While all skin is different, most general tattoo advice on the internet is written for white people or those with a lighter complexion. Of course, we have the basic rules that apply to all skin color, like getting your ink from a reputable artist, or being sure to give your design proper aftercare. But, there’s also the need for tips and advice that’s tailor-made for people with a deeper complexion. Not because deeper skin is difficult to work with, but because there needs to be balance – with tattoo artists, consultants, and the advice provided. So, with that in mind, we spoke to five tattoo artists to get their tips and advice when it comes to tattooing deeper skin.
The differences and similarities between different skin complexions
As mentioned, it’s important to remember that all skin is different. “I think it’s important to first understand that all skin varies, from tone, and texture, to placement on the body of an individual,” says hand poke and traveling tattoo artist Corrie Foreman, noting that it’s also “part of the tattoo artist’s job to understand this and take it into consideration whilst tattooing.” French non-binary tattooist Katie McPayne is also on the same page, saying “we really need to acknowledge that every person, no matter their skin color or the different spot on the body, will react differently.”
On color preferences
All ink colors can of course be tattooed on deeper skin tones but, according to Filipino tattoo artist Raychelle Duazo, who inks at Moody Seattle tattoo shop in Seattle, Washington, “warm colors enhance the richness of both the tattoo and the person’s natural skin tone while cooler colors, like green or blue, contrast with deeper skin tones making the colors themselves more vibrant.” New York based artist X Roxann also noted: “I’m familiar with black and red healing well on deeper tones. Reds tend to darken over time to become a visible burgundy.” Generally though, it’s wise to talk to your artist about color choices, so you can ensure you’re going to get the best results.
You may also, as X Roxann puts it, want to consider taking patch tests if you want to clearly “see how a certain color will heal within your specific skin tone.” Arab artist Sema Graham, who is currently a resident at Fudo Tattoo and Time Being in Chicago, also shared, “I’m willing to do whatever my client needs to feel good in their body.”
The healing process
In terms of healing, Graham explained that “the layer of skin that tattoo ink settles into is underneath the layer of melanin in our skin. So, lighter colors will heal darker.” But, as Duazo noted, “no matter what skin tone, if a tattooer is good at what they do, a tattoo will always look vibrant and heal well.” This, of course, also depends on whether you perform proper aftercare procedures. Again, talking to your artist is the best way to know how to take care of your new ink properly.
We all have different reactions to different ink colors but, if you notice something weird like too much itching or swelling, paying your artist a visit is the best way to go. And, as Foreman says, “all tattoos age and fade with time. It’s important for the artists to educate their clients on this.” Keep in mind that your tattoo, regardless of your skin color, will change and fade over time, long after it’s healed.
Keloid and other similar concerns
Rumor has it that people with deeper skin are more prone to developing keloid, or an overgrowth of scar tissue once an injury (in this case, tattooing) has healed. To be clear, keloid is not an issue just for people with deep skin. Many people with a lighter complexion also develop this.
However, McPayne notes that “deeper skin is more prone to keloid, but we can avoid it by understanding we have to be softer. The problem is a lot of tattoo artist think deeper skin is hard skin, when it’s the contrary.” Duazo also agreed, saying, “I can imagine that tattooers who aren’t used to tattooing deeper skin tones would go deeper than they would on a lighter-skinned person, and that might irritate the skin more, causing it to heal differently.”
Advice for deeper-skinned people getting their first tattoo
“When searching for the right artist, be sure to look through their portfolio for work that’s been done on a similar skin tone to yours,” advises X Roxann. It’s one thing to get inked, but it’s another to get inked by someone who is familiar with your type of skin. “Look for an artist who will treat you with respect and listen to you,” Graham advises. “Tattoos on deep skin are beautiful. You deserve to have an amazing tattoo experience.”
The intersection between skin tone and tattoos can be considered a sensitive topic, but it’s also one that should be discussed. At the end of the day though, whatever your complexion, it’s all about being properly guided and feeling comfortable before you get inked.