There are endless possibilities when it comes to tattoo design, from the intricacy of the image to the ink colors used. Recently, white ink tattoos have become more popular.
White ink tattoos use white ink rather than traditional black ink to create the design of the tattoo. These delicate tattoos are considered the more subtle choice.
But are white ink tattoos all they’re cracked up to be?
Before you book your next tattoo appointment, here are a few things you’ll want to know about white ink tattoos, especially on darker skin tones.
As it turns out, white ink tattoos are vastly different from darker tattoos — and not necessarily in a good way.
White tattoo ink is translucent
“It’s not really about the process and more about the fact that tattoo ink is translucent,” explains Jake Farris, a professional tattoo artist who owns Studio 13 Tattoo in Indiana.
“Skin color can pass through a tattoo, so your natural skin tone will always be dominant unless you use a tattoo ink that’s darker than your natural complexion,” he says. “The darkest tone is always going to be what shows up.”
Since white ink is the lightest ink color available, this will be the case for most people who decide to get a white ink tattoo.
“What happens to these tattoos is that the color of your skin starts to show through,” Farris says.
Many people aren’t aware of this, however, and white tattoos have become an enticing option for other reasons.
Above all, they’re much more subtle than tattoos done in darker ink. This makes them a tempting choice for people who want a design that’s less noticeable than your average colored tattoo.
White ink tattoos have a raised effect
The skin tends to look more raised when white ink is used, which can give the tattoo a 3-D effect.
And white ink tattoos, much like white clothing or accessories, can glow under UV light.
However, most of these effects are short-lived, and the pictures of white ink tattoos you may find online are often misleading.
“White ink tattoos look great the day of, because fresh ink always looks good,” Farris explains. “But no one is posting photos of their 4- or 5-year-old white tattoos on Pinterest or Instagram.”
White ink fades faster than other colors
“White ink is used to change the tone of other colors,” says Farris. “It’s not meant to be used as a standalone tattoo color.”
Not only do white ink tattoos fade faster than black ink tattoos, but their look can change dramatically as they do.
“What happens is, as a full white ink tattoo fades, it slowly fades to different shades that aren’t the same tone all the way through,” explains Farris.
These changes can vary dramatically depending on the person’s skin tone, as well. Eventually, the tattoo may end up looking like a faint scar.
Given the translucent nature of white ink, a white ink tattoo may not stay white for long, especially for those with a darker skin tone.
That’s because the darker your skin tone, the more easily it will show through the white ink. A white tattoo on darker skin may even turn another color entirely, such as yellow.
But people with pale skin aren’t immune to changes in their white ink tattoos, either. Any skin tone will inevitably show through white ink, and the new color may be uneven.
Drawing from his own experience, Farris says, “Most people end up with a splotchy tattoo in about 45 to 60 days, once it’s healed.”
Still, the idea of a white ink tattoo is appealing to some, and the decision to get one is entirely personal.
Find an artist who has experience with white ink tattoos
No matter what your skin tone is, it’s always important to make sure that you’re choosing a tattoo artist who has experience with white ink tattoos.
And if you have darker skin, try to find an artist who’s also experienced in tattooing it.
Tattoo aftercare is an important part of healing and preserving the look of your tattoo. White ink tattoos should be cared for with the same practices as colored ink or black ink tattoos.
Here are some tips:
- On the first day, wash your tattoo with clean water and gentle soap only.
- On the second and third days, scabs will begin to form. Continue to wash the tattoo with gentle soap and apply a gentle moisturizer.
- At the end of the first week, you’ll notice more scabs forming. Don’t pick at them, or you’ll risk scarring your skin.
- During the second week, the scabs will begin to fall off naturally. You can use a gentle moisturizer to soothe any itching or discomfort.
- During the third and fourth weeks, most of the scabs will fall off, and the skin should be in the final stages of healing.
According to Farris, it takes about 45 to 60 days for a tattoo to completely heal.
If at any point during the healing process you notice redness, swelling, or pus, see a doctor immediately. This could indicate an infection.
Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to prevent white ink tattoos from fading or changing color.
If you’re not happy with the look of your white ink tattoo after it’s healed, you can visit your tattoo artist to explore ways to change or hide it.
While some tattoo artists may use a different process to tattoo white ink, pain during the tattoo process usually generally depends on two things:
- the location of the tattoo
- the pain tolerance of the individual
Some of the more painful tattoo areas include bony areas, such as the:
Sensitive areas of the body can also be more painful when tattooed. These include the:
See the tattoo pain charts below for a breakdown of the most painful areas.
White ink tattoos may sometimes require more saturation for the color to show through, especially on darker skin. In these cases, the tattoo artists may require deeper or repeated needling to make the tattoo “stick,” which can also be more painful.
Tattoo pain chart for women
Tattoo pain chart for men
Tattoo pricing is generally influenced by the:
- size of the tattoo
- intricacy of the design
- experience and artistry of the tattoo artist
The best way to determine how much your white ink tattoo will cost is to discuss it with the tattoo parlor or artist directly.
Tattoos that take more effort — such as those requiring white ink — may end up costing more than simple black ink designs.
If you’re still on the fence about getting a permanent white ink tattoo, you might consider a temporary white henna design.
Although henna isn’t the same as getting a tattoo, it can be a temporary alternative for people who want a vibrant white design that doesn’t fade or discolor like a white ink tattoo.
White henna vs. natural (dark) henna
Henna is a natural dye created from the leaves of the henna plant. When henna is mixed with water, it can be applied to the skin as a skin dye and used to create intricate designs.
White henna, on the other hand, is created through a simple DIY mixture of two ingredients:
- medical adhesive glue
- white body paint or powder
According to Beachcombers, a DIY henna blog, medical adhesive glue allows the white henna to stick to the skin, while the white body paint or powder gives the henna its distinctive bright white look.
Because white henna isn’t technically a “dye,” it doesn’t last multiple weeks like regular henna does.
Most medical grade adhesives usually only last for 5 to 10 days, so white henna likely won’t last any longer than this.
DIY white ink henna tattoos
White ink tattoos aren’t the most popular choice among tattoo artists, for a variety of reasons.
White ink simply can’t saturate the skin in the same way that darker ink does, and white ink tattoos tend to fade more quickly.
In most cases, white ink tattoos don’t even end up white at all after the healing process, especially on black skin.
If you do decide to get a white ink tattoo, make sure to find a tattoo artist who’s knowledgeable about this type of tattoo.
If you have dark skin, you should also look for a tattoo artist who has experience with darker skin tones. They can help you better understand what the result of your white ink tattoo will be.