Are UV Tattoos Safe?

Tattoos are a visual expression of artistic freedom; a personal narrative told in a way that transcends language barriers. People mark themselves with ink for lots of different reasons, including but not limited to; communicating beliefs or ideologies, engraving a symbol of remembrance, or simply feeding their exhibitionist side. Pew Research Center's 2010 study revealed that about four out of ten millennials in the U.S. had tattoos. Within that number, 18% had six or more, while 50% had two to five. 

Although opinions surrounding tattoos continue to be polarized, they're increasingly being recognized as a legitimate form of body art and relatively normal, not least because of their growing ubiquity. The tattoo industry has grown remarkably over the years. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global tattoo market is expected to be worth $3.55 billion by 2029. This significant growth is mostly due to advancements in tattooing technology. 

The latest trend making waves with body modification aficionados is UV tattoos — a literally lit spin on regular ink. What sets UV tattoos apart is that, much like secret writing and codes used by World War I spies, UV tattoos are invisible under broad daylight. When they do appear, these tattoos shine like fairy lights. Imagine how many glistening works of art you could craft with this kind of tattooing technique. There's no denying the uniqueness of UV tattoos. But the question is: How safe are they? 

UV tattoos only appear under certain lighting

To achieve the glowy effect, UV tattoos are created using ink containing a fluorescent dye that responds to ultraviolet light but is difficult to pick up under regular lighting. The active component in UV tattoo ink — like phosphorus — makes it thinner and more difficult to maneuver than regular tattoo ink. Adding to the challenge is that your artist has to work under a blacklight instead of regular lighting to apply it correctly, according to Rochester Tattoo Removal

Thus, if you want to get your UV tattoo done right, make sure you're in very good hands. "These types of tattoos are actually only visible under blacklights," celebrity tattoo artist Dillon Forte confirmed to Byrdie. As a result, "For your typical blacklight tattoo, the artist has to be careful not to mix standard, darker pigments too close to the zinc sulfide as it may reduce its 'glow.'"

It's worth noting that blacklights aren't the same as complete darkness. They emit long-wave ultraviolet light and minimal visible light. For your UV tattoos to glow in the dark, you must stand under a UV lamp in a dark room. Standing in a pitch-black room without UV lighting won't make your UV tattoos illuminate either. That's the big inconvenience with UV tattoos: If you want to look like you're charged with superpowers, you'll need to find a properly lit space to rave in. 

The safety of UV tattoos is questionable

They may be highly unique but UV tattoos are not without safety concerns. As it stands, we have yet to see any extensive studies concerning the safety of UV ink use on humans. Currently, tattoo ink isn't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Further, Tattoo Health points out that UV ink is technically only permitted for use in the fishing and agricultural industries. Additionally, the use of UV tattoo ink has generated more complaints of adverse reactions than that of conventional tattoo ink. 

A number of people who got tattooed with UV ink reported experiencing infections, blisters, and rashes on their skin as a result. The presence of phosphorus is likely to blame for the hazards surrounding UV ink. This substance is understood to cause extreme skin reactions including blistering, burning, and rashes. Before getting tattooed, ask your artist what sort of ingredients are contained in the ink they use to avoid allergic reactions or bloodborne diseases. 

Durability-wise, the lifespan of UV tattoos depends a lot on where you put them, the kind of ink they're made of, and how you maintain them, per Byrdie. Tattoos that are inked on parts of the body that experience lots of friction and direct sunlight are likely to fade and lose their glow faster. Having said that, if you like to adorn yourself with tattoos but you don't like the negative attention that they attract, UV tattoos are arguably a safer option than traditional tattoos.