For those with dark skin looking to get tattoos, we know you have a tough time finding where to go. You will walk into shops and look in portfolios and not see anyone that looks like you.
No matter how talented the artist, we know you want to see work on people that look like you. The question is, why is it so hard to find someone with experience in tattooing dark skin?
Well, it takes someone with practice to make a tattoo look nice on dark skin. It is a different practice than tattooing pale skin but not impossible or difficult. The melanin pigment under the skin, which is present in the dermis cells, acts like a filter and hides some of the colors that happen to be lighter than the color of the skin when tattooed.
This means that if you pick light colors or thin lines, it will be more difficult to see on darker skin. However, you are in luck! Color tattoos are possible on darker skin. Latin or African American folks with darker skin should make sure to pick colors that will be darker than the skin tone in the summer.
Bold colors like green, red and black ink are usually recommended. However, when you consult with an artist, they may be able to give you a better idea of what color will work best with your skin tone. They should also be able to tell you what variations of shading will work best along with line thickness and design for your situation.
We also tend to get a lot of inquiries about white and watercolor tattoos on dark skin. Much of this depends on the artist and what they are comfortable with. White ink can be problematic for any skin tone so finding an artist with experience in that department is going to make your day much easier.
We suggest having a consultation with the artist you are thinking of working with and getting their opinion on what you are looking for. Someone else you may want to talk with before you get your tattoo is a dermatologist. Keloids are something that people with brown skin need to be aware of. This is where fibrous scar tissue forms over wounds when the skin is injured. African Americans are 7 times more likely to have keloid scarring.
So below, we want to talk about some things to be aware of and what to look out for when looking for a tattoo artist to ink dark skin tattoos.
1. Find an Artist With Experience in Tattooing Dark Skin.
A great tattoo artist will walk you through the steps of how everything is going to be done. They will let you know what is able to be done and what limitations you will be working with. Much of this will depend specifically on your skin color and the shade the artist is working with.
The most important thing that your artist should do is to work with you and find a design and style that you like and will work well with your skin tone. The artists we have talked to about tattooing dark skin said the most important thing for getting a tattoo on dark skin is to find an artist that is experienced overall. Make sure they have a portfolio that shows not only some dark skin tattoos but a lot of tattoos.
2. Make Sure You Get an Honest Consultation Before You Get That Tattoo.
When you have darker skin, a consultation before your tattoo becomes even more important than most people’s situations. This is especially true if you are getting a large piece or are working with color instead of just black ink.
The consultation should not only be a fact-finding mission for you, it should be an interview for both parties. You need to make sure you feel comfortable with the process and what the artist says they will do and the artist needs to feel comfortable as well.
Don’t go in there and get pressured into sitting down at that time and getting a tattoo if you aren’t comfortable with the situation. In fact, go get a second opinion or talk to a few artists to see their point of view or what they think should happen. Remember that this tattoo will be on your skin forever (at least in most cases) and you shouldn’t rush through any process that will leave permanent results.
3. Check With Your Dermatologist About Your Skin Being Prone to Keloids.
As we mentioned in the intro, African Americans are 7 times more likely to develop keloids. However, it is sometimes assumed that all African Americans will develop keloids and that just isn’t true. It is more likely but not a guarantee and by assuming that you will react this way, you are potentially missing out on having a great tattoo.
Another issue that comes up in tattooing dark skin is that the artist will work in one area for far too long and cause raised skin. This might cause some confusion about keloids but either way, pay attention to what your artist tells you about the process and make sure you are comfortable with how they handle the tattooing process.
4. Avoid Lighter Colors Like Light Green, Pastels, Light Pink and Yellow if You Have Dark Skin.
One artist we spoke to said that most tattoo inks are naturally translucent outside of the black inks. Keep this in mind when you consider the yellows, light greens, pastels and pinks for your next tattoo because it won’t show up very well on dark skin. Whites will naturally turn to a creamier color when inked on dark skin.
However, when completed by the right artist, whites can look really cool when tattooed on dark skin. This is even more reason to make sure you put these artists through your own interviews to make sure you like the work they have completed in the past.
5. Your Tattoo Isn’t Going to Look Great for a Couple of Weeks.
This is going to be common for anyone getting a tattoo. During the healing process, tattoos will go through stages. These stages deserve their own section, so you can understand the process.
First Stage: Tattoo Soreness and Oozing
The first part of the healing process is as soon as you leave the tattoo shop. You now have a large and open wound where the tattoo was placed. The skin will immediately start producing plasma, so the process of scabbing and clotting can start. You are going to want to keep the area clean by using antibacterial soap and wrapping/bandaging the wound to keep any bacteria out of the area.
Once you remove the bandage, you will notice the tattooed area will be oozing and weeping. It’s a mix of lymphatic fluid, blood, ink and plasma that will be coming out and it is totally normal so no fear. Keeping it clean with warm water and fragrance-free soap is one of the best things you can do.
It’s going to be sore as well, so it is ok if you take some Advil or Tylenol to ease the pain and potentially help some inflammation.
Second Stage: Tattoo Flaking and Itching
This stage is the dreaded, itching and flaking. Most will consider this the worst state but regardless of what you think, you will probably deal with it. During this point, the tattoo has most likely scabbed over and the skin around the tattoo is getting dry and flaking a bit.
Some tattoos flake more than others so if you don’t see yours doing it, don’t be concerned. It most likely is happening in a much lighter way. This is also the time when your tattoo is itching because of the flaking.
Itching is the worst and especially when you know you shouldn’t be scratching. The best way to relieve the dreading itching tattoo is by lightly slapping the area. In addition, keeping it clean and moisturized will also help.
Personally, I hate the itching stage the worst, but I go out of my way to make sure the area is moisturized. You can use many tattoo aftercare products or more natural methods like coconut oil. Keeping your new tattoo moist and clean should help with this problem.
Before applying the lotion or oil, make sure your tattoo is clean and dry. You want to do this because if you put lotion on and the tattoo is still wet, the water will get stuck under the lotion and the scabs end up soaking up the moisture. This makes the scabs look soft and make them easier to be scraped off or stick to something. This could potentially ruin the final product.
Third Stage: Tattoo Might Still Look Cloudy and Dull
So, we are in the last stage of the healing process for your tattoo. At this point, your tattoo has probably scabbed up and went through the stage when it was dry and itching. Hopefully, you were keeping it moisturized and if there is anything left, it might be just a few little scabs.
The area will still be a little dry and sensitive. The key is to keep moisturizing. If you aren’t sure, keep on moisturizing.
During this time, your tattoo may look a little cloudy or dull. It might even look shiny and glossy at the same time. There is usually still a very thin layer of dead skin covering the tattoo, but this will naturally go away over the next few weeks to a month depending on how big the tattoo is.
Once it has gone through this stage and you can tell the tattoo is completely healed, take the time to look for fading, patchy spots or anything you don’t think looks right. If there is something wrong, contact your artist and see if they will touch it up.
Now that we are done with the healing process, we will get back to the rules of dark skin tattooing.
6. Seriously Though… Do Not Scratch Your Tattoo
We don’t mean to harp on you or try to be your mother but the part in the healing process about not scratching that itch; it’s important! You are going through the process. Everyone does, and everyone deals with the itching. It is imperative you scratch this tattoo, or you could really end up messing it up. Then you just wasted all your time. Trust in the process. It will look great if you follow the rules.
7. There Are Inks Specifically Made for Dark Skin.
We had heard this years ago and I’m sure you might have at some point, but it just isn’t true. Tattoo ink is tattoo ink. There is no magical ink that will work better on your darker skin than others and if an artist tells you that, remove yourself from that place. You can always call a manufacturer to find out what their pigments are made of but as far as a skin color-specific ink, you find it.
These are some common things that you should know about tattooing on dark skin. Whether or not your artist claims they know what they are doing, take your time. Make sure you do your research and ask around because you deserve to have a beautiful tattoo that stands the test of time just like anybody else. Just because your skin is dark doesn’t mean you don’t get to enjoy the process as well.
If you follow these rules for tattooing dark skin, you should end up ok. Many are going to claim they know what they are doing. There are a lot of factors to think about so don’t take a tattoo artist at face value.