All-white designs and UV ink are popular new tattoo options. But there's something you need to know.
If you’ve been thinking about getting some ink done, the International Tattoo Convention was the ideal place to check out the latest trends in tattoo culture. Southern Ink Xposure 2009 took place from the 23 to the 25th of January, and was held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. The event was the first of its kind in South Africa and featured top tattoo artists from around the globe.
The convention was buzzing with ink enthusiasts who sported designs ranging from the small and delicate to the in-your-face outrageous. For tattoo virgins, it was the opportunity to take advantage of some great international talent. And for the colourful crowds who were already inked from head to toe – it was the chance to flaunt bold body art, and get another “tat” or two.
There was an abundance of unique designs on display, mostly in traditional black and colour tattoos. Still, Europe and America’s latest tattoo trends were on the minds and lips of many artists and visitors.
White ink tattoos
Over the past year, white ink tattoos have become popular. Celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Kate Moss have adopted the trend, and many of their fans have followed suit.
As the name suggests, white tattoos are done entirely with white ink, which is thicker and of a higher quality than black and colour inks (to make it stand out on its own). The tattooing procedure is just like any other: a tattoo machine punctures the skin and deposits the ink in the dermis (the deeper layer of skin beneath the epidermis).
These tattoos tend to look scar-like and subtle, and are more prone to fading than black or colour tattoos. Hence they usually involve simpler designs.
Sadly, there were none walking around at the convention. “It hasn’t taken off here yet,” explains Louise Nel, a stall promoter and avid tattoo fan. “There are basically two camps: some people say they’re the next big thing, go wild. Others say they fade too quickly, it’s not worth it.”
One of the few artists at the expo to offer white tattoos was David Alex, a Danish artist who specialises in portraits and realistic tattoos. “They do fade into the skin a little,” he confirmed, “but if a tattoo’s done right the fist time, and if it's taken care of, it shouldn’t really need a touch-up.”
Some important aftercare tips include keeping new tattoos clean using a healing ointment, keeping them away from the sun, and not bathing them in water for long periods of time. “For a week or so it’s pretty much like an open wound,” stresses Alex.
Although white ink is not dangerous, it may cause adverse reactions such as swelling and itching. On rare occasions the body may reject the ink altogether, causing it to ooze from the tattoo.
UV or blacklight tattoos
Another tattoo trend that’s particularly popular in the raver subculture, is the UV, or blacklight tattoo.
UV tattoos glow under black light, and are virtually invisible in ordinary lighting (although scarring may be seen). The inks used, however, are potentially dangerous: only a few varieties have been approved by the FDA. Some UV inks have caused adverse skin reactions, such as dermatitis; the inks are also suspected carcinogens.
“Don’t get one,” advises David Alex. “What makes them glow in the dark is that the inks contain phosphorous, and phosphorous is really, really dangerous to put into your body.” Alex refuses to tattoo with UV ink. “I think it’s kind of callous,” he explains.
Whilst some tattoo artists are concerned about the medical complications associated with UV inks, others just don’t think they look that great.
“There are very few tattooists that do that kind of thing,” claims Shaun Nel, a tattoo artist who grew up in Cape Town, and currently lives in the US. Nel prefers colour tattoos, “anything that’s really pretty”. For artists like Nel, the body is a canvas for art and self-expression. And new trends like white and UV tattoos don’t offer the same artistic fulfilment as traditional tattoos.
“It really doesn’t have any impact on what we do as artists – not a lot of guys are really interested in doing it,” he says dismissively. “And honestly a lot of the time it doesn’t look good. It’s really kind of pointless.”
Whichever type and style of tattoo you choose, it’s important to do your homework, and stick to the professionals. To avoid any blood-borne diseases, such as HIV or Hepatitis B, stick to well-known, clean tattoo shops, and ensure that artists sterilise instruments properly before each use.
(Donna Warnett, Health24, January 2009)