Read This Before Getting That Tattoo You Saw On Instagram

With so many rad tattoo trends as of late — including detailed dotwork, watercolor tats, and hyper-realistic 3D designs — it’s damn near impossible to scroll through Instagram or Pinterest without being seduced into going under the gun. But there’s a whole lot more that those pretty pictures don’t show, like how long a certain style might keep its color or form, or exactly how painful a particular placement may be. (Those dainty finger tattoos all your favorite celebs are getting hurt the most.)

So we consulted with four impressive tattoo artists, who together have decades of experience under their belts, and star in tonight's premiere of Spike’s Ink Master: Angels. They helped us sort out the risks and rewards behind these hard-to-miss trends. And they're not afraid to give it to us straight:


“I hate to sound old and crotchety, but I'd have to say about 90% of [on-trend] styles are about guaranteed to not have a very long shelf life in the skin,” says Nikki Simpson, a White Plains, NY-based artist with six years of tattooing under her belt. “The problem nowadays is everyone is concerned about doing the most ‘innovative’ and ‘realistic’ tattoos. They get their Instagram picture, and yet, you never see how that tattoo heals or how it looks years down the line.”

She continues, “Most of these styles will become blobs, or won't even be there after a few years. But it looks cool now! I just think as a tattooist, there are certain responsibilities we should have to uphold the integrity of the tattoo in our clients’ skin.”

Ahead, Simpson and her cohort gives us the long view of what to expect when inking up with white ink tattoos, blackout tattoos, and everything in between. To see more of these artists in residence, catch the premiere of Ink Master: Angels tonight, October 3, at 10 P.M. on Spike.

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Watercolor Tattoos

One of the most romantic ink trends to blow up over the past few years? Watercolor tattoos. The washes of color, anchored by classic black line work, look gorgeous on Instagram, but IRL, the style is a little more high maintenance than most.

“Watercolor tattoos can be successful, depending on how they are done,” says Ryan Ashley Malarkey, a tattoo artist from Northeast, PA. “Some people think watercolor tattooing means a few black scratchy lines with some cups of paint splattered on, and sadly these tattoos will not look awesome forever.” She notes that while a design may look cool on paper, it can read differently when tattooed on skin.

Kelly Doty, a Salem, Massachusetts-based artist with 10 years experience, notes that even the most deft artists who specialize in black-and-white designs may not have what it takes to do the job right. “It takes a knowledge of color theory and a skilled technician. A lot of people think it's an easy way to get out of doing a cleanly applied tattoo and the end result looks like an Easter basket threw up on someone's skin.”

What’s more, the tattoos tend to fade faster than most, and require more frequent touch-ups (as often as five years, depending on the design). “The image can become almost unreadable as some colored pigments are more photosensitive than others and will just fade to nothing over time,” 14-year vet Gia Rose says, noting that colors on the lighter end of the spectrum (like yellows, light pinks and whites) are the worst offenders.

But that’s not to say that these gorgeous designs can’t be well executed or maintained by someone who specializes in the style. “If there's a strong black skeleton of an image, you can have fun with the coloring of it and play with the watercolor look, as long as the ‘bones’ are there,” Simpson says.
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White Tattoos

After celebs like Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne famously went under the gun for white ink tattoos (and shared the results on social media, of course), this incognito tattoo trend has surged in popularity. It’s easy to see why: They look really cool right out of the gate and are seemingly low-commitment.

But Rose warns that white tattoos don't always age the way you want them to. “[The] top layers of the skin that form in the healing process are rarely as stark white as the ink itself. And that new pigmentation can sully the overall look of the tattoo," she says. “Your skin acts like a filter and tints your tattoos, which is why they always look best when they're fresh the day you get them."

You should also keep in mind that once healed, the white ink deposited deep in the skin can illuminate things that appear in the skin’s upper layers, as if a light box is amplifying every blemish, freckle, and tonal change in pigmentation. “This can make white ink [tattoos] appear uneven, spotty, tinted yellow, or hued olive, depending on your [skin’s] undertones,” Rose notes. “Unless you have very milky flawless skin, it's hard to get a white tattoo that looks really white [once healed].”

Of course, the most talented artists know this and will work around it — and many have developed their own hacks. “There are ways of achieving a white look by using the skin as the lightest shade and using grey or other darker colors to border it, creating the illusion of white without having to use solid pigment,” Malarkey says.
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Cuticle Tattoos

With a surge in dainty tattoos comes a surge in dainty finger tattoos. But they're not as innocent as they look. Not only do they often require a second pass to achieve a precise look and tend to blur and spread over time, but they also hurt like hell.

“Eeek! Ouch! I have my cuticles tattooed and damn it was painful. Just a fair warning,” Simpson says about her tattoos that span from each of her knuckles right to the tip of each cuticle. (And she's had experience with tattooing plenty of other body parts.)

“Our hands are constantly being washed and used and exfoliated, so it's important to get your needle to the the right depth in the skin so the tattoo will stay perfectly,” Simpson explains. “To get the ink to sit in the skin and heal properly in such a tough area, you have to almost ‘blow out’ the tattoo (go extra deep) to make sure it sits deep in the dermis. So needless to say, it hurt like a bitch! But it looks badass.”
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Want to trace the recent rise of the minimalist tattoo trend? Check the influence of celebrity tattooists JonBoy and Dr. Woo, who create clean, tiny designs, often decorated with dotwork. Of course, when Bella and Miley’s go-to artists ink a design, you can bet it’s damned-near perfect. And that’s no coincidence.

“Dotwork done correctly can be epic, long lasting, and bold,” notes Malarkey. “That being said, dotwork done by an inexperienced artist can look sloppy or unprofessional.”

Rose notes that lines or dots clustered close together will blend as skin ages and sun exposure pushes pigment around. “But again, if you seek an artist out who specializes in this style, she or he should be able to design appropriately,” she adds.

Can’t snag an appointment with the overbooked, aforementioned artists? Rose has got your back. “I highly recommend seeking out Thomas Hooper,” she offers. “His work is phenomenal.”
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Blackout Tattoos

First things first: Though blackout tattoos are becoming more popular, they’re not exactly new. The style features a solid layer of midnight ink that covers swaths of skin and has long been used in Polynesian culture, for example.

“A lot of times it's done to cover up [otherwise] uncoverable tattoos, but it gives a very gritty esthetic that I think brings tattoos into a new level of body modification. I mean, you're pigmenting an entire limb,” Simpson says. “That's dedication!”

The stamped-out ink can also create a new canvas from which to adorn with negative space designs. “There are artists who are blacking out large areas, allowing ample time for them to heal and naturally settle and fade, and then going over the black with layers of bold white line work to create gray designs over the black,” Malarkey says. “This recent trick creates almost an X-ray look, and they're becoming more and more popular as more artists are achieving successful results.”

While some have raised concerns about whether obtaining blackout ink may get in the way of doing mole checks on skin, dermatologist Howard Sobel, MD, notes both pros and cons to having the skin covered in ink. “There would definitely be a problem detecting a small mole or a skin cancer if the skin is covered in black ink,” he says. “However, the solid black would cause some protection from sun damage. So the tattoo situation is a double-edged sword.”

But Rose, who has a blackout tattoo on her forearm and hand, says that she can still see moles and even freckles in her blackout. Because everybody is different, it's best to consult with your dermatologist before going all in.
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Inner-Lip Tattoos

Miley Cyrus has one. And so does Kendall Jenner, Ruby Rose, and Kesha. The out-of-sight placement of inner-lip tattoos can make for a cheeky way to flash ink. “I have my lip tattooed (a horseshoe) and I think that it's cute, novel and fun,” Rose says. Plus, the incognito placement means, you don't never have to worry about seeing it if you ever get tired of it, Doty points out. But undercover ink doesn’t come easy.

“Inner lip tattoos can be a bitch to put in,” Simpson admits, considering that unusual working surface, which is slippery and thin. Doty brings up another potential con to getting tattooed inside the mouth: “Ink tastes gross,” she says. What’s more, ink laid in the inner lip may not last as well as that planted on the skin.

“These always fade, and most of the time not evenly,” Malarkey notes. “They seem like a good idea at the time, but the skin inside of the mouth is so thin and heals at a much faster rate because it's always lubricated, so the majority of the inner lip tattoos I've seen either spread and become unrecognizable blobs over time.”

Want an inner-lip tattoo that lasts? Prepare for pain, Simpson says. “The longevity of these tattoos are questionable unless they are laid in nice and deep. And we all love how that feels.”
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UV Tattoos

Tattoo artists are divided on UV ink. Jon Boy, who recently gave Zayn Malik one, says he hasn't run into any problems with them. "I've been in the business for over 16 years. I remember when UV first hit the market. At the time, it was fairly new so people were a little iffy about how safe it was," he says. "I've had mine for years. I recommend it."

But the four Ink Master: Angels warn that not everyone is so lucky. Not only do UV tattoos sometimes cause scarring or look uneven under regular lights, but because some of these special inks contain phosphor or polymer, they tend to spark a higher number of allergic reactions than traditional ink. “Normally allergies and reactions are quite rare, but when you see loads of bad reactions, then I'd say, Stay away," Rose says.
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3D Tattoos

Some of the most hyper-realistic tattoos can appear to jump off the skin with such detail, it’s hard not to want one of our own, like now. So how do these intricate works hold up over time? “These can be the most impressive and striking tattoos when the artist is very skilled at recreating photographs into tattoos," says Simpson. "If there is not enough black or contrast in the tattoo, however, all of these details can blur together over time and make the tattoo look muddy."

The trick, according to Malarkey, is for the artist to employ crisp, clean lines and a strong contrast to help the design withstand the test of time. “A lot of people think realistic tattoos mean little to no line work, which isn't realistic for the longevity of tattoos,” she says. “Hyper-realistic, 3D tattoos are more about achieving an illusion — and making the illusion successful begins with the artistry.”

Bottom line: Do your homework and go with an artist who knows his or her stuff.
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