What’s cooler than getting inked up? How about getting inked up in a way that makes you glow?! Yeah, thought that might get your attention, you beautiful little deviant. Ultraviolet (UV) tattoos are sometimes known as black light tattoos or glow-in-the-dark tattoos because they… well, they glow in the dark when exposed to UV light.

If you’re considering spicing up your flesh with one of these subtle delights, here’s what you need to know.

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First, it’s important to note that UV tattoos don’t technically glow in the dark. (Not on their own, at least.) You’ll need to be under a UV light (aka black light). These give out more UV light and less visible light than normal bulbs.

So, it’s possible that you could get one of these tats and nobody would ever know unless they paid close attention to the scarring on your skin. But what’s happening under the hood to make these hot new body mods stand out in the right conditions?

How do UV tattoos work?

These glowing tattoos use special UV tattoo ink that reacts to UV light.

This active ingredient makes the ink thinner and harder to work with than normal tattoo ink. Because of this, you should take extra care to pick an experienced tattoo artist. You don’t want to be anyone’s lab rat for UV ink if they’ve never used it before, lest you want a wonky glow-in-the-dark penis haunting you.

Due to the added difficulty and the need for a black light so that the tattoo artist can even see the ink, it’s possible that a UV tattoo might cost more than a standard tattoo. The process will take longer, and the artist might pass on the cost of that specialist ink to you.

Otherwise, the process is the same as getting a regular tattoo.

What’s in UV tattoo ink?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate any tattoo ink, including UV tattoo ink. That leaves it open to different brands and artists using different formulations — so it’s impossible to say what exactly is in the stuff.

Safe to say, the ink used for your UV tattoo will contain some ingredient that reacts to UV light, and that’s not a huge list. Ingredients like phosphorus (potentially harmful) have been phased out over the years, but you should still ask your tattooist what specific mix they use.

How long does UV tattoo ink last?

Since UV tattoos are relatively new, we don’t have as much data regarding their lifespans yet. Right now, we assume they last as long as normal tattoos, which is basically for life if you maintain them properly.

On areas of the body which experience a lot of friction and direct sunlight, like your hands, they’re likely to begin fading and losing glow much quicker. By properly maintaining and protecting your UV tattoo, you’ll extend its lifespan. Your tattooist will be able to give you tips for keeping it looking fresh depending on what ink they use.

Why do people get UV tattoos?

People get UV tattoos for the same reasons anyone gets any tattoo — because it looks cool. The difference with a glowing tattoo is that it’s only going to look cool under a UV light. That means people who get them typically spend time in very specific places with that kind of lighting: think ravers, performance artists, and cybergoths, to name but a few.

On the other hand, those who like keeping a secret might like the idea of a tattoo that isn’t visible all the time. Tattooing your lover’s name on your ass gets less risky when it’s only going to show up under UV. And if things don’t work out, you won’t need to get the tat removed quite as fast.

A little, but there’s cause for concern.

Done correctly and cleanly, they’re only a little riskier than any normal tattoo (but those come with possible side effects, too). It’s vital to shop around for the right tattoo studio and follow all the advice you’re given.

It also helps to know any potential side effects, what’s in the ink being used, and the artist’s code of practice.

Side effects and possible complications of UV tattoos

Research has reported that people who get UV tattoos experience more side effects than those who pick traditional ink. Skin rashes, blisters, and infections are the most common complications. This is in addition to the usual potential complications of getting a tattoo:

  • allergic reactions
  • bloodborne diseases (if the artist’s equipment is dirty)
  • swelling and burning during MRI exams (very rare but possible)

To cut the risk of these happening to you, insist your tattooist does their bit. They should be wearing disposable gloves and sterilizing their equipment. Follow all their aftercare advice to lower the chances of infection once you leave the studio.

Is glow in the dark tattoo ink safe?

The UV tattoo ink used today is as risky as that of any tattoo — maybe slightly more so.

Older UV tattoos used phosphorus in the ink, which can be carcinogenic in high doses. And even without phosphorus, the ink runs the risk of adverse effects. It’s still glowy sh*t that you put in your body. It’s never going to be 100 percent safe.

People who get UV tattoos might experience more adverse effects than those who pick traditional ink, including:

However, it’s been trialed in the UK for use in breast cancer radiation therapy treatment as a way to mark the target areas of radiation therapy. Invisible tattoos seemed to improve a patient’s body image over the dark, permanent tattoo marks a radiation therapy specialist usually leaves.

The trial was nonblinded, meaning the subjects knew which ink they were receiving. This might have led to some bias, as the study wasn’t highly controlled. But the subjects’ comments suggested that a portion of them valued having invisible ink.

But the biggest risk of getting a UV tattoo is the same as with any other tat — the artist themselves.

A good tattooist will guide you through the process like a professional. But if you go with a shady, drunk, back-alley operator to save a few bucks, you’re setting yourself up for problems.

There’s no U.S.-wide law governing who can set up as a tattooist — it’s up to individual states to set the rules. In some states, like Arkansas, you need to be certified to operate. Meanwhile, all Utah asks is that you don’t run around tattooing kids without their parents’ consent.

Check the rules in your state concerning what local health authorities a tattoo artist needs to register with. Even if it’s not strictly required, lots of tattooists voluntarily join professional organizations to show that they adhere to set standards.

Some of these organizations, like the Connecticut Association of Professional Tattooers, operate at the state level. Others work nationwide, such as the National Tattoo Association. Each organization is only as credible as its members, so do your homework on individual artists and the groups they’ve joined.

Other tips include:

  • Ask to see the equipment and studio space a tattooist uses before you sit down. Make sure it’s all kept in good condition and sterilized.
  • Check their portfolio of past work to see what they’re capable of. Many tattooists show off their creations on social media, making them easier to research.
  • A reputable tattoo artist will have nothing to hide. If someone is shy about showing you their credentials, equipment, or past work, that’s a big red flag and you should go somewhere else.

A UV tattoo is an understated, futurist spin on typical tats, but the rules are the same.

Go to an accredited, reputable tattoo artist and take care of your skin while it heals. Beyond that, you only need to worry about the design. But hey, even if you regret that portrait of a recently canceled celebrity, at least it’s only a problem when the UV light is on. And there’s always tattoo removal.