White tattoos can have a subtle but captivating effect. Though they may be less noticeable from afar, they tend to be striking for their uniqueness up close. On lighter skin, they can create a soft, minimalist design, while on darker skin, they can really pop. If you’re looking for a truly distinctive tattoo idea, you may be considering a white ink tattoo. However, there are certain caveats to consider, and we’ll outline them hereafter explaining how an artist actually creates a white ink tattoo.
What Is a White Tattoo?
White ink tattoos do not follow the usual tattoo process of stenciling and outlining a design in black. Instead, the tattoo itself is completely done with white ink, leaving a pale image that looks quite different from a traditional tattoo. White ink tattoos can look like brands (or scarification), or they can have a very subtle appearance, which can serve as a good alternative for someone who can’t have an obvious tattoo at work. The white ink used for tattoos differs from that used in color tattoos. Artists use thicker, high-quality ink for white tattoos to encourage the design to stand out.
A stencil can be used with a white ink tattoo, or the tattoo can be done freehand. If using a stencil, the artist must take care to ensure that the ink used in stenciling does not mix with the white ink being used for the tattoo itself, which can dull the brightness of the ink. Additionally, white tattoos can require several passes over the area to make sure the white ink sinks fully into the skin.
How Long Do White Ink Tattoos Last?
Tattoo artists in our network have informed us that white ink tattoos fade or change in appearance much faster than tattoos created with black or colorful ink. At times, they take on a particular tint as they age. Some experts say these changes can occur in as few as 45 to 60 days.
Why do these changes sometimes occur? The melanin (pigment) in the epidermis layer of the skin covers the dermis layer, which contains the tattoo ink. In other words, the melanin acts as a lens through which you’re seeing the tattoo ink. With pale skin, the ink may therefore appear whiter, while with darker skin, the increased melanin may make the ink look discolored or faded. It may take on the same hue as the skin or even a different hue based on the skin’s undertones. The tattoo can also develop a blotchy look—even for people with fairer skin—due to fluctuations in skin tones, tattoo artists have noted. Over time, white ink tattoos have a greater likelihood than other colors of changing in appearance.
Facts About White Ink Tattoo Side Effects
Some individuals may also experience a skin reaction to the white ink, which occurs much more commonly than a reaction to black tattoo ink. In some cases, the skin may swell, itch, and even ooze in the tattooed area. This can be a sign that your skin is actually rejecting the white ink, and you may end up with no tattoo in that area as a result.
White tattoos are not ideal for areas of the body that will be exposed to the sun and weather. White ink can turn quite dull if frequently exposed to the sun, so it’s important to choose an area that will be covered when outdoors, such as your chest, back, or even the underside of your arm. Hand tattoos or designs in other exposed places have a high likelihood of fading for the same reason. Harsh household chemicals can also damage a white tattoo.
Are White Ink Tattoos Difficult for Laser Removal?
Most white ink tattoos cannot be reliably removed by laser.
Tattoo removal on white ink is unpredictable at best in some cases, white ink can actually become darker from laser tattoo removal. White tattoo ink often contains titanium oxide and/or zinc, both of which can darken with exposure to light.
Every tattoo responds to laser removal slightly differently, and the response of white tattoo ink is especially difficult to predict.
White tattoos can certainly be beautiful pieces of body art. Just be aware of the removal hurdles and potential changes in the appearance of a white ink tattoo, should you choose to get one in the future.