Even though we would all like to focus on the beauty and joy of getting a new tattoo, the truth of the matter is that under some rare circumstances, people may experience tattoo ink poisoning. While most terrible reactions are the cause of poor aftercare or infection, some inks are also known to be questionable and cause safety hazards. We go through all the symptoms, causes, and treatments available for ink poisoning.
Please Note: If you suspect you may be having a tattoo ink poisoning reaction, speak to a medical professional immediately!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Related: How To Clean An Infected Tattoo
What is Tattoo Ink Poisoning?
Tattoo ink poisoning differs from infection or allergic reaction. It is related to your body’s inability to accept the components or ingredients of the ink in your bloodstream. Unable to push this foreign object out due to the fact that it is deposited in your dermis, and with it consistently infiltrating your blood, your body and immune system has a negative reaction to the toxic elements.
Tattoo inks are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and unlike Europe, there are no strict standards for tattoo ink and ink usage. As such, some unprofessional individuals may be using inks that have contaminants, such as nickel, cobalt, manganese, iron oxide, lead, or even chromium.
Tattoo ink bottles may also be contaminated if they’ve already been opened or used; the only way to completely eliminate the opportunity for contamination is for artists to use an unused bottle of ink for every client. This is obviously not financially feasible.
What Are Ink Poisoning Symptoms?
When you are experiencing ink poisoning, your symptoms may be similar to an allergic reaction but likely more severe. Some symptoms may include:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Excessive swelling around and beyond the tattoo
- Joint pain or body aches
- Lymph nodes experiencing swelling
- Headaches or migraines that do not dissipate
- Fever, sweat, shakes, or chills
- Severe irritation on the tattoo area that prolongs the healing of the tattoo
- Oozing, blistering, or excessive bleeding
According to the Mayo Clinic, some tattoo color pigments are more likely to cause allergic reactions in users than others. It is important to note that an allergic reaction does not denote a symptom of poisoning; poisoning due to tattoo ink is far more severe and likely needs to have more intense medical treatment or sometimes even the removal of the tattoo. An allergic reaction can usually be treated topically.
Some of the inks more likely to cause allergic reactions are:
- Red inks
- Yellow inks
- Blue inks
- Green inks
Though many people get colored tattoos with no issues or cause for concern, every brand formulates their inks differently and these colors experience more frequent contaminants in their ingredient lists. For a list of brands we love and trust, check out our article, The Best Tattoo Ink Brands In The Industry - Our Complete Review Guide.
What to Do if You Think You Have Tattoo Ink Poisoning
First and foremost, if you suspect tattoo ink poisoning or even an allergic reaction to your tattoo, you must contact a medical professional immediately. This requires medical intervention and cannot be solved on your own. Delaying your treatment could result in very severe or deadly consequences, and it’s simply not worth the risk.
Secondly, contact your tattoo shop and ask them for the brand name, color, serial number, or lot number of any tattoo ink they used for your tattoo. This must be reported to the FDA, and should also be brought to the attention of the doctors assisting you with the poisoning treatment. Warn your shop about the possible ink poisoning so that they can stop using it on future clients, but ask them to keep it aside in case it needs to be inspected by a laboratory.
After proper analysis and diagnosis from a medical professional, you will likely be put on a treatment that includes rest, topical creams, and medication or antibiotics to help combat the infection. In some rare cases, they may ask you to consider professional removal treatments such as laser tattoo removal.
Our Final Thoughts - How to Avoid Tattoo Ink Poisoning
The only way to truly avoid tattoo ink poisoning is to ensure you are going to a reputable artist, are paying for high-quality tattoo equipment usage, and anticipating that some colors may prevent issues and avoiding them.
Tattoo ink poisoning is exceptionally rare but happens from at-home kits, poorly qualified artists, and underground shops. We always say: good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good. Don’t put you or your skin at risk by trying to avoid paying for quality.