UV tattoos use a fluorescent dye, which means the tattoo only appears under UV light. There is little evidence on whether UV tattoo ink is safe for human skin.

UV tattoos, also known as black light tattoos, are invisible under regular lighting and only appear under UV light due to the fluorescent compounds within the ink.

There is no regulation over UV tattoos, so there may be some potential health risks, depending on the ink’s chemicals. UV tattoos will also require similar aftercare to regular tattoos.

This article discusses UV tattoos, safety and possible side effects, aftercare, and how a person can find a reputable tattoo artist.

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Ultraviolet (UV), black light, or glow-in-the-dark tattoos are tattoos that only appear under UV light.

UV tattoos use ink containing a fluorescent dye that responds to UV light. This means the tattoo is invisible to the human eye in regular lighting and is only visible under UV, or black light.

There is little scientific evidence on the safety of UV tattoos for humans. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate any tattoo inks, including UV inks.

According to Tattoo Health, the only approved use for UV ink is within the agriculture and fishing industries. There have also been more reports of adverse skin reactions to UV ink than regular tattoo ink.

Some UV ink tattoos may contain phosphorous, which may cause side effects such as:

  • severe blistering
  • pain
  • burning sensation
  • skin rashes

There is also some concern that UV tattoo inks may contain carcinogenic compounds, which means there may be a potential cancer risk.

As awareness increases about the risks of phosphorous, fewer tattoo artists may be using inks containing the substance, but there is no regulation to ensure this.

Other UV inks may contain nontoxic compounds that react to UV light. Even without phosphorus, people may still experience negative side effects on the skin.

A 2016 study, looking at the use of tattoos in breast radiotherapy, used a commercially available UV tattoo ink. The dye contained a nontoxic, fluorescent compound called 7-diethylamino-4-methylcoumarin (coumarin 1). Researchers found no reports of skin toxicity from the tattoos or any reports of the tattoos becoming visible in regular lighting in a 2-year follow-up.

Black light emits a UV light that the human eye is unable to see.

UV tattoos contain a fluorescent substance that absorbs UV light during exposure to black light and then emits it at a wavelength visible to humans.

This means UV tattoos are invisible under regular lighting but appear to glow under UV light.

There is limited information on UV tattoos, but some anecdotal sources suggest they last as long as regular tattoos.

Research suggests that UV tattoos may last a lifetime, but this could depend on tattoo exposure to UV light.

According to Tattoo Health, people can opt for UV tattoo removal in the same way as regular tattoos. People may choose laser tattoo removal, which breaks up the ink to remove it from the skin.

UV tattoos may have an increased risk of adverse side effects than regular tattoos. They may cause skin irritation, such as:

  • rash
  • burning sensation
  • blistering
  • infections
  • pain

Some UV inks may also contain carcinogenic compounds.

Side effects and complications of any tattoo may include:

  • infections from contaminated equipment or ink, or unhygienic practices
  • severe infections may cause fever and chills and may require treatment with antibiotics
  • allergic reaction, which may persist due to the permanence of the ink
  • rash, redness, or bumps around the tattoo
  • scar tissue or keloids
  • reaction to MRI scans, which may result in swelling or a burning sensation, although this is rare and a temporary reaction

Each state in the United States has different regulations regarding tattooing. Some states regulate safety and sterilization standards, while others only require a person to be of age before they can receive a tattoo.

This leaves it largely up to the individual to judge whether a tattoo procedure is safe. The following tips may help people find a reputable tattoo artist:

  • Finding a tattoo studio that is clean and well-kept.
  • Asking the tattoo artist about the inks they use, the ingredients of the inks, and their experience.
  • Looking elsewhere if the tattoo artist cannot provide thorough answers or becomes irritable at any questions.
  • Checking that the tattoo artist uses a new, sterile needle for every tattoo, single-use disposable ink bottles and that all other tools and equipment are sterile
  • Discussing thoroughly with the tattoo artist what the procedure will involve, the tools they will use, and the specific design of the tattoo.
  • Making sure a tattoo artist follows proper hygiene practices such as handwashing, wearing latex gloves, and applying Vaseline to the tattoo with a disposable tool.

People will need to follow any aftercare instructions from their tattoo artist. Aftercare for a UV tattoo may be similar to aftercare for regular tattoos and may involve:

  • keeping a bandage over the tattoo for at least 12 hours following the procedure
  • leaving the area to dry for around an hour after removing the bandage and then washing it gently with soap and water and applying a thin layer of antibiotic cream
  • washing and applying the cream twice each day for 4–5 days following the procedure
  • switching to a water-based cream after the 4–5 days
  • avoiding bathing the tattoo, swimming, or submerging the tattoo in water until the wound has healed
  • avoiding getting dirt into the tattoo wound, and avoiding scratching or picking at the area
  • following aftercare instructions until the wound has completely healed

UV tattoos use ink that contains a fluorescent compound, making it visible only when the tattoo is under UV light.

There are some concerns regarding the safety of UV tattoos, as there is currently no regulation on the use of UV inks on human skin.

If a person chooses to get a UV tattoo, they can discuss with a tattoo artist the ink’s ingredients, how they sterilize equipment, potential side effects, and what proper aftercare involves.