for tattooed people, and those who want to be

think ink. (will this color cause problems?)


When tattoos were first invented, the process was pretty simple. Grab a handful of ashes from the fire, maybe mix them with some animal fat, rub that on your skin and poke the design with a thorn or something else equally sharp. Or carve the design into your skin and then rub in the ashes. Or thread up a needle, rub the sinew (or whatever cavemen used for thread) in the ash mixture, and pull it through the area of skin you wanted to decorate.


Later on, people figured out how to make colored tattoo ink by mixing various minerals with animal fat (same stuff they used to paint on the walls) but the process of embedding it in the skin was pretty much the same. Good thing nobody ever heard of germs in those days.

Today we have ink in dozens of colors from hundreds of manufacturers, and the process of applying it is both easier and more complex. But just as back in the old ashes-and-bear-grease days, not every person’s body is going to react well to the addition of the design.

The fact is, although tattoo inks are manufactured to be as nonreactive as possible, people do have allergic reactions to them. And perversely enough, the skin often doesn’t react to the ink till days or even weeks after the tattoo is done, so it wouldn’t even help if there were a “patch test” for tattoo ink. Sometimes it’s even worse–you’ve gotten sensitized to some brand or color, but you won’t find out about it till someone applies that brand or color to your skin in a future design.

And even more annoyingly, sometimes part of a tattoo will react and another part with the same color won’t. My ankle tattoo (the Egyptian design shown in a previous message) has one area of red ink that remains raised, itchy, and flaky two years after it was applied. The other red area was like that for nearly a year and then settled down. One of the teal green areas raised an actual blister about a year after it was applied, but is fine now.

Go figure.

How can you insure that you won’t have a reaction to the ink? You can’t have absolute security, but choosing your artist carefully will help. An experienced artist will have an idea which inks are least likely to cause problems and will almost certainly be using those in preference to other brands. He or she will have plenty of suggestions for dealing with reactions should they occur. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Of course, if you do what I did and get a tattoo on the spur of the moment from an out-of-town artist at a tattoo show, that’s not going to be quite as easy as going back to a local shop to show the artist what happened and ask for help, but if that’s what you’ve done, do call the artist ASAP and explain the problem. He or she will want to know that one of the inks is a potential troublemaker.

Red ink seems to be high on the list of potential allergens. It certainly has been a problem for me. I don’t know whether I’m going to get more tattoos and hope for the best, or stop with the three I have to avoid future problems. Tattoos are addictive, and I certainly want more. But do I want to take the risk?

Who knows?

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Author: infmom

I got my first tattoo when I was 46. I hope the people who read this blog don't have to wait that long. I love talking about body art.

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