Whether you’re talking about diets, beauty products, or preschool programming, the term “plant-based” has become unrelentingly buzzy as of late. So it seems only natural that the trend is getting the tattoo treatment as well. Tattoo artist Rita "Rit Kit" Zolotukhina is creating some of the most enviable ink on Instagram by using found plants and leaves.
Remember those pressed-flower cards you’d make at school for Mother’s Day? Well, consider this naturalistic body work the grown-up version. To make alarmingly lifelike fern and bamboo leaves or replicate a sprig of lavender, the Ukrainian-based artist paints one side of the foraged flower with ink and then imprints the plant on the body. After lifting the flora, she uses the ink print to guide her gun.
The purpose is not to make a hyper-stylized version of nature, but to recreate it realistically. So the artist uses varying gradients of ink to capture both the lush and decomposing aspects of the plant, while keeping bug bites and asymmetry firmly in the picture.
But can the plant-stamping process cause adverse reactions? Raja Sivamani, MD, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at University of California, Davis, who integrates concepts of Ayurvedic medicine and plant sciences into his work, cites a few safety issues to keep in mind. “Since people can have allergies to different plants, people with a history of plant allergies should be mindful,” he says. “If tattooing is done right over the inked image, some of the plant residue may get tattooed into the skin, potentially pushing the allergen into the skin.”
If plants have proven allergenic for you in the past, Dr. Sivamani notes that “it is worth rubbing the desired plant on their skin to first see if an allergy develops as a test spot.” Sometimes allergic reactions don’t pop up until the second exposure, so taking a few isolated passes may be best.
As far as the stamp ink, dermatologic surgeon and RealSelf contributor Joel Schlessinger, MD, isn’t particularly concerned, “The ink used to stamp is probably not harmful as long as it is non-toxic,” he says. “But it’s important to remember that anything could cause a reaction in certain individuals. For example, some of the most common allergies include fragrances and dyes.”
Another potential issue with the technique may be sterilization. The derm cites bacteria and fungi native to plants that may cause local irritation or even infection through transfer. “If they clean the plant beforehand, that would be helpful, but there is no guarantee,” says Dr. Sivamani. “A medical professional would be unlikely to actively advise to get these tattoos, but would suggest that people be mindful of the risks.”
Possible/potential risks aside, the result is not only beautifully lifelike, but because nature is the guide, it feels timeless, too. If Henry David Thoreau were alive today, he may not have been down with IG or newfangled body art, but something tells us the great American naturalist would have leapt at the chance to get this kind of ink.