Sun Tattoos


Combing through historical newspapers for information on tattooing I came across an interesting trend: sun tattoos. This method of body decoration was an alternative to permanent ink tattooing, even though I’m sure ladies in the early 1900s weren’t as informed or concerned as we are today about the harmful effects of sun exposure. I found articles on being tattooed by the sun as early as 1901 and into the 1920s. Like modern body modification trends, the popularity of this fad probably rose and fell throughout those years.

1917 ad

There were at least two methods of achieving a sun tattoo. The clipping on the right is from The Nebraska Advertiser (1901) and it lists the formula for achieving such an adornment. The result would be the skin containing the design showing up lighter than the surrounding skin due to being covered by court plaster. Court plaster was a cloth, often silk, which was coated by some sort of adhesive and used to cover superficial marks on the skin.


Another method for obtaining a temporary tattoo would be to cut out the desired pattern or lover’s name (see right) from the area of the blouse or shirtwaist and then sit in the sun until enough time had passed for the “tattoo” to appear. This is the opposite of the previously mentioned method, since now the tattoo would be darker than the skin around it.