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Posted on Aug 27, 2018

Colorblind: The Struggles POC Face with the Tattoo Industry

It’s been roughly five years since Liselle first started thinking about getting a tattoo. Since then her thoughts have been occupied - dreaming of a beautiful, brightly colored piece. She’s certain sh...

It’s been roughly five years since Liselle first started thinking about getting a tattoo. Since then her thoughts have been occupied - dreaming of a beautiful, brightly colored piece. She’s certain she wants the tattoo to be something floral or related to nature, maybe an evergreen or some type of fern, she thinks.

Many people often don’t even wait five months, let alone five years, before getting a tattoo they want. So, what’s stopping her from taking the plunge to that lifelong commitment? Well, as a person of color, Liselle says she can’t be confident in how the tattoo will look on her skin due to the lack of visibility online.

Whether you’re scrolling through Pinterest, Google Images, or exploring some of the incredible artists on Insta, there’s a good chance you’re not seeing an accurate representation of all skin tones. The permanence of a tattoo, combined with the lack of exposure to colored pieces on people of color, has made Liselle lack the confidence to commit.

“I would become enamored with a certain tattoo and the coloring of it, but I would never be given a proper idea of what that would actually translate on my skin... because it obviously won’t look the same,” says Liselle. “So I was never really given a clear vision in searching just what it is I was looking for for my own tattoo. “

Camellia “tea” plant for Antonia!

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You shouldn’t have to enter in your race into a search engine to yield the results you're looking for, but unfortunately this is an experience that Liselle is far too familiar with. “I have to search, ‘color tattoos on black woman/black person’ which I don’t like because that’s an odd experience having to do that. And then there’s like five photos… in the world there are more than five darker skin people tattooed.”

Liselle has come to terms with the fact that for her first tattoo, she’s not comfortable with a colored piece. Instead, she’ll opt for some blackwork lettering for her first permanent ink because the results are more predictable.

Brittany Randall (@humblebeetattoo), a tattoo artist based out of Toronto, echoes Liselle’s thoughts and says that mainstream tattoo culture is not approachable nor accessible for people of color. One aspect of this is the the difficulty in finding artists that advertise tattooing on people of color, which makes approaching artists both a disheartening and uncomfortable experience. “There’s a fear of being rejected solely based on the color of our skin,” says Brittany.

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So, what’s the deal? Is it actually more difficult to tattoo people of color? The process of tattooing itself is not much different than tattooing someone with caucasian skin, but there are some precautions that should be taken. People of color tend to have “softer” skin, which means that the artist must be a bit more gentle and light-handed. You also have to be aware of faster swelling during the process.

While giving the actual tattoo requires some extra knowledge and experience, Brittany says that aftercare is equally as important. “I often recommend POC to use raw shea butter or hypoallergenic lotions for added moisture and to cleanse tattoos with natural glycerin/ African black soap. What is referred to as the “dry” healing method does not necessarily work on every person.”

Handpoke tattoo artist Melina Mansing (@60__8) thinks it comes down to lack of knowledge. She thinks if an artist ever told a person of color to stay away from colored tattoos, to screw them. “Get color if you want - just be mindful of your colors.” She suggests that reds/dark pink and blues are good, as well as greens and orange.

Melina, who has a deeper complexion, has plenty of experience being not only the tattooer but also tattooed. She’s seen firsthand how ignorant or unknowledgeable artists can be when tattooing darker skin, “I have maybe 50 tattoos? I have never heard from my artist any precautions I should take, or how they are going to tattoo a bit lighter on me, or anything for that matter. It's definitely just an unknown thing to many, which is unfortunate.”

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Unfortunately many tattoo artists deny tattooing POC because of a fear of keloid prone skin, misinformation about color tattoos, and lack of experience on POC. Brittany says she often hears from her clients, and has experienced it herself, that they’ll often not even get a response back when contacting an artist through email. We all know how s**t being left on read feels.

Aritst like Brittany and Melina, are trying to break that barrier and show that POC tattoos are equally as important, and show inclusivity in their portfolios. Maybe in the future it will be required that at least half of the tattoo artists in a shop will have experience tattooing POC, and make it highly visible in their portfolio. But unfortunately until then, many potential clients like Liselle may just be waiting a little longer to feel confident in their decision to get tattooed.