Everything You Need to Know About White Tattoos on Dark Skin

Rihanna white ink hand tattoo

Byrdie / Gregg DeGuire / Getty Images

Tattoos offer an opportunity to lean into creative expression in new ways. From full sleeves to dainty tattoos to everything in between, the options are truly endless. However, finding the right design that fits your personality can take some time, and rightfully so. Because even though there is technology that can remove tattoos, the process is painful, and no one wants to end up with a permanent work of art they don't love. This same approach should be applied when selecting ink, especially for anyone with darker skin. We know that white ink tattoos are currently trending, but are they worth the investment for those with deeper skin tones?

To learn more about white tattoo ink and how it interacts with dark skin tones, we chatted with tattoo artist Miryam Lumpini. If you're curious about getting your next (or first) tattoo in a full white ink design, keep reading to learn more about the process from start to finish.

Meet the Expert

  • Miryam Lumpini is a tattoo artist and global creative director of BodyMark by BIC, a line of cosmetic-quality and skin-safe temporary tattoo markers.

What Are White Ink Tattoos?

If you're looking into getting a white ink tattoo, you're likely already familiar with what a white ink tattoo is. But you know we love to break things down step-by-step. Simply put, a white ink tattoo is a design in which a tattoo artist uses only white ink to complete the artwork. While the tattoo process doesn't differ from black to white ink, white ink operates differently when applied to the skin, especially deep skin tones. For example, unlike darker ink, white ink is translucent when applied to the skin, making it easy for the skin color to pass through the opaque ink. However, if you're looking for a design that is more subtle, white ink may still be an ideal option for you.

White Ink Tattoos on Dark Skin vs. Fair Skin

"The actual tattoo process isn't much different [when working with white ink]," Lumpini shares. "It's more in the tattoo healing process. Since there is a filter of skin that develops as it heals with the ink (fair or dark skin), the tattoo aftercare process is the most important piece to preserving ink, especially when using white ink." We'll dive deeper into that later. No matter the skin tone, white ink tends to have more of a 3D effect on the skin. However, as time goes on, the white ink will lose its luster. With that said, we recommend working with a tattoo artist who specializes in dark skin and who also has a solid understanding of how white ink will fare on your unique skin complexion.

How Do You Find the Right Artist?

"The most important step is to go to a reputable establishment that uses antiseptics and is happy to discuss with you how they keep their instruments and inks sterile," New York City,board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King tells Byrdie.

Getting and Caring for a White Ink Tattoo

So how do you care for a white ink tattoo if you choose to go forth with a design? Luckily, there's no need to overthink it. Lumpini shares that caring for a white ink tattoo is similar to how you would care for any tattoo. However, she emphasizes that it is important to "always follow your artist's instructions for cleaning and moisturizing that's specific to your piece. Most important, be sure to keep your tattoo away from sunlight." Keeping your tattoo protected from the sun is essential. UV rays will fade your new work of art, because as the skin absorbs the sun's rays, they will break down the ink in your new tattoo.

You might be wondering if it's okay to apply sunscreen to a fresh tattoo. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Only apply SPF to tattoos once your piece is completely healed. To still protect your tattoo while healing, it is best to avoid direct sun exposure, seeking shade when possible and keeping the tattoo covered with loose clothing when possible.

As far as how long a white tattoo will look its best, Lumpini says that this will be unique to you. "It can be based on the individual and how their healing process went [and] the quality of the ink or the artist. It's so important to care of your tattoos properly in the beginning to preserve the ink and the overall tattoo art in white ink tattoos, and in tattoos in general," Lumpini says.

All tattoo ink fades over time. However, white ink typically fades more rapidly due to the light color of the ink. So, be sure to keep that in mind as you select both your design and your ink.

How can you tell your tattoo is or isn't healing properly?

If you find that you're experiencing intense pain, swelling, excessive bleeding or oozing, headaches, or fever after a tattoo service, King recommends seeing your doctor as soon as possible. "The most common early signs of a tattoo infection are red bumps around the area of the tattoo," she explains. "Red bumps could also be skin irritation because of the needle, in which case the symptoms should fade after a few days. However, if the symptoms persist or worsen, and if you experience fever, swelling of the tattooed area, pus coming out of the tattooed area, or areas of hard, raised tissue, then see your doctor." As you wait for your doctor's visit, King urges keeping the area clean by washing gently with soap and warm water and apply bacitracin ointment or prescription mupirocin ointment.

White Henna Tattoos

If you've seen white henna tattoos on dark skin, you know that they pop, and there's a reason for that: medical adhesive glue and white body paint. It's also important to note that while white henna is called "henna," it's not traditional henna. It's a dye, and unlike traditional henna—which is a dye extracted from the leaves of the henna plant and will last two weeks before it starts to fade—white henna typically lasts five to six days.

The Final Takeaway

White ink tattoos do have their creative space in the world of tattoos. However, it is essential to keep in mind the delicate nature of white ink in addition to your skin tone before asking a tattoo artist to solely use white ink. In addition, make sure you work with a tattoo artist who not only knows their stuff but will be 100% honest with you about how the design of your tattoo will wear over time. You don't want to have any regrets about what is typically a permanent piece of art on your skin.

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