try the antihistamines tablets and aloe-vera juice treatment. My main worry is the place where i got the tattoo – the peak of the bicep. Cos i work out there will be a lot of movement and blood flow thru the tattooed area and this might not be the best for the red ink area to heal.
    Fingers crosses! I’m sure it will be just fine ;)

  44. I’ve had the same problem. In Feb 08 I got a Tattoo on my arm with all kinds of red-pigmented colors all from Scream ink. Initially it healed fine, but about 2 months later, it started itching and flaking like crazy, it’s all puffy everywhere. The red, pink, orange are all still looking like shit. I’ve tried just about everything creams, pills, steroids, cortizone silvadene, prep H, aloe, Vitamin E, aside from putting a hot iron on it. I was wondering if having these zapped off helped or if it could even be done at this point.

  45. Oh my god….I wish I never looked this up. Got tattooed a week ago and had some cherry blossoms added to an existing tattoo on my wrist. I’ve had the flaking, the bumps and the insane itching. I’ve looked at some photos online of allergic reaxtions and mine seems quite tame…so far…but I’m freaking out! Funny thing is when I was getting it done, when my tattooist started doing the red I told him that the red hurt more and was stinging. The bepanthen did it’s usual job and I used an ice pack to sooth the itch, but now I’ve decided to take the anti-histamine and use cortizone cream in the hopes that it will prevent any further reaction.
    Why do we do these things to ourselves?? Ha ha!

  46. oh yay, i knew it, im a stuborn little piggy when it comes to listening to professionals. so ive gotten a few tattos, a couple of wolves on my shoulders, they healled up spectacualarly, they look super bright even without putting lotion on them. i also have(had) several piercings, well they started to keloid, i had to take them all out and i was quite upset, so im seeing a plastic surgeon and getting steroid injections for the keloids, and my doc notices my ink, he says seeing as how you keloid so easily you should be very carefull with tattoos, and even stop getting them all together. well im a stuborn little piggy and i saw this beautiful red and black cobra that i just had to have, i figure, my other ink has healed up super fast and flawlessly, so i get it done, it looks fantastic, peals as usuall and im relieved i have yet another perfect tattoo….well the next day i wake up and its itchy….oh yay so i blow it off as just being dry and make sure to keep it moisturized, to no avail i now have a 3D cobra on my arm,i love how it looks with the 3D effect and it even feels like a real snake, but the itching oh my god i just wanna stick my arm in a chipper shredder and be done with it. i also get frequent MRIs so im hoping the heavy metals dont get ripped out, or maybe im hoping they do and that will solve my problems…. GRRRRR… i agree the fda should regulate the inks, i mean tatto shops have to pass health codes why shouldnt the inks? ok rant over, im gonna give it a few more months as i have only had it for 1 or 2 i cant remember.

  47. I heard some where that almost All red pigments (lipstick, ink, etc.) have some metals in them. That is the reason that red pigment is the only one that is not hypo-allergenic.

  48. Like the #58 post, I too, had some cherry blossoms added to an existing tattoo. Almost three months ago I had cherry blossoms added to my left shin and inner calf. One of the petals, on top of my shin, started to bubble up within the first two weeks. Thinking the artist had just put too much ink in under the skin, I waited for it to disperse. But it continues to raise and I have a rather large, horrific raised bump almost all the way around the petal. Not too mention the most intense itching I have ever had associated with a tattoo coming from the rest of the flowers. Called my tattooist today to learn that he too had used the dark red Eternal brand of ink. Apparently some folks have a pronounced reaction to the “organic” nature of the Eternal reds. Oh goody. The biggest and my visible of all my tattoos and it looks like I have a fungus. Good times.

  49. I had a band done around my forearm in January and it healed with no problems at all. Lettering and shading in red. I do not know the brand of color. Decided to get it touched up and added to by a different artist who’s shop I later found out uses Starbrite inks. A month after healing, intense itching began and I wondered if he went too deep and scarred me or what. That was in March. Its now mid July and my tat looks like shit. Puffy and raised and itchy. Basically a repeat of others comments on here. I got prescribed a corticosteroid ointment and put it on before bed with a plastic wrap and an antihistamine pill. Next morning it was flat and looked the best it had been in months. Thought I had it tamed. The itching and puffiness came back and I’m going to try dry needling it now. Pretty bummed about it and becoming self conscious. Someone actually thought I got branded and then tattooed. Ahh man

  50. oh no, i just realized yesterday my new arm tattoo is bumpy by the red colored areas! guess im having this allergic reaction..not cool :-(


  52. I have been researching red ink allergies, and I have read some helpful things. I have a tattoo done with reds & peach done. Two days after getting it, I break out on and around the tattoo in cysts and an acne type rash. I also come down with a bad flu with vomiting for days. Three weeks later it is still flaky, scabby, itchy, and still has red lumps around it. I really hope that this discomfort is not permanent! This was a cover up job for my birthday to top it all off!

  53. Hey i had the reaction with red and seem to also be having it with seaflaom anyone no whats in these that does that cuz it dont happen with the black

  54. Hello, I got a tattoo about 5/6 weeks ago and while the regular dark blue ink healed fine where my red flowers are it is extremely itchy and raised and kind of hard like scar tissue perhaps. I went to a dr as no scar takes 6 weeks to heal! They said it is probably an allergic reaction and that I could take steroids and/or antihistamine and to follow up with a dermatologist because in worst case it may have to be removed! Total bummer. Some good news is that I noticed that the top flower is actually healing and seems to be almost fully healed and not really itchy anymore but the lower flower which gets a lot of friction from my clothes is more raised and still itchy. So I think that overall the red ink can take longer to heal especially if it is a cheaper ink (which i’m sure is the case for me) Also friction can prolong it even more. Since the body is reacting to the ink as foreign I have decided to exfoliate the flowers to try to rmv some of the red and I put bacitracin or Neosporin and alternate between aloe vera. Also if the itching is too bad put some cortisone cream and take an antihistamine. Keep it clean and medicated with cream and avoid friction and it should heal. Unfortunately it will just take a little longer than the hypo allergenic inks. As for me I won’t be getting anymore tattoos. I love my tattoo and am very proud of it but this experience has been enough for me. Here’s to hoping that these red inks heal soon. Happy Healing!! :)

  55. “What a shame, it’s a nice tattoo” “that’s too bad, what a cool design.” Are we looking at the same tattoo here? The fucked up looking puzzle piece with the 2 stars? It looks like an amateur tattoo. The lines aren’t even straight! U people must be high. Oh lord…..

  56. Eternal crimson red and Eternal light red – both caused itchy swollen bumps. Seven months later and if I have a hot shower or my forearm is exposed to the sun the swelling starts. Lasts for about a month and then subsides.

    Just chatted with a top 10 studio & they suggested dry needling with a water-alcohol solution. I’m going to see what one other studio suggests before I do anything. My dermatologist recommended immediate laser removal. I’ve got a whole sleeve and only red on the forearm – would look retarded to laser just the forearm off.

    I read two medical articles and it is the metal in the red ink that a lot of people are allergic too. There are 4 types of allergies – one will just cause the skin to water blister, two will give itchy bumpy reaction in heat/sun, the last will casue the skin to try to shed to get rid of the irritant. It’s normal to have more than one type of reaction. Only a skin graft test can tell what is causing the reaction.

    Doctor suggested I patch test any further colors on an inconspicuous area and let them heal half a year before I go ahead with covering a large section. To test for reaction response get a small 0.5cmX1cm block done on inside of leg & sit in a sauna and expose to sun aprox 4m after healing.

    Hope that helps.

    If they water-alcohol needling helps I’ll post back here and let the community know.

  57. OP here!
    10+ years later…here’s a short update:
    The reaction got worse! It itched like hell. I couldn’t stop scratching it and therefore it scabbed over. It definitely reacted more when exposed to sunlight. This really sucked because I lived in Australia in 2008. I did see a doctor, and he prescribed an ointment (which I no longer remember the name of) and it never really helped.

    Fast forward 6 years later…The red is almost completely faded and it is permanently scared/raised. The scarring isn’t as bad as the original picture, but you could feel it when you rubbed your finger across. In hindsight, I now believe it was not actually scarred, but the red ink was still reacting to the sunlight. Around this time, I decided to get the tattoo fixed/covered up. The original was mediocre at best, but I loved it because it has a meaning connected to. So I decided to just add color to the puzzle and change the color of the stars. Now the stars are blue and black and the right star’s pattern has been corrected. The background with orange/yellow fade.

    Present day….The tattoo no longer reacts to the sun, and no longer itches. The new colors stuck well and have not faded. And best of all…the scarring appears to have disappeared.

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