While there’s plenty of widely accepted knowledge for our light-skinned counterparts, trying to find the same information for darker skinned folks is teeth-grindingly difficult. Even looking up tattoo inspiration photos for us is an unnecessarily challenging feat, because there’s no combination of “brown,” “skin,” and “tattoo” that doesn’t result in pages and pages of white people with brown ink etched into their skin. Trust me, I’ve tried.
That having been said, it’s by no means impossible to get a tattoo, or find a design that works well for you. My own experience getting my first tattoo had some bumps, but I learned a lot about the process–and how it’s a bit different for us dark-skinned beauties–that could be helpful toward making your first appointment.
1. Make sure to get an honest consultation at or before your tattoo appointment.
Consultations before tattoos are an extremely important step, especially if you’ve got darker skin, and would like extensive color work. Let the consultation be an interview, both for your tattoo artist and for understanding the possibilities and limitations of the tattoo you want. And don’t be pressured into getting something that you don’t like without a second opinion from a trusted source. Remember: tattoos are, by and large, forever! Make sure it’s something that you like.
2. Get someone who knows what they’re doing.
My tattoo artist, Allie, was amazing. He walked me through the steps of how everything would be done, and the limitations of the simple text design I chose. Most importantly, though, he worked with me to find something that I liked and would work well as a tattoo. He said that one of the most important things for getting a tattoo on darker skin is to find an artist who’s skilled at tattooing in general. “People make the assumption that if you work at a tattoo shop, you know how to tattoo,” he warned. “Don’t make that assumption.”
3. Avoid lighter greens, yellows, bubblegum pinks, and pastels if you have dark skin.
Allie explained that tattoo inks are largely translucent in nature, save for the darkest blacks. This is something that should be kept in mind when choosing colors for your design, because a translucent yellow, green, or bright pink is unlikely to show up well on very dark skin. White ink is also largely translucent (and will dull to a creamier brown shade on brown skin), but can be used pretty creatively in the right hands–all the more reason to shop around for the best tattoo artist!
4. If you’re of African ancestry, know whether or not your skin is prone to keloids.
There’s an automatic assumption that people of African ancestry develop keloids, which is a type of raised, puffy scar. While this can be true of a lot of people with African ancestry, it’s not true of all of us, and knowing whether or not you’re prone to this type of scarring can help your tattoo artist know if they need to use different techniques. Allie noted that a common mistake he saw a lot of tattoo artists make on darker skinned people is working on an area for too long, which leads to an increased risk of visible scarring, so be sure to listen to how your artist says they’ll handle that in their work process.
5. There ARE NOT special inks for dark skin
I’m sure some of y’all have heard this. Heck, I’ve heard it. Thing is, tattoo ink will work the same way on everyone’s skin, and there isn’t some kind of magical proprietary formula that will allow you to have a yellow tattoo that pops like it’s painted on. It can be worth it to call companies to know what their pigments are made of, but as far as race-specific tattoo ink formulas? As Allie puts it, “It’s complete and utter f*cking malarkey.”