Tattoo Risks: Allergic Reaction
Some people develop allergic reactions to tattoo pigments -- especially red pigments. The woman in this picture developed an allergic reaction to the red pigment used in her cosmetic lipstick tattoo. Tissue injury and inflammatory reactions to dyes or metals into the skin can occur. Occasionally a contact dermatitis can happen.
Tattoos can be removed. Sometimes, particularly if the tattoo was done only in black, the results can be quite good. But often the skin cannot be restored to its original color or quality.
Tattoo Removal Techniques
There are three basic techniques: cutting away the tattooed skin, dermabrasion (rubbing away the tattooed skin with an abrasive device), or laser removal. Most doctors prefer to use lasers. The tattoo shown here was removed via laser; the scar below it was left from dermabrasion removal. Some color inks are harder to remove than others and repeated visits are required; permanent tattoos may never be gone entirely. The FDA warns people NOT to use any of the many available do-it-yourself tattoo removal products. These products contain acids and can cause harmful skin reactions. The FDA suggests that people seeking tattoo removal see a doctor, not a tattoo artist.
Tattoo Removal: What To Expect
Different lasers are used on different tattoo colors to break down the pigment into small particles that can be eliminated from the body. Immediately after treatment, the skin under the tattoo may whiten. More normal skin color usually appears in time.
Tattoo Removal Risks: Allergic Reactions
Lasers break down tattoo pigments, raising the possibility of allergic reactions. In the heart tattoo shown here, each of several different laser treatments caused the same blistering reaction. Fortunately, the blisters got better with routine skin care.
Tattoo Removal Risks: Scarring
Not every tattoo comes off perfectly. This picture shows scarring caused by attempted laser tattoo removal.
Even Temporary Tattoos Have Risks
A popular alternative to permanent tattoos is temporary tattooing with henna-based ink painted on the skin. But as this picture shows, even these tattoos can cause allergic reactions. WARNING: Stay away from "black henna" or "blue henna" tattoos. The blackening may come from coal tar, which often causes severe allergic reactions. And even normal, vegetable henna is approved by the FDA only for hair coloring, not for skin decoration.