The Best Tattoo Colors For Your Skin Tone

Tattoos are hardly the taboo they used to be. Although they've been limited throughout history to military and specific cultures, they're getting more and more common by the year. Everyone from celebrities like Pete Davidson — whose tattoos often have social media in a tizzy — to your next-door neighbor can have one, or at least have an idea for one they'd get in the future.

A survey from Ipsos found about 30% of Americans had a minimum of one tattoo in 2019, and many had more than one. More than 90% of people with tattoos were satisfied with the design they'd chosen, although there are certainly some tattoo trends that haven't aged well. Whether you're interested in getting a trendy minimalist symbol or a classic design that will hold up to the test of time, there are plenty of factors to consider before making your final selection. However, there's one factor you may not have thought about: skin tone.

When you think about what you're getting inked onto your body, you'll need to consider the color of your skin first. Why? Well, skin tone can have a huge impact on the end result and how the colors will look once they've faded a little with time. Much like picking the perfect shade of lipstick or eyeshadow to compliment your natural features, the colors of your tattoo can either look great against your skin ... or lackluster, depending on what you choose.

Tried and true classics for everyone

There's a reason why stark black tattoos are so common. Black and gray last longer than almost any other color, according to Saved Tattoo. While they might look a little different against every skin tone, they'll almost always show up clearly. It doesn't have to be a small, simplistic design, either. There are hundreds of ways to make a complicated pattern or hyper-realistic design with just black and some shading, as Saved Tattoo says. So, opting for the safest color doesn't have to mean being boring.

An all-black tattoo has some additional benefits. It'll probably be cheaper in the long run, according to Thoughtful Tattoos, because colorful tattoos frequently need touchups and corrections after the initial tattoo process. Black ink is also the best choice for line work or fonts, according to Saved Tattoo. If you choose a black tattoo, you're also connecting to a long line of history. The Smithsonian reports there's evidence of tattoos with black ink as far back as 5,200 years ago!

For pale skin, anything goes

It's not hard to find examples of bright, colorful tattoos on pale skin. The lighter your skin tone, the more it can function as a blank piece of paper against whatever colors you choose for your tattoo. There are still some considerations to take into account, though. As Liquid Amber Tattoo recommends, considering the undertones of your skin can go a long way toward making sure the end result stands out and looks the way you want it to.

If you've ever fought to find the perfect foundation for your skin, you know all about undertones. According to Better Tattooing, common undertones for pale skin can lean yellow, peachy, pink, or blue, and those colors might not translate as well in a tattoo. Pastel and lighter colors will show up well on pale skin, but they can still fade over time and may need touchups. Your best bet is to aim for contrast, according to Healthline, but pale skin can work with pretty much anything in that regard.

Dark brown skin: Aim for contrasts and bold colors

Much like with any other skin tone, it's perfectly possible to get a bright and bold-colored tattoo if you have dark brown or black skin. The trick, according to Allure, is finding an artist who has worked extensively with dark skin and understands color theory and undertones. Just like with pale skin, some brown skin will have yellow undertones and others will have cool or neutral undertones. As Liquid Amber Tattooing outlined, those colors may not show up as well against dark skin.

Healthline suggests that anyone with darker skin should consider designs that rely heavily on green, magenta, orange, or red. Depending on the undertone of your skin, these colors can provide enough contrast to stand out. Avoid colors that go darker than your skin tone, Healthline says, because they won't hold up as well over time unless they're standard black ink. Much like pastels and white ink on pale skin, the lack of contrast makes it harder to work with. Where Healthline also recommends yellow for darker skin, Liquid Amber Tattooing points out that many people with dark brown skin have yellow undertones and the color won't always show up as clearly.

Medium and tan skin

When it comes to picking out a tattoo for lighter brown skin, there are plenty of options in terms of what can work for you. Tan skin has some of the flexibility of pale skin when it comes to picking out colors. Blues, purples, and greens will provide contrast against your skin, and vibrant oranges can also work well. There are still some shades you'll want to avoid, though. As Liquid Amber Tattooing demonstrates, yellow can show up against tan skin but it might not be very bright, and a white ink tattoo likely won't be visible at all.

Darker, bolder colors will provide the necessary contrast to stand out, but if you're not sure what will work for you, Allure recommends getting a "color test" from your tattoo artist. Essentially, a color test consists of small tattoos that swatch each color against your skin to see how they look when they're healed or if they fade. The same test can also help you figure out if you have any pigment allergies before you commit to a whole piece.

Ways to break the rules

Tattoo colors don't have to abide by hard and fast rules, though, even if it doesn't seem like they'll work with your skin tone. Some trends will push against the popular understanding of what a tattoo should be and what it should look like, and they can make room for some creative liberties. According to Thoughtful Tattoos, a recent trend involved white ink tattoos on pale skin — which, even in the beginning, wouldn't be all that visible to anyone. Over time, though, the white ink fades with exposure to UV light and you'd probably need some maintenance if you wanted to keep it looking sharp. This is just one example of the ways you can think outside the box.

The best thing you can do, according to Allure, is to find a tattoo artist who has plenty of experience working with your skin tone. With an artist's help, you can come up with a color scheme and tattoo style that suits you regardless of your skin tone. From there, you just need to make sure you're taking care of the tattoo once you have it to make sure it always looks that good.