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Body Tattoo – blog about tattoo art
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Reader Mail: Tattoo Inks and Allergic Reactions

June 29th, 2009
Question: “About a month ago I received my fifth tattoo, however this one didn’t go as well as i had planned. apparently I was had an allergic reaction to the brown tattoo ink which the doctor later labled as contact dermatitis. At first I was thinking to myself that I just won’t get that color again, but to my misfortune the doctor told me not to get any more tattoos whatsoever, because even though it may be one color now it is possible that it may spread, causing the throat glands to swell and possibly become fatal. The question I have is this. Is there a way I can find out whether or not I am allergic to tattoo inks? Another thing I had a mild problem with a tattoo i got before that, I think it might have been a small reaction, the color was red, but i had gotten some red after i had received that one. the tattoist after looking at my most recent reaction said that he was almost certain that he used the same brand of ink. is it possible that i might just be allergic to the brands?”


Answer: While I admittedly have no medical background, I think your doctor is being paranoid. It sounds like they’re just against tattoos in the first place, so this is a great excuse for them to scare you with their extremist worst-case-scenario views to keep you from getting more ink. I have never heard of anyone dying from anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction to tattoo ink. However, that’s not to say it could never happen and it certainly wouldn’t be worth dying just to get a tattoo, so here’s what I would do: Get a second opinion.


Go to a dermatologist, not just a family physician. Make sure the dermatologist doesn’t have any preconceived issues with tattoos and then explain the situation to them. Get tested to find out what you are allergic to (which is a simple blood test now, not the old-fashioned prick test) and maybe you can even ask if they can test for tattoo ink as well. Get a sample of the ink from your artist. Find out what brand it actually is and request an MSDS fact sheet from the manufacturer. Do whatever research you feel is necessary to determine – without prejudice – whether you should get another tattoo again or not.

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