Glow in the Dark Tattoos: Guide to Black Light & UV Ink

As Portland-based tattoo artist Kayla Newell set up her station to give me one of her popular glow in the dark tattoos, she asked, “Are you under black lights often?” I took longer to respond than I should have as my answer was a simple no. Most of my time is spent in an artificially lit office or under the warm glow of the single lamp in my room. But I felt embarrassed to admit that. I ended up telling Newell that I’m not typically in black light situations. To my relief, she replied, “That’s usually people’s answer.”

So, why did I get a black light tattoo? Besides having a fun, fluorescent design adorning my skin, getting inked with pigments that glow feels as close as I’ll get to a superpower. I have yet to be able to read minds, develop super strength, or teleport. If a black light is somehow involved, I could possibly distract a villainous person with the luminescent flowers on my arm though. Plus, I love anything that could make my skin glow, whether it’s a highlighter, vitamin C serum, or a UV tattoo.

What is a black light tattoo?

Yes, black light tattoos indeed glow — but only under black lights. When I turn off the lights at night, my tattoo doesn’t glow in the dark like the star stickers you might have put on your ceiling as a kid.

Getting a black light tattoo isn’t so different than getting a standard black-and-white or color tattoo. Newell was specific about the order in which she applied the colors, though. “Any amount of darker ink that seeps into the neon can adversely affect the color permanently, particularly its ability to glow when placed under UV light,” she explained. So, she started off with the black outline first, then moved onto pink, orange, and, finally, yellow ink. 

Are glow in the dark tattoos safe?

Tattoo ink, in general, is not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. On top of that, glow-in-the-dark pigments used in any cosmetic product is strictly regulated. According to the FDA’s website, it has only approved luminescent zinc sulfide is the only luminescent color approved for cosmetic use, and it has limitations for what it can be used in. There are also strict rules for use of neon pigments.

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