Saturday, July 2, 2016

Things to Consider About UV Reactive (Blacklight) Tattoo Ink

Skincandy, the only well-known brand I could find.
While the novelty of "blacklight" tattoos seems to have had its day, it remains and option some tattoo collectors consider. For many, it is a conservative alternative to the traditional tattoo; under normal light the tattoo is supposed to be invisible, but under UV light the tattoo glows. This means that one might safely have their arms exposed or neck tattooed while at work or around family where having a tattoo might be inconvenient, but have an obvious tattoo that stands out when at a nightclub.

 This, however, may not be the case. During the tattoo healing process, which can last for months (two-weeks being the common amount of time that needs to pass before a tattoo is healed enough to be touched-up), a UV reactive ink tattoo will have the same potential redness from irritation as a regular tattoo (without the benefit of there being an obvious tattoo to explain the irritation). There is an equal chance of minor scaring or raised skin for a UV reactive tattoo, more so if the artist is inexperienced with working with UV reactive ink. After the tattoo is fully healed, the UV reactive ink in the skin may take on a brownish hue. While typically not dark enough to be noticed from a distance, the tattoo may be visible under regular light to those in close proximity. Colored UV reactive tattoo ink often appears washed-out in regular light, and can also take on a rusty hue in time.

Note the visibility in regular light.
 When selecting the location of your UV ink tattoo, it may be wise to pick a spot that can be easily covered if one has concerns about the tattoo being seen.

 You should expect to pay more for a UV reactive tattoo. UV reactive tattoos are not frequently requested, requiring a tattooer to purchase the more expensive ink specifically for your tattoo (and with a high likelihood that the ink will expire before another client asks for a UV reactive tattoo). The set-up for the tattoo requires the introduction of specific equipment; a UV lamp, in order to see the progress of the tattoo. The tattoo process will also take longer, as the added step of checking line work and the effectiveness of fill and shading require turning on the UV lamp to inspect the work. The tattooer will work in regular light in order to see the tattoo stencil and the needle during the tattoo application. There is also a greater likelihood of the tattoo requiring a touch-up. All of these factors can lead to a UV reactive tattoo costing twice as much as a tattoo using conventional inks.  

 The ink itself may also be a point of concern. A collector needs to be aware that tattoo-ink standards are maintained by the industry itself, not any government regulating body. The only cases in which the FDA has ruled on the use of inks is in the tattooing of food-animals, and in those cases the inks used must be safe for human consumption. This lack of regulation has the benefit of keeping the price of inks (and therefore tattoos) lower than they would be with regulation, but it also means that you, as the collector, need to be confident about what is going into your skin. The chemicals used to make the ink glow, such as phosphor (typically a copper or silver activated zinc-sulfide) can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Insist that your artist use a brand that has a solid reputation for safety and consistency in the industry, and if you are unsure about the ink your tattooer wants to use, ask around. 

This white-ink tattoo shows how UV ink may look  healed.
 Shopping three currently popular tattoo ink brands; Eternal, Fusion, and Intenze, I found that none offer UV reactive inks. Of the companies I did find, Skincandy was the only brand name I recognized. Please be aware that this is not a recommendation or endorsement of their product. 

 The final point of consideration with UV reactive tattoo inks is that they have not been in use long enough to know all the potential long-term hazards. While there is nothing at this time to suggest any long-term risk, we simply do not have the amount of data regarding the UV reactive inks as we do other inks with which we in the industry can be confident about. With UV reactive ink, it is even more imperative that the tattoo collector be aware that they are signing a waiver absolving their tattooer and tattoo shop of responsibility when getting a tattoo. The UV reactivity of the ink may only last for a few years or less, but may still have an unforeseen impact in the future.  

 While the point is often re-iterated in my articles about tattooing, it is worth repeating: think before you ink.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at

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