Are Black Light Tattoos Safe?
This story originally appeared on Allure.
Now that everybody and their ultracool mom has gotten in on the ink revolution, much of the stigma that plagued tattoo wearers of old has gone the way of poodle skirts and those snap bracelets you collected in elementary school. That doesn't mean we're all ready for quite such a high-commitment body-art investment. Thus the growing popularity of black light tattoos.
Also known as UV tattoos or invisible tattoos, black light tattoos use an ink that's made of compounds that glow under black light but appear clear (or mostly clear) under normal lighting. While many people use them to add an extra-cool element to traditional tattoos, others create entire luminescent tattoos using the ink, which then (again, mostly) disappears in regular light. But as the popularity of these styles have grown, so have questions about the ink's safety.
The main concern is that most black light tattoo ink contains phosphorus (you may remember it from "The Periodic Table Song"). In some forms it gives off luminescence when charged by a light source like the sun—it appears in many glow-in-the-dark paints—and can also have a similar effect under black light. Phosphorus can also be toxic to humans, depending on its source and how it's delivered. For some, this brings up a certain amount of worry.
But there's no way legit tattoo parlors and ink companies could be putting a product with dangerous levels of phosphorus into people's bodies, right? Well, probably. The reality is that tattoo ink, UV and otherwise, isn't regulated for safety by the FDA. In fact, according to the FDA's website, the organization "has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This applies to all tattoo pigments, including those used for ultraviolet (UV) and glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printers' ink or automobile paint." Which, OK, sounds terrifying, though they go on to add that the absence of regulation is based primarily on the lack of evidence that tattoo ink is a source of safety concern, meaning that of the millions of people in the U.S. who have tattoos (some polls put it at up to 20 percent of American adults), very few of them report medical issues stemming from tattoo ink. Still a little less comforting than some of us might have hoped for, but we'll take what we can get.
For those who still find themselves craving a black light tattoo, there are some phosphorus-free UV tattoo inks on the market, although without regulation you're really relying on companies to be up-front and honest about their ingredients and formulations. As with any tattoo, your best bet is to do as much research as you can and accept a certain amount of risk. Or you could just wait until the makers of that removable tattoo ink get around to making a black light version.