Could Your Be Allergic to the Dye in Tattoos?

Tattooing is a popular trend that has spanned the generations. In the past, it was considered an act of rebellion, however, as the years have progressed getting a tattoo have become as much a right of passage as getting your ears pierced. These days, soccer moms, college students, business professionals, athletes and more can be seen sporting their favorite design. However, getting a tattoo is not without it risks – and that includes things other than getting the wrong Asian symbol for your birthday or choosing a dragon when you wanted a butterfly. You should know a few things before you head off to the nearest tattoo parlor.

One of the most common risks of tattooing is the potential to develop an allergic reaction to the ink. While allergic reactions are rare, they do happen. This is a result of the different types of materials that make up the composition of the tattoo ink.

According to dermatologist Dr. Lisa Zanetti Rhodes, reactions can occur because of the metal salts used to make the colored inks. “Mercury (red), chromium (green), cobalt (blue) and cadmium (yellow) are the top sensitizers,” she said. “The reaction can range from localized redness to a generalized eczema-like rash. Often, systemic steroids are needed for treatment. However, it is important to note that tattoos can become red and irritated only to resolve spontaneously.”

Tattoo allergies can also cause the formation of hives, which can usually be treated with medication at home.

On rare occasions, tattoo allergies can develop complications that are more serious. These symptoms can include: difficulty breathing, wheezing, and swelling in the throat area and more. In the most severe cases, those getting tattoos that already have sensitivity to allergic reactions are at risk for anaphylactic shock, which is a life threatening reaction.

In most cases, allergic reactions do not develop until several years after getting the initial tattoo. This is why it is not necessarily helpful to test a patch of skin before getting the entire tattoo design.

You should watch for signs of a developing allergic reaction anytime you get a tattoo and always take care to follow the instructions your tattoo artist gives you about cleaning your tattoo. This includes cleanings your tattoo with soap and water at least twice daily, avoid exposure to sunlight and moisturize the area at least once a day. These steps should be followed for two weeks after getting your tattoo. As the tattoo heals, do not pick off the scab as this could cause an undesired reaction, including changing the look of the overall design.

According to Dr. Kai Kristensen, a pathologist and retired lab director, some people are just prone to allergic reactions. “Anything that the needles must go through to drive the ink into the dermis can be carried with the ink into the skin – and some people are blessed with a high degree of reaction to foreign material,” he said.

Kristensen also said, however, that the number of tattoo allergies are rare. “Allergies to tattoo dyes are fairly rare and most of the problems I hear about seem to be allergic reactions to the goop, especially antibiotic ointments, that people slather on the fresh tattoos.”

If you do have an allergic reaction to your tattoo, the best way to treat it is usually with an over the counter medication. However, should the symptoms be more severe or simply too uncomfortable, call your doctor and have them prescribe you a prescription medication to ease the symptoms until the reaction subsides.

Tattooing can be a fun and creative way to express yourself. However, as important as it is to choose the right design for you, it is equally so to make sure your artist follows proper safety precautions. This will not only spare you the discomfort of an allergic reaction, but also will protect you from other diseases and infections as well. Be sure that your tattoo artist uses a new needle every time and make sure all the equipment being used is properly sterilized. A reputable tattoo parlor will have all of this in plain view for you to be assured that they are following all of the proper safety precautions.

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