Are glow-in-the-dark tattoos safe? Can I get one in Washington, DC?
October 5, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Is it safe to get a glow-in-the-dark tattoo? What about a blacklight tattoo? Is there a reputable place in Washington, DC, where I could get either of those? I am looking for advice about those two in particular but welcome suggestions for any tattoo that would be hidden in an elementary school classroom.

I’m looking for a tattoo that won’t show up in the classroom; I’m going to be a teacher and I already have one tattoo on my left ankle. I’d like another one but I need to be able to hide it from parents/children and I don’t want it anywhere that will stretch out if I get pregnant. I also want to be able to see it myself without the use of a mirror so back/shoulders wouldn't work (and my shoulders often show for professional events anyway). I don’t want to get one somewhere visible and just cover it because I am already doing this with one tattoo.

Someone told me that glow-in-the-dark tattoos exist and that sounds like it would be perfect but it doesn’t sound like they are safe. If you could point me towards recent and reputable information about this that would be great. I’ve also heard of blacklight tattoos –are they safe? Is there actually a point in even getting one of those? I’m pretty much never under a blacklight (I don’t go out to clubs or anything), but do they show up anywhere else? Are blacklights more common than I realize?

Really, any suggestions for a tattoo that I could get where I can see it if I want to but it is completely not visible to my students and their parents is what I’m looking for, as well as suggestions for a place in Washington, DC that would do my tattoo safely and well. I recognize that this might not be possible, but thank you for any suggestions you have!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: P.S.: I should also mention that the idea of a glow-in-the-dark tattoo is AWESOME and I so if there is a safe option for that it is definitely my first choice.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:11 AM on October 5, 2010

Personal experience: I had no adverse reaction to blacklight ink, but my artist used a very small amount of it (eyes on a small figure). She has extensive tattooing with blacklight ink, and has had no adverse reaction to it. My brother has extensive tattooing with glow-in-the-dark ink, and 10 years later it still itches sometimes. YMMV, but in my opinion (and the opinion of most of my tattoo artist friends), blacklight ink is fairly safe now, but glow-in-the-dark is not recommended.

That said, you could look into getting a tattoo with white ink. Depending on your skin tone, this could work very well and not be noticeable to people unless they are really scrutinizing you. This usually looks best on pretty fair-skinned people, and white ink can yellow a bit on some people over time with sun exposure, so you'd have to be careful about sunscreen. If you are interested in a white ink tattoo, I'd start by contacting reputable shops and asking if any of their artists do them regularly, then look at their portfolios for examples. In particular, ask if they have any photo examples of healed work.
posted by bedhead at 10:19 AM on October 5, 2010

As of the last time I checked, there hadn't been any formal studies published about the safety of glow in the dark ink. My artist told me that he'd heard it caused a lot of irritation, so he wasn't using it.

I'm going to warn you that if your goal is complete invisibility, a glow in the dark tattoo won't do that. Look up healed white ink and glow in the dark ink tattoos, and you'll see that it's not NOT visible depending on what you are getting.
posted by Zophi at 10:24 AM on October 5, 2010

Short answer: none of the "ink" used for glow-in-the-dark or blacklight tattoos have been tested as safe. And, as a decent-enough chemistry student, I'd have an issue with anybody implanting anything reactive to anything in my skin. Ordinary tattoo inks are specifically designed to be as non-reactive as possible.

Longer answer: I've written about this before.
posted by Netzapper at 10:26 AM on October 5, 2010

Don't count on any "invisible ink" tattoo being invisible. You're still putting your skin through a kind of scarification, and melanization of the area may be perfectly visible. It's hard to predict how your skin will react; you already have a tattoo, but skin effects that aren't obvious over colored ink will show up over specialty inks.

This picture shows what I'm talking about:
posted by endless_forms at 10:27 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have a blacklight tattoo and ever have to take your students to somewhere like a bowling alley or laser tag venue for an extracurricular activity, you'll be exposed. Easier to just get something that will be covered by your clothes. If you use ink that the students can't see during a typical day, you won't be able to see it either.
posted by MsMolly at 11:06 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Re: white ink tattoos. I am pretty damn pale and my white ink wrist tattoo is noticeable, though not from a distance. It is subtle, but by no means invisible.

It often gets confused for a brand (the look I was going for), which may have a worse connotation than a tattoo in your setting.
posted by Wossname at 11:50 AM on October 5, 2010

This is not a *real* answer to your question, but there's a product called Clear Neon that is a paint that is invisible in normal light, but colored under a blacklight. It also claims to be non-toxic and safe for use on the skin.

If you have a stencil of the image you had in mind, you could easily 'paint' the tattoo on whenever you knew you would be out and about.

Google it if you're interested.
posted by tacodave at 2:48 PM on October 5, 2010

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