9 Tips For Getting A Tattoo On Brown Skin

Getting a tattoo as a brown skinned woman is more challenging than it ought to be.
Publish date:
February 9, 2015
brown skin, tattoos, skin care, cetaphil

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.”

6. Your tattoo is going to look mad ugly from a couple days after you get it to a few weeks down the road, and it'll probably make you sad.

7. It'll also itch like crap. Don't itch it.

Don't feel bad about your tattoo looking like a peeling mess for the first few weeks you have it. It's a natural and extremely annoying part of the healing process. Just don't itch it, and imagine how cute it'll be once it's done scabbing.

8. Seriously, don't itch it. Wear gloves to sleep if you have to.

Itching your tattoo at this stage can seriously damage the healing process and lift the ink to the point that you may need to go in for touch-ups if it's too extensive. Keeping the area moisturized with Aquaphor or Eucerin will help alleviate the itching somewhat, but many people (read: me, specifically), wind up itching in their sleep as well. It might sound ridiculous, but wearing gloves to keep myself from scratching it really did help. It's goofy, and your partner may or may not judge you, but it works! To add, anyone who judges you for taking care of your body art doesn't deserve you.

9. Both my getting a tattoo and this entire article have been a long con to plug Cetaphil soap, because it is amazing.

OK, this isn't actually true, but Cetaphil soap is amazing as a gentle cleanser for your tattoo (because you'll want something that's mild, scent-free and dye-free to wash it). In addition, I honestly hadn't noticed how drying and irritating my other soaps were until I started using the Cetaphil cleansing bar exclusively for my tattoo. It's now my favorite soap, hands down, and I'll gleefully suggest it to any other person with super dry and sensitive skin who's looking for the magical soap of legend that doesn't totally suck the moisture out of us.

  • Are you a brown lady with a tattoo?
  • What was your experience?