"Blackout" Tattoos Are a Bad Idea—Here's Why

blackout tattoo

Design by Cristina Cianci

Blackout tattoos have been rising in popularity recently, thanks to the aesthetic dominance of images on social media and an increase in dark blackwork tattoos. Many also turn to this kind of ink to cover-up a tattoo or a number of tattoos that are old, outdated, or otherwise disliked. But are blackout tattoos safe for your skin? And are they a form of cultural appropriation? Below, we spoke with a tattoo artist for their thoughts.

What Is a Blackout Tattoo?

A blackout tattoo is when a large section of the body (typically arms or legs) are inked with a solid, opaque covering of black ink. Basically, these tattoos are created by filling in a large area on the body with nothing but black ink, like coloring in a whole coloring page black. Blackout tattoos are sometimes used to cover-up older ink, but they’ve also seen rising popularity as first-pass tattoos.

Of course, as the nature of these tattoos may suggest, the process of getting a blackout tattoo is difficult and time-consuming. The bigger the area that you’re looking to be filled in, the more sittings your artist will need and the more needles will be used—both of which amount to more pain in general. Also, since blackout tattoos are designed to be completely solid, your tattoo artist will most likely have to go over spots multiple times to ensure an even and saturated pigment distribution. If even the smallest bit of skin is left blank or slightly transparent, it will ruin the entire look.

Cost & Healing Time

Because of the different sizes and efforts required for blackout tattoos, prices tend to vary greatly. Most likely, an artist who agrees to do a blackout tattoo will charge you per hour rather than per piece considering the amount of time it will require, including any over time. If you’re getting a blackout tattoo done by an experienced, reputable tattoo artist (as you should!), you should expect to pay between $100 and $300 per hour (though it could be more depending on the artist and studio—to determine the overall estimated cost, it’s best to ask your artist). On average, you can expect to spend at least $200 plus tip for a small area of your skin to be blacked-out.

While a blackout tattoo may seem like it will take longer to heal, the process is about the same as any other tattoo; it takes roughly two weeks for it to mostly heal, but it will take six months to fully heal. During the healing process, it’s recommended to clean it twice a day with unscented, antibacterial soap and then either dry it with a paper towel or let it air dry. Then, go over the tattooed area with your preferred lotion (most tattoo artists recommend Aquaphor, but you have a few options to choose from). You can also expect your blackout tattoos to go through a stage of itchiness, and you can expect that these pieces of ink will feel itchier than a normal piece due to the size and amount of pigment. Basically, there’s no real difference in terms of healing for blackout tattoos as opposed to “normal” ink—it’s just that it’s happening in a larger space and in a more concentrated way.

Dangers & Downsides of Blackout Tattoos

Aside from the pain factor, there are a few drawbacks to blackout tattoos. For one, blasting a bunch of black ink over a large section of skin means that you won’t be able to see the natural skin underneath. This makes it difficult to diagnose skin conditions like melanoma or skin anomalies. If you’re worried about the health of your skin, or if there’s a history of skin issues in your family, it may be best to stay away from blackout tattoos for that reason.

Blackout tattoos are also not particularly fun for your tattoo artist, considering they’d be sitting for hours just going back and forth, doing the same thing. And while your tattoo artist doesn’t have to be passionate about your tattoo (it’s yours, after all), it does help for them to be at least actively engaged. “It's also a very monotonous boring thing to tattoo for me,” says Elisheba Mrozik of Queen Bee Ink. “I’ve almost dozed off with that same repetitive motion and color and just solid black space.”

Meet the Expert

Elisheba Mrozik is a tattoo artist at Queen Bee Ink in Nashville. She is a former contestant on Spike TV’s Ink Master and IndieVilleTV’s 2015 Tattoo Artist of the Year. She has won multiple awards at conventions throughout the world.

Are Blackout Tattoos a Form of Cultural Appropriation?

Perhaps the most negative aspect of blackout tattoos is the fact that they’re generally seen as cultural appropriation. In this sense, appropriation is defined as “the taking of something created or culturally relevant to Black people that was once a negative, shameful, sinful, ridiculed, and reprehensible thing that received backlash of some sort in society” and then framing that in a positive light when you yourself are not Black, according to Mrozik. 

“I do think it is a form of cultural appropriation,” she explains. “It is also [insensitive] to think that blacking out your skin as a white person is a "trendy" thing when, for centuries, being dark-skinned in this nation has been a curse and cause for pain, strife, economic slavery and injustice, stolen wealth and legacies, ruinous incarceration rates, violent death, and dreams deferred.”

While blackout tattoos may not have originated as a way to purposely darken your skin, that is exactly what they do. And it’s difficult to ignore the fact that choosing to darken your skin in any capacity as a non-Black person is problematic, particularly when Black folks face daily discrimination because of their complexion. By choosing to ignore the obvious impact of a blackout tattoo, we unconsciously support white supremacy and reinforce systemic racism.

“Ignorance of something does not excuse people from its consequences,” says Mrozik. “In the end, it is your body … but that doesn’t mean the societal affect/reaction will align with yours.”

Removing Blackout Tattoos

In the same way that the size and opacity of a blackout tattoo may cause you to think the healing process would be more complicated than traditional ink, you may be thinking that this type of ink is more difficult to have removed. However, it’s actually essentially the same process as any other tattoo—it will just most likely take longer.

While a typical tattoo takes somewhere between three and eight sessions to fade and be completely removed, blackout tattoos could require more like 15 plus sessions with a laser technician. Removing a blackout tattoo will also be more expensive than a smaller piece of ink—you can expect to pay double or triple the tattoo's cost to get it removed.

The good news is that black ink is the easiest for lasers to remove, so you don’t have to be concerned about the darkness of the pigment. For specific information on your personal blackout tattoo removal process, though, it’s imperative you consult your technician/medical professional. They’ll be able to get a look at your ink and customize the removal plan to your blackout tattoo so you get the best care (and price!) possible.

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