For These With Darker Skin, Obtaining The Right Tattoo Artist Can Be A Struggle

Diverse skin tones call for distinct tattooing approaches. That can make items tough on tattoo artists and their customers alike.


Tattoos have long ceased to be the mark of a rebel. Nearly half of all millennials have a tattoo, according to a 2016 Harris poll. And even although tattoos have turn into a lot more widespread, several with darker skin struggle to uncover tattoo artists who know how to function on their skin varieties. As NPR’s Parth Shah reports, diverse skin tones call for a different tattooing strategy.

PARTH SHAH, BYLINE: Receiving a tattoo can be nerve wracking. But Osuna Afrik (ph) is no newbie.

OSHUN AFRIK: This is my 35th tattoo.

SHAH: Afrik lounges on the sofa at Pinz and Needlez Tattoo shop in Washington, D.C. While she sips her morning coffee, shop owner Christopher Mensah is busy sketching out Afrik’s 35th tattoo. Afrik has dark brown skin. For the tattoo to show up on her, Mensah says the design requirements to be huge and bold.

CHRISTOPHER MENSAH: Let’s say if somebody came in and got – and they wanted to get a tattoo of a heart with, you know, an initial in it the size of a dime, anything that is a dime size that you may possibly do on white skin you could have to do a quarter or half-a-dollar size on dark skin.

SHAH: Mensah says he’s heard a lot of myths about functioning on dark skin. Some clientele think there’s a special type of ink for dark skin – there isn’t. And it’s not just consumers with misconceptions. He says it really is other artists, as well.

MENSAH: The occasions that I was functioning in white tattoo shops, what I would hear a lot was dark skin is a lot more tough to tattoo. Nevertheless, from my experience, I just think it is softer.

SHAH: What do you imply by that.

MENSAH: When I say it is softer, we tend to keloid a lot more and scar.

SHAH: A keloid is a raised scar, and people with African ancestry are a lot much more likely to get keloids in response to a tattoo.

AFRIK: My keloids are really little, though, compared to some other men and women I’ve observed.

SHAH: Afrik says when she’s looking for a tattoo artist, she studies their portfolio and pays attention to who they’ve tattooed.

AFRIK: If you see only light-skinned individuals or – or white skin, I never want to – simply because I don’t know how they’re going to operate with my skin, so – I am a little darker.

TYLER BREWER: Tattooing dark skin opposed to light skin or any distinction in skin kind is a distinct world.

SHAH: That’s Tyler Brewer, who functions at Kensington Tattoo in Maryland. Brewer is white and says artists should find out how to tattoo all skin sorts. But he says he’s met folks who feel otherwise.

BREWER: I have seen artists fairly a lot give the blow-off to consumers since they had been different, different becoming a distinct color. I believe individuals rationalize their racism in tattooing and their lack of capacity.

SHAH: Back at Pinz and Needlez, artist Christopher Mensah is eagle-eyed and focused on Oshun Afrik’s left forearm. Mensah says the lack of info offered for dark-skinned people looking for tattoos is linked to the lack of people of colour working in the enterprise. He says there wasn’t a community for him when he started tattooing 20 years ago.

MENSAH: At the time, there weren’t many – well, I did not see any black tattoo artists.

SHAH: Afrik says the neighborhood is increasing. Most of her tattoos have been carried out by folks of color. Right after sitting for an hour in the hot seat with Mensah, tattoo number 35 is finished. It is a Sankofa bird, an Adinkra symbol that translates to go back and get it.

AFRIK: I am so excited to show it off, I’m not putting my jacket on. I am going to go – I am going to walk around the city with a tank top in November. I am (laughter).

SHAH: Not so quick, even though. Prior to she leaves the shop, Mensah bandages her forearm so it doesn’t get infected. She’ll have to wait a couple of hours prior to she can show off her new tattoo. Parth Shaw, NPR News.

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