Allergic reactions to tattoo dye are rare. The various colors in a tattoo are made from different materials. For example, the red color comes from mercury, the green from chromium, the yellow from cadmium, and the blue from cobalt. Allergic reactions to red dyes occur more often than allergic reactions to other colors.
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system. An allergic reaction can range from mild and annoying to sudden and life-threatening. Allergic reactions do not always occur the first time you are exposed to the dye. For example, if you have had 3 or 4 tattoos without any problems, you could have an allergic reaction to the dye the next time you have a tattoo. Each time you have a tattoo, you must watch for signs of an allergy and get help based on the severity of your reaction.
An allergic reaction can be local and produce swelling, itching, or hives in the area of contact with the allergen. Local reactions can usually be handled at home and are not life-threatening. Hives can be minor, or they can be the first sign of a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
Sometimes a local allergic reaction can be the start of a more serious whole-body reaction to the allergen. More serious reactions can include swelling of the throat, wheezing, or problems breathing. Blood vessels can be involved and cause a circulatory collapse (anaphylaxis).