Red Ink Tattoos: What You Should Know

Red Ink Dragon Tattoo @peaudvoyou_

Do you want a single color tattoo? You don’t have to default to black ink. Red ink tattoos are becoming a popular way to go.

Tattoos have come a long way since the traditional black inkings that became mainstream in the 1970s across genders, economic classes, and age groups. Colors have become popular in large sleeve designs down to tiny replicas of paintings. Many people have also replaced the black ink in single color tattoos with white and red ink. 

From tiny butterfly tattoos and single word tattoos to intricate dragons, red ink tattoos come in many forms. However, before getting a red ink tattoo design, there are a few things you need to be aware of. 

Red Heart Tattoo @hollyridingtattoo

Red Ink Tattoos Can Be Itchy

Not all ink is created with the same ingredients. Red ink contains ingredients that aren’t found in other tattoo inks, which can cause a heightened sense of itchiness. 

Remember, all new tattoos itch – your body is healing from the trauma of getting a tattoo, so as the wound heals, there can be some discomfort. However, with red ink, the discomfort can be way more intense for some people. One ingredient in red ink that can cause this is cadmium.

“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,”

Authority Tattoo
Red Phoenix Tattoo @portobellotattoo

For some people, the intense itching can fade as the tattoo heals, but for others the scratchy feeling is always present. This can be because the body doesn’t get used to the red ink ingredients, and instead develops perpetual sensitivity to the red ink. 

Red ink particles have also been known to move from the site of the tattoo to lymph nodes, which can cause health issues and show up as abnormal cells.

Red Chinese Font Tattoo @d.mension_tattoo

Saved Tattoo points out that the ingredients in red ink can be linked to an increased cancer risk,

“The ingredients found in red ink can directly cause severe ink allergies and infections, and long-term health issues like skin hypersensitivity, burning, and scarring of the tattoo, skin rashing, and even cancer. Ingredients found in red ink are on the EPA list of the common causes of allergic reactions, infections, and cancer, which is a red flag on its own.”

Healthline recommends having a conversation with your chosen tattoo artist about the ink they plan to use and the possible side effects. Make sure you cover allergic reactions, skin infections, scarring, infectious diseases, and reactions from MRIs. 

Red Hibiscus Tattoo @genevatattooartist

Red Ink Can Be Difficult To Remove, But Quick To Fade

Red ink has more staying power than any other ink. This is bad if you decide you no longer want your tattoo – you may have to go through more laser tattoo removal sessions compared to a black ink tattoo. 

Read more about what to do if you hate your tattoo. 

Red Snake Tattoo @livi_ink

However, just because red ink is challenging to remove, it doesn’t mean your tattoo will look fresh forever. Red ink does tend to fade quicker than black. However, color is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to fading tattoos. There are plenty of reasons why some tattoos fade quicker than others, one being amateur tattooing.

“There is a definite difference between professional tattoos and amateur or self-injected tattoos. The professional ones are generally placed deeper, and the ink is more concentrated, so the overall result is that it stays longer and looks better longer,”

Red Lightning Tattoo @dani_tattooer

It’s not all up to the tattoo artist though – you, as the tattooee, have a big role to play in the health of your skin ensuring that your tattoo has a great canvas on which to heal. Avoiding sun damage, following aftercare instructions, and not smoking can all improve the condition of your skin, which in turn looks after your ink. 

Aries & Flame Tattoo @aguaviva.uv

“Smoking reduces collagen production in the body which is the key ingredient in maintaining your skin’s elasticity. This can lead to pigmentation bleeding out of your tattoo,”


If the potential risks associated with red ink tattoos aren’t deterring you and you’re ready to book your appointment, there are a few things you can do to set you up for red tattoo success. 

Red Anatomical Heart Tattoo @diegowetzig

5 Red Tattoo Tips

  • Organize a patch test with your tattooer. At least 24 hours before your tattoo appointment, they’ll add a small red dot of ink on your skin to see if you have any allergic reactions.
  • Do your research! This is good practice for any type of tattoo you get, but especially if you’re going for something a little out of the ordinary or challenging, and red ink tattoos fall into this category. Check out portfolios and make the time to have an in depth conversation with your chosen artist to ensure you have the best experience possible. 
  • After you get your tattoo, avoid wool or any itchy fabrics. Scratchy fabrics can aggravate fresh tattoos – your ink can form bumps and become extra itchy. This is something you definitely don’t want if red ink is already a bit uncomfortable. 
  • Use bentonite clay masks on your healed tattoo. Byrdie recommends this because bentonite clay has been scientifically proven to aid detoxification from heavy metal toxicity for a wide assortment of metals. 
  • Know when to see a doctor. Even though it’s common for red ink tattoos to itch more than traditional tattoos, if you experience intense itchiness and burning, bumps on your skin, or oozing, you should go to your doctor. 
Red Eye Tattoo

Should the negative aspects of red ink tattoos out-way the positive? Well, that’s completely up to you! Body art is extremely personal, so you get to decide what tattoo design is worth the pain, price, and aftercare. Plus, there is no guarantee that red ink tattoos will cause a negative reaction.

Focus on what you can control: Choose a design you love, do your research and book an experienced tattoo artist, get a patch test, and look after your fresh ink. 

Click here for a full guide to tattoo placement to help you decide where to get your red ink tattoo.

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