Reacting bad to your own tattoo

The prevalence of tattoos in the USA has steadily increased over the past 10 years. Today approximately 30% of the population have a least one tattoo. While getting a tattoo is generally a simple procedure without post tattoo complications, occasionally people react to individual ink colors in the tattoo. This applies for both temporary and permanent tattoos.

 As for temporary tattoos, the most common ink is an orangy dye called henna derived from a plant named Lawsonia inermis. Henna tattoo is especially common in Hindi culture especially proceeding celebrations such as weddings. Henna tattoos usually fade spontaneously in 4-6 weeks without any residual color change in the skin. Problems arise when henna is mixed with parapheylenediamine (PPD) a black dye commonly found in hair dyes. The PPD is added to darken the appearance of the henna ink. This henna PPD combo is frequently used at street fairs for side-walk tattooing. The reaction ranges from a mild dermatitis in the shape of the temporary tattoo to a deep blistering reaction that heals with scarring in the shape of the original temporary tattoo. 

The ink utilized for permanent ink tattoos also can cause allergic reactions as well. These reactions are itchy, red, scaly, elevated and permanent. They are extremely annoying and as long as the ink remains under the skin, the reaction will persist. Occasionally, a dermatitis reaction in the color of a new tattoo amazingly causes an older non-problematic tattoo in a distant location, to flare up in the same color causing the problem in the new tattoo.

Red is the most common pigment to cause an allergic contact type of reaction in permanent tattoos. In the past, this reaction was from mercury but today other dyes such as azo or quinacridone are usually the culprit.

 Occasionally, multiple colors of inks are mixed. For example, cadmium, a yellow metal is added to brighten red. Unfortunately, cadmium causes a unique reaction in tattoos. In some individuals, when ultraviolet from sunlight hits the yellow cadmium it causes dermatitis in the yellow area of the tattoo. This sunlight reaction occurs when cadmium is used alone or mixed with other colors. Broad spectrum sunscreens can sometimes block this cadmium induced photosensitivity.

 While black ink, usually derived from carbon, rarely causes a reaction that is not the case with green ink. The green color in tattoos is traditionally derived from chrome. In fact some people with a chrome reaction in their tattoos get worsening of the chrome green itching dermatitis reaction in their green tattoos when they eat foods high in chrome. These include broccoli, potatoes, green beans, whole-grain products, apple, bananas, grapes, milk and even beef and poultry. Sometimes the reaction in green tattoos can be from the metal nickel added to the green ink.

Treatment of temporary tattoo reactions is simple as they self resolve. A topical corticosteroid alternated with OreganKnow healing ointment will hasten healing.

Permanent tattoo reactions are problematic. While topical steroids and even injection of steroids into the area of reaction help temporarily in minimizing the itching and localized dermatitis, these reactions are permanent and reoccur once the steroids are discontinued. Smaller tattoos are sometime excised which solves the problem. The area can be re-tattooed avoiding the offending ink. Laser removal of a specific color ink, utilizing a laser that only treats that specific color is fraught with danger. Severe life threatening reaction have been reported after laser treatment when the particular troublesome ink is released into the body. Carbon dioxide lasers are non selective for colors and simply burn away the tattoo but they often leave a scar in place of the tattoo ink. 

Finally, if you do plan to get a new tattoo, OreganKnow healing ointment applied 2X per day after the tattoo will facilitate quick, safer, superior healing over other products. As there are no chemical preservatives, fragrance or allergens in Oreganknow healing ointment, many dermatologists highly recommend it for post tattoo care.