Everything You Need to Know About Red Ink Tattoos

Red ink is being used more and more in tattooing both as an accent color as well as as the only color in the whole tattoo. 

However, it is common for people’s skin to react badly to red ink, so clients usually have a lot of questions about whether it’s safe or if they should worry about the higher risk of allergic reaction and fading.

As a tattoo artist, it’s important to be able to answer these questions. That’s why, in this article, we’ll cover: 

  • Whether red ink is safe to use
  • How common “red reaction” is
  • If red line tattoos fade faster
  • Design ideas for red ink tattoos

Are Red Ink Tattoos Safe?

red dye body art
red dye body art
flower tattoo

Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate tattoo ink, a common concern is whether tattoo ink is safe to use. 

Red ink is made with pigments and other ingredients that are meant to be safe for use on the skin. There is some concern about some of the ingredients used in red tattoo ink, such as certain heavy metals. These heavy metals can be toxic if they enter the body, and although the amount used in tattoo inks is very small, it’s still important to know what’s in your ink before using it on clients.  

Despite this, red ink is generally considered safe for use if it is manufactured in a professional environment with non-toxic ingredients. Some brands also offer organic ink.

What’s In Red Ink?

tattoo ink

Contrary to popular belief, the color of tattoo ink doesn’t usually come from dyes. Instead, tattoo pigment is made from colored compounds that give the tattoo its color and keep its hold in the skin. Historically, tattoo pigment has been made from carbon, iron oxide, and other compounds that lead to specific colors. 

Many pigments are lab created as they are not always found in nature. For example, the color carmine has previously required a lengthy process to harvest the color from the cochineal bug, but scientists are working on making it in the lab instead.

Red pigments are made from cinnabar, with is a mercury-based metal. Tattoo inks also include carriers (liquid) that help them adhere to the skin. Red tattoo ink usually uses glycerin, water, isopropyl alcohol, and acrylic resin as a carrier.


Red ink is not the only tattoo ink under scrutiny. Colors that contain azo pigments have been considered unsafe by the recent UK Ink Ban, as well as other specialty inks like ultraviolet light ink.

Common Side Effects of Red Ink

Because of the metals and other potentially toxic components in red pigment, it is one of the more likely colors to trigger allergic reactions. Common symptoms of adverse reactions to red ink include itchy, sensitive skin, redness, tattoos that are painful on contact, and swelling. This irritation on only the red parts of tattoos is commonly called “red reaction.”

If a client is experiencing an allergic reaction to red ink, it’s important that they consult a doctor.

One of the most common concerns about red ink is whether there is potential for its ingredients to cause cancer or other diseases. This is a real concern, as doctors have seen skin cancer occur in only the red parts of tattoos. While skin problems are usually limited to a new tattoo, adverse reactions have been reported in red tattoos years later.

How to Avoid Red Ink Side Effects 

Red tattoo pigment is the most likely to cause negative reactions in the body including allergic reactions and itchy skin. People often report itchiness, bumps, and skin irritation, even with the nicest, least toxic inks available.

Though red ink may best be used only in a small amount, some clients are going to want completely red tattoos. It’s important to speak with them about potential issues they might see and steps they can take to avoid side effects.

Avoid Scratchy Fabrics

Fabrics like wool are more likely to scratch against the skin and cause the tattoo to itch. Avoiding fabrics like this, especially during the healing process, can decrease some of the itchiness that clients with a red tattoo might experience. Additionally, washing the tattoo with antimicrobial soap and using a clean paper towel to pat dry is important to keeping the tattoo clean. 

Does Red Ink Fade Faster?

Red ink will lose vibrancy and fade more quickly than black or dark-colored inks, so it should be avoided as an outline color when possible. Colors like orange and yellow will still fade faster than red, but red tattoos will likely require touch-ups over time.

Favorite Micro Tattoo Designs

Popular tattoo designs for micro tattoos include hearts, infinity symbols, insects, flowers, singular words, and small geometric shapes.

Should I Tattoo with Red Ink?

While it is important to know about the side effects that can occur from using red ink, red tattoo ink can still be used as long as it contains very small amounts of the ingredients that can be harmful. 

As an artist, it’s important to choose ink that contains the smallest amount of potentially harmful metals and compounds as possible in order to avoid skin reactions. Clients might have questions about red pigment, and staying informed about these concerns can help you make sure they have the best tattoo experience possible.

Gallery: Red Ink Tattoo Designs

Red ink dragon tattoo
Red ink flower tattoo
Upper arm sleeve with red tattoo ink
tattoo of woman
Red script tattoo

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

popular tattoos in different tattoo styles

Understanding the challenges that come with red ink tattoos is an important step in your journey, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need to build your skills and create incredible tattoos. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start tattooing full time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
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  • Private mastermind community
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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