for tattooed people, and those who want to be

the surprising connection between nickel and ink


One of the free e-newsletters I get is from Bottom Line, purveyors of all kinds of interesting information. This one is called Daily Health News, and you can check it out here if you’re interested.

Nickel, a common culprit

Today’s newsletter dealt with the fact that allergy to nickel is becoming more and more common in the USA today. A sensitivity to nickel most often causes a raised, itchy skin rash, which can be quite severe. People can go along for years, coming in contact with nickel through their jewelry, and then all of a sudden they’ve got a rash under their treasured watch or ring or earrings like you wouldn’t believe. It can also, as I can attest, happen if you’ve got bare skin up against the inside of the snap in your jeans.

I got sensitized to nickel when I got my ears pierced for the first time 40 years ago. In those days, you just bought gold earrings of some kind and put them in while the piercings were healing and hoped for the best. My starter earrings weren’t that good. I got a crusty rash while the holes were healing (and had the unenviable task of pulling those first earrings out while the holes were only partway healed, and replacing them with other earrings that I had to sterilize myself as best I could). Forever after, I have had a reaction to nickel in anything that touches my skin for any length of time. (Clear nail polish makes a reasonable coating for earrings that you just can’t give up.)

Related metal allergens in tattoo ink

What I hadn’t known, and found most interesting, is that people with nickel sensitivity may also show a reaction to some kinds of tattoo ink. It is most common with green and blue inks, which contain chromium and cobalt. So if your watch band drives you nuts, you might have problems with your tattoos as well.

Just something to think about. We decorated people have to watch out for our health.

I’ve just summarized the article briefly, here, so if you want to read more I’d suggest checking out the Bottom Line Secrets Daily Health News web site.

I hope you'll submit my posts to your favorite social media sites. Just don't "submit" them to your own site pretending to be yours. Thanks!

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.


  1. Pingback: Mytattoo inks | Selcer

  2. Pingback: Nickle tattoo | Esisolutions

  3. court, go back to your artist and tell him or her what happened and see what the artist suggests. There may be something simple you can do to fix this.

  4. i got a small tatoo on my foot 2 months ago and i won’t heal. It itches and i scratch it till it bleeds on a weekly basis, without even realizing im doing it. it’s black ink, i have had one before in almost the same spot that healed fine, any ideas?

  5. Liz, I wonder if the treatments usually used to get heavy metals out of the body would do anything for you? It might be worth asking your doctors about. I’m so sorry you’re going through such misery.

  6. to Sabriel and Stacey. I have been suffering the worst rash of my life for almost three months. It is the worst at night starting at 2-3am and lasting until dawn, it is utter hell. all of my lymph nodes are enlarged and i have seen seven doctors and had lymph node biopsy…the lymph node full of tattoo ink, my tattoo is almost ten years old!! I read that you can become sensitized to metals over time and develop an allergy, I recently tested positive for nickel allergy. Nickel has never given me a problem before. Since it circulates through your lymphatic system there is no end to where the rash will appear, for me it is everywhere except for my face, although it comes up my throat and is on my jawline. My doctor does not know what to do, no doctor i have seen knows what to do. any advice would be very appreciated. If I have laser removal it is my understanding the laser shatters the fragements and it is cleaned through lymphatic essentially i would be flooding my body with more nickel?? Did removal work for you?? PLEASE HELP 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • I too have the red inflammed tattoo and swollen lymph nodes, ever since my tattoo was done 10 yrs ago. Although I think the culprit in mine is mercury (tattoo is red and orange). As infmom mentionned, you can have heavy metals removed from your body, it’s called chelation. Just wondering how did it turn out for you…did you end up getting it lazered? I’m on my 15th chelation treatment but I think I need to get it lazered before I get to the end of my treatment.

  7. Shauna, there could be a connection. We get sensitized to things over time, and sometimes repeated exposure that doesn’t seem to do anything triggers the immune system’s reaction to the material and the next time the reaction is worse.

    You should really go see a dermatologist and find out what can be done for the eczema, if you haven’t already.

  8. i recently read that tattoos can increase your allergies to mentals, and the allergies may not appear between 6 months and 3 years after the tattoo is done! i have a tattoo on my lower back and one on my foot, when they were done they healed perfectly. i have never had any allergies to jewelery, as i always wear the same pair of gold hoop earrings everyday and the same 2 gold rings. i have always had eczema my whole life(i am 18) but it was never real bad. however withtin d last year my eczema on my arms and hands is permantely there, i never get relief from it no matter what creams i use. i was wondering would anyone know if the tattoos could have increased my sensitivity to the gold i wear daily?? i dont get rash on my ears or fingers, but could the gold be affecting other parts of my skin?? i never have rash on my tattoos either, but i fear they could be the cause of the constant eczema. please help with this as its really getting me down

  9. Pam, it sounds to me as though you have done everything you can to insure that your daughter will be as safe as can be. The patch test might be worth while, but it has happened that the first encounter with a substance causes no problems but sensitizes the body to it, so the next time you get a reaction. If the companies are that sure that their products are nickel free it would certainly reassure me if it were my daughter. 🙂

    My daughter and I got tattooed together twice and I suspect if we could work it out we’d do it again.

  10. I have been doing some research, as my daughter is planning on getting inked and she has moderate nickel allergies. Earrings are a no-no, but she has a ring she can wear and so far fasteners on jeans don’t bug her (they do me!). So, I have called and asked the makers if they have nickel in their ink, stating specifically that my daughter has an allergy to nickel. The parlor that is going to do her tattoo uses Starbrite and Fusion. I have called Fusion and was told that he is 98% positive, but he called the boss to double check and it seems to be safe. I also called Starbrite and was told they are also nickel-free. I am now considering a “Patch test” just to be sure. Have you researched these two companies at all? Can you enlighten me any more than I have been? Thanks in advance! Pam

  11. Stacey, thank you so much for your informative post. We all need to be careful and to think before we ink, and you did a very good job of explaining why!

  12. I too am allergic to nickel. Got a greean tattoo, an hourgalss with wings, on the back of my neck 2 years ago. Then about 8 weeks ago i washed my car and not wearing sunblock my tat was exposed to the sun. about 4 days later I developed severe general itching. Then the little itchy bumps bagn popping up randomly. The itching was so intense over the next 2 weeks I coudn’t leave my house as the heat intensified the itching Benadryl (many many Benadryl) would calm it only temporarily. The itching was so bad that in my sleep i would scratch so deeply I had huge bruises on my hips, legs and thighs. I was forced to sleep with gloves on. The tattoo itself became raised and very hot and also itched. My doctor prescribed Prednisone in addition to Benadryl. At that point the rash and bumps felt more like razor burn. Still itchy but painful to scratch. I used ice packs as well for the soft tissue on my bi-ceps which felt as if they were hardening. My forearms felt as though the skin was so tight it may rip. 4 weeks after the symptoms began and 2 weeks of medications the itching did finally subside. However then began a new rash that encircled my entire neck/chest area. These were hard, red, raised, tiny bumps ontop of bumps. They were more painful than itchy. I couldn’t touch them to put cream on them without crying. Over the last 2 weeks I’ve been using a prescrption steroid cream 3 times a day. Thnkfully it has calmed down quite a bit the rash is only about 60% cleared. I have a few small “spots” on my thigh/hip area, wrists/forearms and now my neck as well that are still healing. I will need to ave it removed via laser which I am told comes with it’s own possible toxic side effects. And it’s not cheap or even guranteed to work. It has been the worst physical condition I have ever endured.

    having done some homework I have found that the FDA does NOT regulate tattoo ink as they are considered “trade secrets”. Only in 2004 were maufacturers made to label their inks. Most in contain metallic properties. Different colors mean different metals. However the tattoo artist is not obligated to inform you of this nor are the obligated to ask if you are allergic to any metals. Had my artist asked me that simple question I would have stopped him right away, having no clue whatsoever there could possibly be nickel in tattoo ink. Had I been aware I could have had my tattoo done with a metal free ink. Didn’t know that was available either. After speaking with the tattoo studios manager I found that no one from the FDA to the maufacturer to the artist to the studio were held accountable for the lack of information provided to the consumer. Think before you ink. For those people who maybe unsure of a possible metal allergy there are simple patch tests that can be done. I wonder why studios don’t have any obligation to inform or screen there consumers. With tattoos becoming more mainstream these reactions with only become more frequent. I hope this helps anyone who is thinking of getting inked. I’m not saying don’t do it…I’m just saying be very careful. So much can go wrong. As for my self I’m told if my tattoo is exposed to the uv rays of the sun, my next reaction will come on more rapidly, will be more severe and will last longer. Removal IS my only option. Thanks for listening.

  13. Riona, I feel your pain. 🙂 I learned long ago that yes indeed, I do have to keep my shirts tucked in. Unless I really want to walk around with a horribly itchy spot next to my pants button, that is.

    Red ink isn’t usually a source of nickel irritation, but yes, it does cause more reactions than most colors. I know that from experience. It took over a year for the swelling, itching, and peeling to go away from the red places on my ankle tattoo.

    I am sure that any reputable artist can give you wise guidance in your choice of colors, and good luck on your first tattoo!

  14. Meep! I’m glad I found this before I made the decision to get inked. I’ve been wanting a tatt for years, now, but I’m pretty allergic to nickel… For earrings, I’ve found that I can only wear my gold piercing studs, and even then, I can’t use the original back, because they have nickel in them… So I use those little plastic backs, instead. Solved that problem!

    Can’t wear belts, and have trouble with the buttons on jeans… I’ve managed to find some jeans that just have an elastic waistband instead of a button, SO helpfull, but I haven’t found that in shorts, yet, so summers are still a pain.

    The most annoying yet, is that sometimes I get a reaction on my leg from the change in my pocket! THROUGH the material. x_X I realize “Don’t carry your change in your pocket” should be my solution, but I take forever at the cash if I’m messing with a change purse… It’s something I’ve decided to just put up with unless it gets worst.

    But yeah, really worried about getting tattoos, now… The two that I want both have red in them, which seems to be one of the most common tattoo ink allergies… And man, one of them is red, blue, and green, which are the three worst colours! T_T. Well, I haven’t picked an artist, yet, so once I start properly artist shopping, I’ll talk to them about allergies, first.

  15. Joan, gold leaf is rather fragile and wears off easily. It wouldn’t be a permanent solution to the problem, unfortunately. It might be possible to take the pendant to a reputable jeweler and have it plated with gold, but even that will wear off over time. I don’t realy know what would be a permanent solution to keeping something precious from irritating your skin.

  16. I was wondering if painting the back of something containing nickel (in my case it’s a cremation pendent so very precious to me) with Liquid Metallic Gold Leaf or something similar would help. Anyone?

  17. I heard that putting clear nail polish on earrings could possibly be bad because the chemicals in the nail polish could get into your skin and cause more problems if the nail polish coat were to chip.

    and I’ve found that if you have gold earings, especially the hoops that hook in the back, that sometimes there’s pieces in the earring that could be made of nickel, especially for the hinges on hoops that connect. So depending on how sensetive you are to nickel, it could affect you an cause a reastion there.
    also some earrings that are “nickel free” really aren’t because they’re normally painted and the paint sometimes has nickel in it; but that’s again depending on your sensitivity to it on how you’ll react.

    I hope maybe this could help some people out. 🙂

    And I was wondering if ink from like permanent markets contain nickel in it…

  18. oops 2 of them is what i meant. 1 i got in thailand. and 1 i got in canada over 10 years ago.

  19. i orderd a nickel testing kit online. i tested almost everything i own. i have a bad allergy to nickel.
    also i have 11 tattoos. 3 of which get itchy and raised. those 3 are all black with no color. i think its different for everyone. but i never knew until now that tattoo ink has nickel. this worries me, because ive had itchy skin and hives for the past 2 years. im wondering if its linked to my tattoos. do you know how long the nickel stays in your system? is it forever?

  20. Sabriel, thanks so much for all the helpful advice!

  21. Hi guys! I had a rash (red, raised bumps occasionally so itchy I wake up from dead sleep scratching like crazy) which started in maybe August or September of last year. I had it for probably 2 or 3 months and then it disappeared around November sometime. I’m wondering if this could be a reaction to the tattoo that I got in September (I can’t remember if I had the rash already at the time…).

    I am allergic to nickel (have been since I was a baby) and I got a tattoo with green and blue on the back of my neck. I only realized that this may be the problem after I got the tattoo touched up and it flared up after being rash-free for almost 4 months. Anybody else have a problem like this? My rash also goes through phases, sometimes all red and itchy, sometimes dry and flaking like it’s about to clear up, then clear kind of ooze comes out, then it will go right back to red and super itchy… I’m only concerned this might not be the problem because the rash is on my elbow and not on my neck or near the tattoo at all. I can’t find anywhere that says if this makes a difference…

    To Austin– You can buy a nickel testing kit…although I’m not sure where. My allergy has never been bad enough to require me to use one. I just know to avoid cheap jewelry and buttons/belts. Most stuff that is nickel-free will say it on the package but you could get the kit and test what you aren’t sure of.

    To Gabriel–I just read on another site that they do make an electric razor by Panasonic called Close Curves for about $20 that is nickel free. I’m not sure where to find it or even if they still make it though. Good luck!

    To Sm00th–My first tattoo was just black and I had no problems with it. It healed completely fine. You should still be careful though, even if you get the tattoo now and it seems fine for the first 2 months or whatever because some people don’t have the reaction for years after getting their tattoo. This is also why a patch test doesn’t always help.

  22. Austin, there really is no way to tell what’s got nickel in it and what doesn’t. My aunt gave me some expensive earrings from Tiffany’s once and they made my earlobes swell up like nobody’s business. Best you can do is coat everything with clear nail polish or clear spray lacquer and hope for the best.

  23. hello my girlfreind is allergic to nickel and her button on her jeans, her belt buckel and some jewelries make her get a rash what i wana know is how to spot nickel in any thing i get her

  24. Gabriel, thanks for your comment. It is always a good idea to wait till you’re at least 18 to get tattooed, anyway, because that’s the law in most states. 🙂 I don’t know of any company that sells razors without nickel in them, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Try a Google or Bing search for “nickel free razor” or similar terms.

  25. i am only 16 and i am glad i came across this site because i was considering getting a tattoo but now i see thats not a good idea. i am also affected by nickel allergies and i have a question and i dont know if you will be able to help. but im having a hard time finding a company that sells razors with no nikel in them do you know of any?

  26. I have discovered that my ears are very sensitive when it comes to earrings. I can wear any type of other jewelry but with earrings it has to be real silver or gold otherwise my ears freak out.

  27. I don’t know about the nickel-titanium medical instruments. I think the best you can do with that is find something small that you can tape to your skin for a day or so to see how you react.

  28. I have a nickel allergy and my all black tattoo healed fine. I have yet to get a colored tattoo. These posts have made me think that I’ll need to stick with similarities to what I’ve got.
    No psoriasis, but I have an allergy to Ibuprofin. No clue if they’re linked.
    Anyone know if Nickel-Titanium in medical clamps and such causes the same reaction as topical exposure to nickel?

  29. I remember when I got my ears pierced and my daughters we both got a rash around our ear. Still to this day I do not know if it was the type of jewelry or not, which I am sure it was now we both only wear real gold.

  30. Sm00th, I’m not sure what to tell you. If you have nickel allergies and get a tattoo with ink that contains nickel you’ll have problems, that’s for sure. Stainless steel is generally not considered an allergen, so the fact that you can tolerate it in your piercings doesn’t mean you’ll be able to tolerate nickel in ink. You might want to see if you can get your artist to do a patch test on you (rub the ink on your skin and cover it with a bandage and wait several days to see if you react to it) but even that is no guarantee, since it isn’t inside your skin.

  31. so i have a nickle allergy too….but i’ve had my piercings in for about 5 years with only one problem due to wrong jewllry yet suffer from exzema as well . i have stainless steel in my nose and gauged lobes/cartilidge question is if i am able to withstand the content within my piercings would i be able to take the nickle in the ink ? i’ve been craving one for so long……

  32. Louise, under circumstances like that I think you’re very wise not to get a tattoo. There’s no telling what might be in the ink, and with allergies that serious it is just not worth the risk (my opinion).

  33. Despite having a nickel allergy most of my life, I went ahead and had an ear cartilage piercing done earlier this year (this after i had had my nose and nape pierced without any problems). I ended up with such a severe allergic reaction that i was put on a very high dose of antibiotics as the infection had actually started to eat away at the cartilage of my ear (i eventually went back to the piercer and changed the stud to bioplast and it has since healed perfectly, but of course the shape of my ear has now been changed forever). Keeping this in mind, i’ve been dying to get a tattoo done for a good few years now, but after the above I honestly dont know if it is worth the risk as obviously my body has now been heavily sensitized to nickel.

  34. That is an excellent question about masculine and feminine tattoos, and I’ll talk about that in a separate post. Thanks!

  35. Infmom!!! I realize this is a discussion about allergies, but I need/want your opinion!! The tattoo I have on the inside of my wrist, I am expanding it to probably the inside of my elbow…This is normally a masculine spot… you know any women with tatts on this spot that DON”T look masculine??

  36. The articles I’ve written about allergic reactions are very popular. I will do some more research and report on what I find.

  37. I also have a nickle reaction. It sounds like it is way more common than I thought. However I didn’t know that the tattoo ink could cause the same type of reaction. Thanks for the info!

  38. Mary, I’m glad to hear your tat seems to be healing. There is nothing so good as itchiness going away. 🙂

  39. Just in the past few days, my wrist tat has changed and become a little less bumpy and less itchy. I am encouraged!! I would be devestated if it stayed like this!!! And I wanted to add to it, but I am going to wait. Thanks for the answers. I do appreciate it a lot!!

  40. hi, i got a blue tattoo, and it swelled up and was extremly itcgy, i was told by my tattooist that it was a reaction to the nickel in the ink. i had to put cream on it every day and after about 3 months the swelling came down but it still looked horrible. my tattooist redid the tatty in black and i had no problems

  41. I had the same problem with the red areas on my ankle tattoo. The itchiness and swelling did eventually go away, but it took a long time. About all you can do is be patient, which I know from experience is not easy!

  42. I just got a blue, white and purple tattoo a few weeks ago. It a while to heal. Now that it is healed, it is red and bumpy and SO itchy. The bumps and itchiness is contained within my tattoo. I was concerned, but my pharmacist thought it might be an allergic reaction and gave me some anti-itch cream…which is working.

    My question is…Will the bumps, reddness and ithciness EVER go away? It is on the inside of my wrist, so I know the skin is thinner and probably more sensitive.

  43. I have both Nickel allergy and mild psoriasis,

    I really want to get a tattoo soon but then I thought “will I get a really bad rash if i get one?”

    I would like to know if there is any nickel in Black ink? I also want a lip stud, I heard that getting a titanium lip ring will not cause a rash, is it true?

    • Does your psoriasis flare up in response to stress? Getting a tattoo is painful. Whether it would cause you enough distress to raise a rash, I don’t know. You should talk to your dermatologist.

      I don’t know what’s in any color ink, so can’t help you there. Talk with your artist and make sure he or she knows about all the potential problems.

      Titanium is hypoallergenic and a lip stud should not cause problems, but with any lip piercing you have to be absolutely sure to follow all the aftercare instructions you were given, even if they don’t seem to make sense.

  44. just to help out a little bit i am also allergic to nickel myself and i recently got my lip pirced but instead of the surgical steel that is used i had them use a titanium ring and it never got infected and it healed very fast so if your allergic to nickel titanium is the way to go!

    • Titanium is a really good alternative to other metals. I have several pairs of titanium earrings that I wear frequently–and I always put those in if one of my other earrings irritates my ear in any way.

  45. I have had a tattoo for several years that has bumps on it constantly. After after I got tattoo’s on my ankles, I have a terrible skin condition on my legs not unlike psoriasis. I’m thinking now that the two are related.

  46. I was considering getting a tattoo this week & then suddenly thought …

    ” since I cannot wear jewelry anymore because of my severe nickel allergy … will I be able to get inked ??? ”

    I cannot wear my wedding band to bed & have had to remove my tongue ring due to this problem. I’m worried that I may have a serious problem if I get a tattoo. I guess what I’m asking is what is the worst that could actually happen? I can deal w/irritation as long as it isn’t something that does not go away but if getting a tattoo is something I will regret forever because of a constant reaction … then forget it you know?

    • If you are that allergic, I would strongly recommend that you tell the artist before you get inked. He or she may have a way to test to see if the ink will give you problems. Not all colors provoke reactions.

      The red in my ankle tattoo remained raised, crusty, and incredibly itchy for an incredibly long time after it was applied. That’s made me think twice about getting any more tattoos, because who knows what kinds of sensitivities I have now?

  47. Hello,
    I am having a “red reaction” right now to a tattoo I got months ago. It was a cover up of a lizard with some stars and weeks later, after my tattoo had fully healed; my tattoo became very itchy, red, swollen and flaky. I am very distressed about it becasue I am hoping I dont have to have it lazer removed. I do have a nickle reaction, and easily delt with that using clear nail polish, or just taking some time off of wearing that particular jewlery, but I had no idea that tattoo ink contained nickle. I would have certaily stayed away from colours with high nickle in them, if I’d have known.
    But my question is about any easy at home remedies to ease the itchying. Or just some reasuring words about it from people that have delt with this sudden
    “pain in my INK.”

    Sincere Thanks,

    • Benadryl makes a dab-on itch-fighter that worked well for me. It comes in a slim tube and has a sponge dauber on the end of it. You can apply that several times a day to stop the itching.

      I had the same problem you did, with the red ink in my most recent tattoo, and it went on for quite a while. (I have nickel allergy, too.) I can report, though, that the swelling, flaking and itching did finally go away. I know it’s hard to be patient when your ink is making you miserable, but I would suggest you give it time and lots of anti-itch medication and see if that helps.

  48. Hello there!

    I never knew that clear nail polish could help! Would a topcoat be just as effective? Should I try titanium earrings?


    • I think a topcoat would work as well. As I understand it, it’s pretty much the same as clear nail polish.

      I have had good luck with titanium earrings and earwires–in fact, when my ears get irritated, I put in my titanium earrings or CBRs till the irritation goes away.

  49. I have three tattoos, and I got reactions from two of them. I don’t know if it was nickel related, though, because what I reacted to both times was the red ink.

    I don’t think that black causes as many problems as other colors, but you’d be wise to ask your artist what’s in the ink before it’s applied to your body. Any reputable artist will let you look at the ingredient list on the bottle.

  50. Hi! I am pretty allergic to nickel myself, as I have discovered with the earrings and the button on the pants as well. I was looking into getting a tattoo, but am concerned about the nickel in the ink. My tattoo will be all black, so I don’t know if there is any nickel in that. I was wondering if you have any tattoos yourself, and if you had any reaction to them?

    Thanks alot!

Leave a Reply