Can Tattoo Ink Cause Migraines?

If you recently received a tattoo and you’re experiencing migraines, or you’re prone to migraines but want a tattoo, you might be wondering: Can tattoo ink cause migraines? Headaches are associated with ink poisoning, but the kind that comes from swallowing toxic printer ink – not from getting a tattoo.

There is currently no established link between tattoo ink and migraines. To be fair, tattoo ink contains heavy metals and carcinogenic compounds, so there’s no guarantee the ingredients won’t affect you in some way.

Although tattoo ink is not tied to migraines, it does pose various risks. Read on to learn more about potential side effects of tattoo ink and symptoms of ink poisoning and allergic reaction.

What are the possible side effects of tattoo ink?

Allergies: Tattoo dyes, especially red, green, yellow and blue dyes, might cause an allergic reaction. A tattoo ink reaction starts with an itchy rash and may evolve into:

  • Purple or red nodules
  • Flaking
  • Swelling

When foreign substances are introduced into the skin during the tattoo, it can cause an immunological response. These reactions can even occur years after you get tattooed. Fortunately, anaphylaxis after permanent tattoos has never been reported.

In severe cases, allergic reactions may result in skin growths that must be removed surgically. In most cases, however, the reaction can be treated easily with a topical steroid ointment.

Cancer: There is no proven direct association between tattoos and cancer, but some tattoo inks contain toxic components and carcinogenic compounds. Many inks contain nickel, preservatives, bacteria, chromium, and titanium, which could potentially cause inflammation, cancer and other conditions.

While there are risks that come with tattoo ink sitting in your body, the bigger risks lie with the initial tattooing process. Tattoos breach the skin, which make you vulnerable to:

  • Skin infections
  • Overgrowth of scar tissue
  • Worsening of an existing skin condition, like eczema or psoriasis
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Bloodborne diseases (if the tattoo equipment was contaminated)

Tattoos can also cause medical errors long-term, because they may interfere with MRI screenings and early cancer detection. If you’re informed about the pros and cons of getting a tattoo, and you choose a reputable tattoo artist, you’re on your way to a safe tattooing experience.

If you do experience any side effects after receiving a tattoo, treatment is readily available. Contact your doctor if you experience a high fever, chills, sweats, or a rash.

How do you know if you’re allergic to tattoo ink?

Before your tattoo: Is there a way to know if you’re allergic to tattoo ink before getting a tattoo?

Ask your tattoo artist about doing a patch test. They can apply their ink of choice to your skin, and after 24 hours, you can see if any swelling or redness occurs. This test can help you determine whether or not you’re allergic to the ink, and is even more important if you’re receiving a color tattoo.

Alternatively, you might be able to get a standard allergy test done with a healthcare provider to determine which ingredients you are sensitive to, and pass the information on to your tattoo artist. They can choose an ink based on your body’s responses.

Another note – if you are already prone to eczema or psoriasis, you may be more susceptible to ink allergy, which is something to consider before scheduling a session.

After your tattoo: How do you know if you’re having an allergic reaction to tattoo ink?

An allergic reaction to a tattoo looks like a rash that’s red, bumpy and itchy. Symptoms can crop up within a few days after you get your tattoo, or might not appear until years later.

Fortunately, tattoo ink allergies tend to be rare. Remember, it’s normal to be a little sore and swollen after getting a tattoo, but a rash is a sign of an allergic reaction. If your reaction is not severe, over-the-counter antihistamines may be enough to relieve you, but you should consult with your doctor anyway. In non-severe cases, your allergy will probably subside over time.

If your reaction is ongoing or especially uncomfortable, your doctor may need to prescribe something stronger, like antibiotics or corticosteroids. In rare cases, an allergy might escalate to an infection, which can affect the tattoo pigment and motivate tattoo removal.

What are symptoms of ink poisoning?

Severe ink poisoning symptoms, like nervous system damage or headaches, are not linked to tattoo ink – rather, this type of ink poisoning may occur after swallowing printer ink, which has toxic ingredients. Other common symptoms of this kind of ink poisoning include nausea and vomiting.

Tattoo ink poisoning, on the other hand, usually refers to an allergic reaction or infection from getting a tattoo. If you notice swelling, pain, chills, or a rash, give your doctor a call. A reaction can cause inflammation, flaky skin, pus, and redness, whereas an infection may manifest as swollen lymph nodes, swollen tattoo, joint pain, body aches, vomiting, headaches, or delayed tattoo healing. If you notice any of the symptoms of a tattoo reaction or infection, seek medical help immediately.

Many cases of suspected tattoo ink poisoning turn out to be a reaction or infection, but poisoning can occur, and manifests itself with similar symptoms to an infection. Fortunately, ink poisoning can be remedied with a course of antibiotics. If you suspect any of the three (poisoning, allergic reaction, or infection), see your doctor.

Can you die from ink poisoning?

While swallowing printer ink can be dangerous, swallowing the ink from pens, markers, etc. is considered minimally toxic and is not usually a poisoning concern. Similarly, tattoo-related risks are less about the ink itself and more about a potential infection.

Keep in mind that heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and nickel have been identified in tattoo ink, meaning it could potentially be dangerous or cancer-causing. However, there are no proven links between tattoos and cancer or death at this time, and these substances and other carcinogens are, unfortunately, found all around us on a daily basis (in tobacco, alcohol, UV rays etc.).

In summary, tattoo ink poisoning is not directly correlated with migraines or death. In fact, some studies and reports show that tattoos provide a boost in our immunity, making us less susceptible to disease and death.