3 Myths About Tattooing Dark Skin That You Need to Stop Believing RN

Ama Kwarteng
·8 mins read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

I got three out of my four tattoos on a whim (and maybe under the influence too, but I can’t confirm nor deny that), but for most people, the decision of whether or not they should get inked starts with design and artist research (aka stalking Instagram). But for people with dark skin tones, this prep work can raise some pretty serious questions. If you take a quick scroll through any tattoo inspo page, it might be a while before you see a design on someone with dark skin—and you might not see anyone at all. And it's no secret that this lack of representation can make people question if the tattoo they want—or any tattoo at all—is even possible for their skin tone.

The internet doesn’t really do much to clear anything up either—your Google search results will probs have you digging through conflicting info from wannabe experts, leaving you with mental whiplash. So what is the truth *Oprah Winfery voice* about tattoos for dark skin? To help set the record straight, I reached out to dermatologist Joyce I. Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, Debbi Snax, Atlanta-based tattoo artist, and Tann Parker, Brooklyn based tattoo consultant and founder of Ink the Diaspora, to get all the deets, ahead.

Is there a difference in tattooing dark skin tones versus lighter skin tones?

There are a few differences in tattooing dark skin tones versus light—kinda like how there are differences in styling curly hair versus straight hairbut when it comes to the overall structure and make up of the skin, everyone is the same regardless of skin tone, says Dr. Ip. Quick bio lesson: There are three layers to the skin—the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous fat (aka the jiggly stuff right underneath the surface).

In the epidermis, there are pigmented cells called melanocytes, and everyone (yes, everyone, regardless of how light or dark you are) has the same number of them swimming around in their body. Melanocytes produce melanosomes, and that's what determines skin color, says Dr. Ip. People of color produce more amounts of melanosomes, giving their skin a different shade. So the whole idea that people with darker skin tones have "tougher" or "thicker" skin, making it more difficult to tattoo? It's rooted in racist stereotypes, says Parker.

Because tattooing has traditionally been a white-and-cis-male-dominated space, Debbi adds, there's a ton of intimidation when it comes to tattooing dark skin. But the only difference between navigating tattooing different skin tones is just having the knowledge to do so. According to Parker, being a skilled tattoo artist means you know how to tattoo on all skin tones—not just lighter ones. And with that, let's unpack a few of the most common myths about tattooing darker skin tones:

Myth #1: People with darker skin tones can't get color tattoos

Totally false. Parker says this is blanket statement that's gained traction because of the lack of skill of many tattoo artists. "A lot of artists are like, 'Oh, I've tried it before and it just didn't look right, so it must not work,'" says Parker. "It's actually not the skin that's the problem—it's the artist. They don't understand skin and tattooing."

It's all about having an understanding of how color works when it comes to deeper skin tones, says Snax. So, yes, color tattoos will show up on dark skin tones. Certain colors pop on different skin tones (Snax loves using earth tone shades on some of her clients), and it's up to the artists to acquire that skill set instead of giving shady excuses.

Myth #2: Tattoo artists can't do fine-line designs on people with darker skin tones

This myth is rooted in, you guessed it, racism. Fine-line designs are thin— and because people think that they need to be tougher when tattooing dark skin in order for the lines to show up, they think that this delicate style isn't possible to achieve on deep skin tones. But this isn't true at all, says Parker. In fact, some tattoo artists are way too aggro during the inking process, they add.

For example, an artist might do the first line, not see it right away, and then think that they have to go over the line two or three more times, when that's really not the case. "It's about taking your time to understand what you're actually doing and giving the skin time to react," Parker says.

Myth #3: People with darker skin tones scar easily from tattoos

The scarring issue has more to do with the overcompensation of artists when tattooing dark-skinned clients than the skin tone itself. Some artists have a tendency to run their machines higher (again, under the guise that they have "tougher skin") which causes some major (and unnecessary) damage. "It's not that the tattoo won't heal well, it's that you're not applying it in a way that allows it to heal well," says Snax.

Even though people with darker skin tones have more fibroblasts in their skin—a cell that boosts collagen-production at wound sites—which predisposes them to scars and keloids, says Dr. Ip, when it comes to tattooing, those results are more likely caused by a tattoo that wasn't applied correctly to the skin.

What should I look for in a tattoo artist?

1. Check out their Instagram. Both Snax and Parker recommend checking out an artist's IG and website to see if they have any pics of their work on dark skin tones and that they have the skill set. And stay woke—some artists are in the game purely for money, instead of putting their clients first. Parker says that if the artist uses language like "tattooing all shades" and promotes racial diversity in their IG bio, but you don't see a tattoo on anyone with a dark skin tone until 20 posts down, it's a red flag.

2. Ask to see healed photos of tattoos on dark skin. Most artists will post freshly inked tattoos on their IG, but if you want to see how the tattoo will age on your skin (and if you want to avoid deep scarring), reach out to them for pictures, says Snax.

3. Look for an artist that is patient with you and willing to put the time in. Don't feel awkward asking all the questions—your tattoo is going to be on your body forever, so you want to make sure it's done right. If you're thinking of getting a color tattoo, artists can do ink swatches, says Parker, to see how different shades will heal on your skin tone. Your artist can also do stencils of tattoos, so you can see how they'll show up on your skin. It's important that you book an appointment with someone who's willing to take these steps to make you feel secure in your decision.

The bottom line

Being a skilled tattoo artist means you know how to tattoo on all skin tones, not just lighter ones, says Parker. It's kind of similar to styling different hair textures—there are differences in what a Black person's hair needs vs. what a white person's hair needs. But at the end of the day, it's still hair. And can you really call yourself an expert in your field if you can't handle any client that walks through your door?

When you're looking for an artist for your next tattoo, do your own research to make sure they check off all the boxes. And if you hear them repeat any of the myths above—on to the next one. In the meantime, here's a few pics of stunning tattoos on dark skin to get your inspiration flowing:

1. This colorful floral tattoo for dark skin

2. This blue tattoo for dark skin

3. This cupid tattoo for dark skin

4. This text tattoo for dark skin

5. This portrait tattoo for dark skin

You Might Also Like