Can White Ink Tattoos Fade?

by Vanesa Pacheco

Tattoos are an awesome way to express individuality with your body and while they've been a mainstay in fashion for a while now, more recently, white ink tattoos have spiked in popularity. This kind of tattoo, using only white ink (let's not confuse it with UV ink, which also looks wicked cool), seems to give a person a more subtle design that is almost unnoticeable if you were to quickly glance at it, but it leaves many wondering about the issues that come along with it, mainly, can white ink tattoos fade?

Of course, white ink tattoos aren’t as simple as those done with color. The most common question – do white ink tattoos fade – is only the beginning of the many problems that can arise when (and especially after) you get a white ink tattoo. In order to find the answer to this question and the other problems people may face, I decided to reach out to a few professional tattoo artists so I could make sure I was getting the facts straight.

If you're thinking about getting a white ink tattoo, keep in mind the following issues.

1. White ink is thick, making clean lines harder

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

White ink was never meant to be a stand-alone color. Instead, it is used as a highlighting element, especially for black and white tattoos. Most white inks made for tattooing are thick and, according to Adam LoRusso, harder to achieve “clean line work.”

On top of that, because of the thickness of the ink, it can raise the skin’s surface more, which might not be the desired look some want to achieve.

2. White ink will fade quicker

Tattoos are permanent. Yet, time does take its toll on any piece of art, skin included. Eventually any tattoo will fade (some colors faster than others), which is why people go in for touch-ups. Sunlight is also a factor in how fast a tattoo will fade. White, being a lighter color, will fade faster than darker hues.

3. They’re unpredictable

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but most white ink tattoo photos online are of freshly done tattoos. This makes the white ink look very white and the design crisp and clean. However, there’s no knowing exactly how it will heal or what it will look like afterwards. So much depends on your artist’s experience (overall and with white ink), your skin tone, your tattoo placement, and your general aftercare of the tattoo.

One tattoo artist from Boston Tattoo Company explained that, once your tattoo heals, around 2mm of skin would sit on top of the white ink. Your natural skin tone could distort the white color. This can end up making your fresh ink look yellow, beige, or even like a stain! For others, it could look like scar tissue or the color of old newspaper. If you’re into that, great! But, there’s no knowing if yours will look that way.

All tattoo healing varies from person-to-person, but an all-white tattoo makes this variable even more dicey.

4. They can become distorted with other existing tattoos

White ink tattoos can easily get even more distorted simply by existing tattoos or stenciling done by the artist. The ink, because it’s (obviously) white, can easily blend with other colors and quickly change its appearance. If the tattoo is placed too close to other tattoos that are not solely white ink, it can blend and mess up the subtle look you were trying to achieve. Moreover, if your artist used a stencil and was not careful in making sure the stencil ink didn’t mix with the white ink, it can have an unfortunate effect.

5. Tattoo artists aren’t too keen on doing them

When I was reaching out to shops to speak with professional tattoo artists (remember: you should always go to professionals), it was really hard to come by artists who would be willing to do white ink tattoos. Most of the reasons for deciding not to do them were all the problems listed above, but LoRusso gave a great and honest response:

“The main reason I won't do white ink tattoos is: I know they don't hold up, I know they don't heal well, and I know white ink wasn't made for outlining (it's far too thick to be conducive to clean line work); so I don't want my name on something that I KNOW won't work well and make a nice tattoo… It's a bunch of reasons why they're a bad idea, but for me that's the kicker.”

If all I’ve mentioned does not turn you away from white ink tattoos and you are still yearning for some white ink, make sure you reach out to a professional tattoo artist who could share some more insight about your design and its possible outcome.

Images: Getty (2); michellelynn4l, gabbyhemmer95/Instagram; kelvynskee, freakychick/Flickr