Why Tattoo Ink Turns Green Over Time

John Dietrich

We’ve all seen old tattoos that don’t seem to have that onyx color that we’re used to seeing in a black linework tattoo, but what is it that makes the ink turn green (or sometimes blue) over time? This exact subject has popped up in the news
recently, so we wanted to look into why it happens. This is what we found out.

The Age of the Tattoo

Tattoos On Bad Ass Older GentlemenPhoto: The Odyssey

Apparently, this isn’t something that happens with any other color, it’s an issue exclusive to black inks. But there’s a reason for that – old tattoos were, for the most part, done with India ink, which was made to look black by using very dark green or blue inks. Over time, the pigment breaks down as the skin ages, losing the black appearance that it had when it was freshly done.

The Types of Pigments Used

Fading Ink Photo: Bustle

The pigment and quality of ink used to ink your tattoo play a huge role in how it hold its color with age. India ink was made using a mixture of soot and a binding agent, like gelatin, and was traditionally used as an ink for traditional art like calligraphy and drawings, but was also largely used for home tattooing.

According to master tattoo artist Chris DeBarge, the inks that are used nowadays are much higher quality. In an interview with Rockerzine.com, he explains that “The inks we use now are pretty high quality, they have a higher level of pigment so they are less susceptible to aging and sun. But there is a limit, you can only cram so much color into the skin”.

How to Avoid Your Black Tattoo Turning Green

Since black inks used today do tend to have different base pigments, it is possible to have your tattoo turn a slight green or blue color over time. We don’t mean a few years, though – this tends to happen over decades as the skin ages, sheds and moves, so it’s essentially the same risk of your tattoo fading with age. There are, however, some things that you can do to prevent this from happening prematurely, or from happening at all.

First and foremost, always use sunscreen when you’re in the sun. Sun exposure is the #1 cause of tattoo fade, so don’t skip the sun block when you’re spending time outside if your tattoo is visible. This is especially important when your tattoo is still in the healing phase – in fact, it’s best at this stage to avoid the tattoo being exposed to direct sunlight at all.

Where your tattoo is located can also play a role, because certain areas on our body naturally encounter more friction than others, which can cause skin cells to shed more easily, including those that are inked. Keep that in mind when you’re choosing the location for your next tattoo if you’re concerned about how it will age.

India ink was a very common ink used in tattooing decades ago, and is the main culprit behind old tattoos turning green or blue over time. Newer inks don’t have the same makeup as India ink, and is generally much higher quality and contains more stable ingredients. You can prevent your tattoo from changing color or fading by protecting it from sunlight, and using proper aftercare techniques when your fresh ink is healing.

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