Getting Tattoos On Black Skin: All Of Your Questions Answered

Thinking about getting a tattoo? We asked black tattoo artists all of your most common questions about tattooing darker skin tones


by Remy Farrell |
Updated on

So, you're thinking about getting that long-awaited tattoo now that studios are - finally! - open again after lockdown. You've got a Pinterest board full of inspiration and you're in the process of narrowing it all down to that final design, 'the one'. Is that process tricky though? Are you contending with a surprising lack of examples of tattoos on people of colour? Before you commit to going under the needle, it helps to see a few pictures of designs on skin for inspiration, but what if examples of the exact type of tattoo you're after, on dark skin, simply aren't out there? How do you find the tattoos and artists that will work for you?

'I spent a long time researching and observing before picking artists... I could never get a tattoo on the spur of the moment because I’d be too anxious about whether they would be able to work with my skin or not'. - **Demi Colleen, Digital Creator.**

When it comes to making big decision based around getting a tattoo or even permanent make-up, it's always important to do your research. In a bid to dispel common myths about tattooing on black and dark skin tones and to help make up your mind, we spoke to Tattoo Artists Remee Bailey and Samantha Beeto get the lowdown on everything you need to know before getting inked. Notepads at the ready people!

Is There A Difference In Tattooing Dark Skin Tones Versus Lighter Skin Tones?

In short, yes, but it's all about finding an artist who will understand your skin tone and adapt tones accordingly. for Samantha's black and grey realism style, this is imperative - "Theres no difference in application, but the shades I use might change slightly,' says Samantha, 'I like the piece to look quite clear so there isn't a struggle to see details. To help achieve this I try to increase the contrast, I do this even more on darker skin and sometimes I will darken my mid - light tones, I mix my own greywash (ratio of black ink to water) so I can control the tones I use and make changes depending on the client.'

Do Coloured Tattoos Work On Dark and Black Skin Tones?

Don't rule out the idea of colour, but be prepared to discuss with your artist the possibility of some tones being more appropriate than others. 'With the advancement of the machines, the inks and the techniques that many artists are acquiring, I’ve seen artists pull off colour pieces on black skin that I didn’t think were possible. A handful of artists of have made it their business to defy what we thought we knew before and have made it possible' says Remee, but remember that all skin is delicate, Samantha adds, 'It's important to remember tattooing is on human skin (sounds obvious, I know) but it has had to go through whatever the client has gone through, so everyone's skin is different even outside of race and pigment. There's textures, scarring, sun damage and colour inks can often heal a different colour to what they look like when they are freshly done. So yes it can be achieved, but it takes a while to know what colours may be the boldest on certain tones and what works better for each clients expectations.'

Can You Get White Tattoos Done On Black Skin?

'White ink can be used on darker skin, but to do a whole tattoo in white ink doesn't sound like it would be long lasting or effective, and the results would differ from person to person, it doesn't always heal on white skin either,' says Samantha. 'I've used white ink as a highlight in my work as the finishing touch. It normally holds but the ink is never held as bright as it is at first application, as the healing process usually subdues the effect.. Every client and every persons skin is different. Experience and trialling different brands of ink may get you a more consistent result, but there will never be a guarantee it will hold perfectly.' Remember, Remee adds, 'tattoo ink goes IN the skin not ON the skin', so whatever designs you consider should reflect your depth of tone.

Do Dark Skin Tones Scar More Easily?

No! rest assured, according to Remee, this isn't at all genetic, but down to the artist. 'Any skin tone can scar if overworked and if an artist is working on dark skin and struggling to put a tone in then that will be the result', but trauma to the skin isn't a regular side effect that you should expect.

Can You Get Laser Tattoo Removal on Black Skin?

Not all Laser removal processes are the same, and some come with an increased risk of hyperpigmentation (darker patches of melanin), hypopigmentation (lightened patches where melanin is removed) and the potential of keyloid scarring. There are more gentle options on the market, but it is always better to be sure of your design and use laser removal as a last resort.

'Luckily a lot of places offer a free consultation so if you are interested it's worth investigating, and if your technician is nice and honest. They will give you the best information including all risks.' Samantha reassures, 'I think with time and progressive technology they'll be more more demand for places that offer services or have the means to cater for every skin type and it be more widely accessible'.

Finally, If It's Your First Tattoo, What Should You Look For In An Artist?

'The relationship between the artist and yourself is so important for trust and satisfaction.Artists should be happy to answer any of your questions or concerns if there is no evidence of them working on darker skin tones. There is a lot of racism in the tattoo industry and taking that extra time with being sure about your artist and their capability is worth it. If you have any doubt, then it’s best to wait it out and find an artist that is open and respectful. Don’t let anyone sway you about what you should or shouldn’t get; just be certain' - Demi Colleen.

'Find someone with a strong portfolio in the field of what you’re looking to get.Different artists do different things. There are so many tattooists now, and seeing their work is easier than ever. Take the time to shop around based on skill and reputation, and be confident in your choice based on how you feel about their work... this is a quality based industry so you get what you’re prepared to pay for, deal hunting is usually a road to regret and laser removal! You want your first tattoo to be an all round comfortable experience, so do your due diligence in researching before deciding to get something permanent on your body.'- Remee Bailey.

'Social media and filters even get used on pictures of fresh tattoos but a fresh tattoo isn't a true representation of what an artist's work looks like. A healed picture is the best way to judge someone's work, so if someone doesn't display healed photos and you're interested in booking with them request to see some as that's the product you're buying. If you're concerned that you can't see any examples of work on a skin tone close to yours - ask the artist! And make sure you find someone who's style you like. A lot of artists spend time perfecting their style over years and years, so if you find their style doesn't align with what you are after - just keep searching or perhaps even ask for recommendations for a suitable artist.' - Samantha Bee.

While you're thinking it over, check out some more artists work on black and dark skin tones that we love for more inspo.

©@Gentle_Jaz, Jaz Paulino
©@Poch_arts, Poch
tattoos black skin
ink the disapora
©@inkthediaspora @tattoosbynadia

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