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Experiencing an allergic reaction to tattoo ink is not a common occurrence; it does happen and can get someone into serious trouble.
Although most tattoo inks are considered safe, especially when purchased from a reputable tattoo ink manufacturer, some inks contain ingredients that can cause problems. Considering that even regular tattoo enthusiasts also experience some side effects, it is very important for those prone to allergies to double-check what brand your tattoo artist plans on using and what the tattoo ink contains.
There are various hypoallergenic tattoo inks on the market but since it tends to be more expensive than other brands, only professional artists who have been in the business for a long time realize how important investing in safe tattoo ink is. But what is the secret to making a tattoo ink sensitive skin can handle? Before I answer that, let’s first understand a little more about tattoo ink allergy.
Is Tattoo Ink Allergy Even a Thing?
It sure is. The worrying thing is that even people who have 10, 12, or 50 tattoos can suddenly develop a tattoo ink allergy. It comes down to the ingredients in the ink and how your body reacts to it. If a seasoned tattoo enthusiast goes to a new tattoo artist without finding out what brand of ink they use and researching what it contains, they can experience a tattoo ink allergy.
Many people who go for tattoos experience a mild reaction to tattoo ink—even if hypoallergenic tattoo ink is used. Why? Because the ink is a foreign body being injected into your skin and it triggers an immune response as a measure to remove the ink from your skin.
This defensive response includes minor skin reactions like redness, swelling, itchiness, and developing a mild rash. Although these can be considered normal, blisters, oozing, and peeling skin are not.
Some of the most common symptoms of a tattoo ink allergy include:
- Severe redness on and around the tattoo.
- A rash that spreads far beyond the border of the tattoo design.
- Severe swelling and pain.
- Blisters or pustules
- Excessive fluid build-up
- Chills and fever
If you know much about tattoos, these symptoms may sound similar to those of a tattoo infection but there’s one key difference: a tattoo ink allergy appears almost immediately during or a few hours after the tattooing session whereas a tattoo infection takes longer. Tattoo infections also spread well beyond the tattoo and can trigger a high fever that can last days.
Whether you have a tattoo ink allergy or a tattoo infection, both require medical care—the sooner the better. If you try to wait the tattoo ink allergy out or attempt to treat a tattoo infection at home, you risk long-term damage to your tattoo and worse yet, your health.
What Makes Hypoallergenic Tattoo Ink Special?
The most obvious answer is that it prevents severe allergic reactions! But there’s more to it. The ingredients hypoallergenic tattoo ink contains will improve tattoo healing time and increase your tattoo’s longevity—that’s to say your tattoo will stay looking as bright as the day you got it for a long time.
So, what makes a specific ink the best tattoo ink for sensitive skin?
A Safe Carrier
There’s a lot of focus on the reaction the pigments will cause but little focus on the carrier. A carrier is an ingredient that transports the pigment into the skin. While doing this, it keeps the concentration of the pigment even throughout the mix. Back in the day, tattoo ink carriers were heavily chemical based. Luckily, tattoo ink manufacturers woke up and became hypoallergenic tattoo brands by using water, glycerine, and ethanol as non-toxic carriers.
Metal-Free Tattoo Ink
I’m not bad-mouthing the music genre; instead, I’m saying no metal in black ink. Black has long been one of the worst tattoo inks because it was made from iron. Nowadays, thanks to the innovation of hypoallergenic tattoo brands, the best and boldest black tattoo ink is made from carbon and logwood.
Hypoallergenic tattoo inks contain natural ingredients. For example, the pigment for yellow ink comes from turmeric—a herb you may even have in your kitchen. Greens are made from monoazo, which is a carbon-based pigment. If it is a non-toxic blue ink you’re after, look for an ink that includes sodium and aluminum.
The rule of thumb with colored tattoo inks is to avoid neon pigments as they’re most likely chemically enhanced instead of using natural ingredients. That being said, if one of the trusted hypoallergenic brands come out with a bright neon kit, you can rest assured that they found a way to make it without using plastic or chemicals.
Red needs to be singled out because this color ink is often a culprit in causing an allergic reaction. This is mainly attributed to the use of iron oxide and rust. You should also avoid inks that include cinnabar and cadmium red as these are common toxic ingredients. Non-toxic tattoo ink would contain Naphthol instead.
I have to mention that you may also experience a skin reaction from an ink with Naphthol as an ingredient but it will be much milder than with the toxic ingredients mentioned above. If you’re wondering why, it is because tattoo manufacturers have not cracked the code to make a fully organic and hypoallergenic red tattoo ink.
Tattoo Ingredients to Avoid
I touched on some of the bad ingredients but I think if you’re armed with a list with all the no-nos on it, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision. Although brands aren’t required to tell you what ingredients they use in their product, the trustworthy ones do share this information.
These are the ingredients you have to avoid if you’re looking for hypoallergenic tattoo ink.
- Oxides and carcinogens including lead, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, chromium carbon black, ash, benzo(a)pyrene. These components help ink penetrate lymph nodes that can promote the growth of cancer-causing cells.
- Carrier ingredients such as formaldehyde, denatured alcohol, antifreeze, methanol, and aldehydes.
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a common part of pigments because it is heat resistant. The pigments appear extra vivid and colorful because it has a plastic base. You can easily spot tattoo inks that contain ABS as their colors stand out from other brands.
- Metal-based ingredients like cadmium sulfite, copper, cobalt, and mercury, to name a few, also don’t belong in hypoallergenic tattoo ink.
- Alcohol as a carrier is also a problem as it changes the structure of the skin which makes it easier for the other chemicals and pigments in the ink to get into the bloodstream.
Now that we have that covered, it is time to look at the five best hypoallergenic tattoo inks on the market.
5 Best Hypoallergenic Tattoo Inks
Mom’s tattoo ink is a solid favorite of mine. The brand was established in 1998 and has since worked to supply tattoo artists with a wide variety of hypoallergenic tattoo inks. They have over 120 shades.
Millennium Mom’s use only uncut, homogenized dispersed pigment. That’s a very fancy way of saying that the pigments included in these inks are vibrant. But wait, you may be worried since their ink is so vibrant, it must be made from plastic? The good news is, Mom’s tattoo ink is known for being safe and skin-friendly. The ingredients they use in their ink are of such high quality that it actually helps your tattoo heal faster. What’s more, their ink is entirely vegan-friendly.
Mom’s tattoo ink is a trusted brand because where many other big-brand names have been recalled by the FDA, this brand has been left unscathed. The only thing you have to worry about when it comes to Millennium Mom’s hypoallergenic tattoo ink is the expiration date!
Bloodline is known for making tattoos stand out. This is one of the highest quality tattoo inks on the market and how it performs on the skin only contributes to its great reputation.
One of the reasons Bloodline inks can be classified as hypoallergenic tattoo ink is where it is made. Manufactured in the European Union and the US, they have no choice but to stick to strict health and safety regulations. This means they’re not allowed to use specific ingredients and their inks need to be thoroughly tested before being sold.
The ingredients used in Bloodline inks are sterilized, ticking another hypoallergenic tattoo ink box as it reduces the chance of experiencing an allergic reaction due to contamination.
Their red also has a reputation to be vibrant without using toxic metals. That’s a big plus in my book considering that red tattoo ink is one of the problem kids in the tattoo world.
Viking Ink has had more than 20 years to refine their tattoo ink recipe and it shows. They have a wide range of hues available which are available in singles or kits depending on what you need.
They’re known for catering to all skin types. Their inks perform extremely well on darker skin, but more than that, they also designed their inks with sensitive skins in mind.
Although their tattoo ink is extremely pigmented, it is vegan and doesn’t contain any nasty ingredients that aggravate the skin. Viking ink is one of the best hypoallergenic tattoo inks out there. Even if you’re not prone to adverse reactions to tattoo ink, you can still choose Viking ink because it will be gentler on your skin than other skins, which means a quicker healing time.
If it is professional quality hypoallergenic tattoo ink you’re after, then Worldwide Tattoo Supply is a brand you should look into. They choose high-end materials that they know will age well. That’s music to my ears because a tattoo should look brand new for as long as possible.
Durability is a sign of great quality ink, and what do we know about quality ink? They usually don’t contain any toxic components that can negatively impact the clients and ultimately their tattoos. That’s good business practice if you ask me.
After all, professional tattoo artists won’t buy ink that causes allergic reactions and end up impacting their final work—they have a reputation to uphold. It’s a win-win when brands do their best to keep tattoo artists happy.
Since they’ve never been recalled and aren’t blacklisted by the FDA, you can rest assured that they’re doing something right.
Worldwide Tattoo Supply’s hypoallergenic tattoo ink is called Scream Tattoo Ink just in case you get confused when trying to do some more research.
This brand has a great reputation, especially under beginner artists because they get a great-quality hypoallergenic tattoo ink that won’t cost them an arm and a leg. Of course, professional tattoo artists are just as fond of Solong.
Their inks are safe, long-lasting, and wait for it…exclusively made with machines. This reduces the chance of any cross-contamination that may irritate your skin. Solong inks also go through a sterilizing process using gamma rays to kill any bacteria that might have found a way in.
When it comes to the ingredients, Solong is an entirely hypoallergenic tattoo ink as it contains no harmful or toxic substances. It also contains no animal products that may trigger an allergic reaction.
Considering all the work that is put into making it the safest ink possible, the budget-friendly price is a welcome surprise.
More Ways to Avoid a Tattoo Ink Allergy
There are other things you can do to lessen the chance of you getting an adverse reaction while getting a tattoo.
Choose a professional tattoo artist. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get tattooed by someone who knows what they’re doing. Furthermore, professional tattoo artists who tattoo for a living usually opt for higher-quality tattoo inks that don’t contain toxic ingredients.
Try out organic and vegan tattoo inks. Although some organic and vegan tattoo inks contain certain heavy metals and chemicals, they usually choose to use the less-harmful types of these ingredients. So, they’re not entirely risk-free, but the risk is significantly reduced.
Get yourself tested. If you’re prone to allergies, it’s a good idea to visit an allergist and get yourself tested for common allergies. This way, you can find out if you have some underlying allergies to ingredients or compounds.
Don’t get tattooed when you’re sick. When you have the sniffles, your immune system is already weakened. Getting a tattoo at this time puts you at increased risk of having an allergic reaction as your body isn’t able to react the way it should.
The tattoo industry keeps on innovating tattoo inks that are safer for the end-user. If they don’t try to find safer options to toxic chemicals, they’ll surely lose business. Serious tattoo artists care about their clients and their reputation.
They don’t want to use an ink that can adversely affect their clients and ruin their reputation, so will buy high-quality tattoo ink from brands that are known to sell tattoo ink that is safe for sensitive skin. For this reason, you have to choose a reputable artist even if you’re not a newbie at getting tattoos.
Remember, an allergic reaction is still possible even if you’ve gone for numerous tattoos without incident. It all depends on the ingredients in the ink your tattoo artist is using.
Do your homework. Any tattoo artist worth their salt will welcome you asking questions about their process and the ink they plan on using. It will show them that you’re serious about your tattoo. Professional tattoo artists don’t want you to have an allergic reaction; they want you to have a pleasant experience so that you will come to them for your next tattoo and maybe even bring a friend along!