Red Tattoo Ink: Reactions & Allergies

  • Written By Dan Hunter on January 7, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Red ink isn’t the most common color for tattoos, but it can make a tattoo stand out. This can come with some drawbacks, though. For example, red ink is the most common for infections and allergic reactions. 

This color tattoo is very common when getting inked if you want floral designs, such as red roses. It is, therefore, best to know as much as you can about safety and what you’re really going to be wearing on your body after getting inked.

Red Flags When Getting A Red Tattoo

Red ink contains different ingredients to standard blacks and greens. This is to get the color to really pop and not fade into your regular skin tone. Reactions most often occur because of the different ingredients that are needed to give the ink its pigment.

In addition, red ink particles have been known to migrate to the lymph nodes from tattoo sites. These molecules can cause health issues and complications with medical diagnostic testing, showing up as abnormal cells.

Red Ink Allergies

You can be forgiven to focus solely on red ink, but remember that to change the tone of other colors, red is used — the same applies to red ink. It’s also used to mix with oranges, pinks and browns.

People often find red ink tattoos appear to bleed and scab more. This is because your tattoo will probably crust over the red ink and look worse. Don’t always assume you’ve had a reaction if your tattoo scabs, as this is normal for any tattoo.

Raised, light scabbing over a red tattoo


If you can’t wear cheap jewelry, like many of us, then you’re more likely to have a reaction from red ink in a tattoo. This is because they often contain nickel, which is often the same ingredient in your jewelry, which can irritate your skin.


The key ingredient of concern is cadmium. Cadmium is what gives red tattoos the bright color, rather than a rusty color, which can be gained from iron oxide powdered into the mix.

Cadmium red (CdSe) pigment is still very much in circulation and can cause redness, inflammation, itching, and other problems.

Iron Oxide

Iron oxide is also a red pigment but is just powdered rust. While it’s not guaranteed to cause a reaction, it won’t give you a bright red tattoo. Iron oxide pigment inks, including some browns and oranges, may react to the components and magnets in an MRI scanner

Solvent Red 1

Organic red pigments, such as “solvent red 1,” cause fewer allergic and other reactions than metal-based reds.

Solvent Red 1 is thought to cause fewer issues than iron oxide and cadmium; however, it can degrade into a potential carcinogen, and so can cause cancer.

Tattoo fading and degradation occurs from ultraviolet light exposure or from bacteria. These organic substances can also degrade when using a laser to have a tattoo removed. 

What Does an Allergic Reaction Look Like?

Allergy symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the reaction. Some are surface and can resolve themselves in a couple of days. Just like any other type of allergic reaction, if you’re vigilant and act quickly, you should be ok. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. 

Mild allergic reaction symptoms can include:

  • Itching
  • Redness rashes or bumps
  • Skin flaking
  • Swelling or fluid build-up 

More severe allergic reactions can affect the whole body. Seek medical attention if you begin to experience:

  • Intense itching or burning around the tattoo
  • Hard, bumpy tissue
  • Fever/temperature 
  • Pus or drainage oozing from the tattoo

How to Avoid a Red Ink Allergy

Patch Test

If you’re considering a red ink tattoo, ask your tattoo artist for a patch test. This is where you see the artist at least 24 hours before your existing tattoo appointment, and they’ll place a small amount of red ink on you as a dot in an inconspicuous place.

If the red dot flares up over the next 24 hours or the skin around it becomes inflamed, sore or you notice any other adverse reactions, the chances are you’ve had a minor reaction and a full red tattoo would be a bad idea.

Research the Tattoo Studio

Make sure you go to a reputable, licensed tattoo parlor as this again will decrease your chances of any complications — it’ll be insured, and the artists will be experienced.

Where possible, see if you can find images or proven previous work as well as reviews or recommendations.


Red ink is most certainly the riskiest when it comes to allergies and reactions. There are more cases of allergic reactions and negative side effects with red-pigmented inks than any other color. The risks associated are due to the ingredients of the liquid pigment in ink, often containing metals or powdered rusts. 

To reduce your risk levels, as with all tattoos, check the tattoo parlor and artists before receiving any new artwork. Check they’re qualified, trained, insured and trusted using checks and reviews.

Your tattoo artist will be able to give you a patch test before any tattoo, especially one containing red ink. This will allow you to test your tolerance and likelihood of a reaction before you get a full tattoo.

Related Tattoo Articles