In which she discusses allergic reactions to red tattoo ink with the Universe

by DaniGirl on September 11, 2014 · 4 comments

in It IS all about me

It went something like this:

**ring ring**

Hello?

DaniGirl! It’s the Universe calling. It’s been a while, so I thought I’d check up on you.

Hey Universe! Great to hear from you. How’s that supernova in Betelgeuse 5?

Shining bright, DaniGirl! Hey, speaking of “shine” – I see you got a tattoo a couple of weeks ago!

I sure did! I was thinking of you – you saw the design? Three stars!

It looks great and I love the design. That red star is giving you some trouble though, isn’t it?

Ugh, yes. It’s been two weeks since I got the tattoo and everything has healed beautifully, except that red star. The skin around it is still swollen and blotchy and you can barely make out the star shape. This is how it looked last Friday.

At least it’s not as bad as you first thought it was.

No, you’re right about that. When a week had passed and the scabs started to heal on all the other parts of the tattoo, I started getting concerned because the skin around the red star was a little *too* red, and sort of angry looking. Here’s a bit of advice for you, Universe. Never, ever do a google image search on “skin reactions to red tattoo ink” unless you want some really horrific images burned into your brain.

Oy, I can imagine. And by the time you’d finished your Internet research, Dr Google told you some things you weren’t too happy about, eh?

I was somewhere between annoyed and horrified when I found out that most reactions to tattoo ink result from the fact that there’s mercury in the red ink and cadmium in the yellow.

Mercury? Yikes! Isn’t that toxic?

You’d think so, right? And I’ve always been sensitive to metals – I can’t wear earrings that aren’t pure gold or silver, and my gums react to metal fillings. When I read that there was likely mercury in the tattoo ink, I was pissed. How could I have missed that in all the research I did on tattoos before I got one? And then I started reading all sorts of stuff about how the heavy metals in the tattoo ink can affect things like MRIs – crazy!

So did you get it looked at?

Yes. By the time I found out about the mercury and whatnot, a week had passed and while the rest of the tattoo was healing nicely, the red star looked more like an angry bee sting. My friends actually convinced me to call Telehealth while I was waiting to hear back from the tattoo shop and the nurse insisted I present myself to a doctor within four hours when I described what was going on and the fact that the reaction seemed to be escalating. I stopped in at the tattoo shop on my way to the walk-in clinic and they reassured me that they haven’t used mercury in tattoo ink in a long time.

You must have been relieved! So what’s in the ink that’s causing the reaction?

The list of ingredients is pretty benign: distilled water, alcohol, witch hazel and “organic non toxic pigments”.

Heh. That’s not too specific, is it?

Not really. But it’s still better than mercury and cadmium! The senior tattooist in the shop took a look at the reaction and said in 30 years of tattooing, he’s seen about five reactions like mine – each time to red ink. I’m special! He said if I were to eat a hundred red Smarties, I’d probably react to that, too. To which I replied that 100 Smarties would send me into a diabetic coma, but I did get his point. It was simply the red dye to which I was reacting, and not some toxic heavy metal sludge.

I’ve always known you were special, DaniGirl. So did you go to the clinic?

I did. While I will happily crowd-source medical advice from the Internet, I wasn’t willing to give the final word to the erudite opinion of a guy without a medical degree. I did feel hella sheepish presenting myself to the clinic, though. To his credit, the doctor who saw me did not make light of the situation. Unfortunately, it was me who schooled him on tattoos and the prevalence of reactions to red ink, but he did say he wasn’t particularly concerned about it and did not see the need to remove the tattoo or the leg. It was clearly, in his opinion, an allergic reaction, and suggested some Benadryl cream would take down the swelling.

So what happens now?

We wait it out, I guess. That was a week ago, and the swelling and blotchyness are down a bit but not completely. It’s hard to tell what the actual red star part of the tattoo looks like, but it’s certainly not as crisp and bright as the blue and green stars. It seems possible that my body will just reject the ink entirely, and it will either push it out or I may react on and off to it for years.

Huh. That’s annoying. What will you do if your body does push the ink out?

Well, the whole idea was to get THREE stars, and getting rid of one kid to better match the deep symbolism of my tattoo is probably not an appropriate course of action. The tattoo shop said they’d be happy to retouch it for me in a couple of months if that happens, but I’m not convinced that’s a smart idea. I suppose I could get the third star re-tattooed in a different colour, say a nice maroon or a non-cadmium yellow.

But then you lose your clever “RGB” symbolism?

Right. And I do hate to circumvent my own cleverness.

Uh huh.

So I guess I’ll just wait and see and hope for the best.

I gotta say, DaniGirl, you do find the most unique ways to find bloggy fodder, don’t you?

All in the name of a good story, old friend. I am a cautionary tale.

Indeed. Well, take care of yourself, DaniGirl. We’ll chat again soon.

I’ll look forward to it, Universe. I always do.


1 Janet September 13, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I know all about the colour red and what it can do to a person. My some can’t eat anything with orange or red dye in it or he goes crazy. He turns into a wild animal, sometimes for a couple of days or more until it’s completely out of his system. We went for allergy tests a couple of weeks ago and they checked to see if he was allergic to dyes. While the test revealed that he doesn’t have a “true” allergy (i.e. he won’t die if he eats something with added colour), he has an obvious sensitivity which I am told is extremely common. A few hours after they pricked his arm with the food dye I seriously considered having him admitted to the psychiatric ward. I’ve never seen anything like it — he went completely insane. What ticks me off is that they add this stuff to all the stuff kids love to eat (chips, cheese, juice, candy, some brands of weiners etc….). It’s no wonder my kid is a nightmare every time he returns home from a birthday party.

I hope you heal soon — what a horrible thing to happen!

2 Sarah McCormack September 14, 2014 at 8:23 pm

The Universe should really be following you on Twitter 🙂

3 Min September 23, 2014 at 12:52 am

Randomly stumbled across your blog and thank you for a little laugh. Regretfully, I’ve been searching “skin reactions to red tattoo ink.” Why?!! Just got another tattoo on September 13, my most favorite ever. Really bummed I’m reacting to the red. I’ve never had an ink problem, but have always had sensitive skin (read: no jewelry, free and clear soap, etc).
Like yours, there is meaning in my color choices. At this point I’m willing to sacrifice this if it heals well enough to tattoo again (I say that, but I’m not fully convinced I mean it). For now, I cross my fingers and wait. I’ve yet to head to a doctor; how did the Benadryl cream affect the tattoo? If at all?

4 DaniGirl September 24, 2014 at 10:37 am

Oh no Min! 🙁 Well, it’s been almost four weeks and it still hasn’t healed for me. It’s still raised like a scar and peeling but the red inflammation seems to be settling down, so I stopped using the Benadryl. It did work for the red stinging itchy part, though. Now that it’s a little more healed, the red seems to be more distinct, so I may be okay after all – hope yours heals the same way!

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