Yes, Glow-in-the-Dark Tattoos Exist—Here's What You Need To Know

Updated 10/15/19

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Glow-in-the-dark tattoos are a great way to put a vibrant spin on traditional ink. Most people assume that this tattoo style creates an ever-glowing design (that would be cool, huh?), but the truth is that most glow-in-the-dark tattoos are only able to be seen under a blacklight. This tattooing technique is perfect for any of these three reasons: if you're don't want to have an especially visible tattoo; if you want to be the life of the (dimly-lit) party, or you want to add a bit of pizzaz to a regular tattoo.

What Are Glow-in-the-Dark-Tattoos?

Glow-in-the-dark tattoos are normal tattoos made up of vivid, fluorescent colors that are quite difficult to see in daylight. These types of tattoos don’t quite live up to their names, though: they won’t just glow when you turn off the lights. Instead, glow-in-the-dark tattoos generally require a blacklight to trigger the glow-like reaction due to the UVA light it omits.

This style of tattooing is fairly new compared to a lot of other techniques, and it became popular in the 1990s due to the rise of the neon trend. When the style was originally developed, artists would use an ink solution containing phosphorus as well as traditional pigments. However, this technique was deemed dangerous due to phosphorus being a carcinogen that caused a number of skin conditions. Now, artists tend to stay away from ink containing the highly toxic chemical due to its dangerous nature.

Are They Safe?

Because tattoos artists no longer use ink with phosphorus to achieve the glowing effect, glow-in-the-dark tattoos are now generally considered just as safe as a normal tattoo. To replace the chemically dangerous pigments, glow-in-the-dark tattoos are now created using ink that is reactive to UV light.

However, it’s important to do quite a bit of research before going to get your own glow-in-the-dark tattoo: While most tattoo shops have switched to the new light-reactive ink, the presence of phosphorus is still possible. Tattoo ink, in general, is not regulated by the FDA, so there is always the possibility that specific shops or artists still use non-safe pigment. Also, most major ink manufacturers don’t readily offer a list of ingredients, and all-natural inks could still contain phosphorus (which is a natural chemical). While you may want to ditch the safety data in favor of a more vibrant tattoo, note that phosphorus-based inks could cause intense swelling, rashes, and burning.

Because of the uncertainty around what you’re putting into your skin, be sure you find an artist with a lot of glow-in-the-dark tattooing experience. You should also speak with your artist extensively about what ink they use and its phosphorus content. A good artist will understand your concerns and be able to put you at ease. Instead, inquire about using highly pigmented, UV-reactive ink. Such tattoos are naturally fluorescent, 100 percent vegan, and contain no additional chemicals. Getting a tattoo with UV reactive pigment is the exact same process as a normal tattoo—it just also glows!

How Long Do Glow-in-the-Dark Tattoos Last?

Glow-in-the-dark tattoos will last just as long as regular tattoos if you are careful and intentional about choosing artists who use UV-A reactive pigments. As with any tattoo, these ones will fade slowly over time but never fully disappear. It’s important to consider that if you ever find yourself in a position of wanting to cover up your glow-in-the-dark tattoo, colored ink applied on top may appear duller than expected, and the glow in the dark properties of the original tattoo will no longer work.

Because the pigments are much brighter, you may see more of a need to get a touch-up than with a normal black or deeper color-based designs. UV-reactive inks may even fade into different colors if exposed too much to the sun; (for example, blues may fade into yellows or browns). Other than this specific issue with the colors, glow in the dark tattoos are permanent and heal just like normal tattoos.

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