Why Do Black Tattoos Turn Grey?

It is a fact that every tattoo will fade to some extent, but it seems that black tattoos fade quite quickly, and when they do fade, they turn grey. This could be a major concern for you if you have black tattoos or if you want to get black tattoos. There are reasons why black tattoos fade to grey, and there are some ways to help prevent this issue.

Black tattoos turn grey when they fade because the tattoo ink breaks down and is removed by the immune system. Some pigment remains, but there is not enough left for the ink to look black and saturated, making it look grey. The most common cause for this is UV rays from sunlight. 

Getting an all-black tattoo is a classic look that suits almost every style of tattoo, which is why black tattoos are among the most popular of all. However, most black tattoos eventually turn grey, and this can be concerning and frustrating. Let’s learn what causes black tattoos to turn grey and some ways to help keep black tattoos dark and looking fresh. 

What Turns A Black Tattoo Grey?

There is a lot about tattoos that are often misunderstood. A tattoo is a very personal thing, but it is also quite an expensive undertaking, and they are often not as permanent as everyone assumes. Some tattoos last longer than others, some fade very quickly, and some change color completely over time.  

If you are thinking about getting a black tattoo, you want to be sure that the tattoo will look good for as long as possible without fading, changing color, or degrading. The truth is that every tattoo will fade to some degree over time, but some fade much sooner than others, and some do change color entirely. 

One of the biggest issues here is that black tattoos are known to turn grey over time. Why does this happen? What may cause a solid black tattoo to turn grey, and why does it not happen to every tattoo? Why does this issue occur more quickly in some tattoos than in others? 

Let’s take the time to understand tattoos, why they change color, and what causes a black tattoo to fade to grey over time. There are some very simple answers to these important questions, and there are ways to help protect your tattoos and cause them to last as long as possible. 

With that in mind, here are the most common reasons why black tattoos turn grey over time. 

Tattoos Fade Naturally

If you have a black tattoo that is turning grey over time, or if you are concerned about this issue, the fact is that it is something that is usually unavoidable. Every tattoo will fade over time simply because tattoo ink is not as permanent as most people think it is. 

The reality of tattoos is that they fade. The fading that happens to all tattoos occurs because your body wants to remove and expel tattoo ink from your skin. This is because tattoo ink is ultimately a foreign body within your skin and your immune system wants to remove it. 

The particles in tattoo ink are too large to be broken down by white blood cells, and the overall immune system, but not every ink particle remains this small. Over time, the ink breaks down due to exposure to UV rays or general decomposition, and the particles become small enough to be carried away from the area by white blood cells. 

This ink breakdown process is slow and occurs over a long period of time, which is why tattoos do not fade very quickly. 

A black tattoo turns grey over time as the ink breaks down and is removed by the immune system of the body. The ink itself is not changing color, the pigment is still black, but as tiny amounts of pigment are removed over time, there is less pigment left in the tattoo, which makes it appear lighter, faded, or grey. 

There is no real way to entirely prevent this issue, but there are ways to prolong the clarity and boldness of a tattoo. Some tattoos will fade more quickly than others, but ultimately, every tattoo will fade eventually. 

UV Light Damages Tattoos

As we have already mentioned, exposure to UV light damages tattoos. UV light breaks down the pigment in tattoo ink, making it small enough to be removed by the natural processes of the body’s immune system. 

The most prevalent source of UV light that tattoos are exposed to comes from the sun. If your tattoo is constantly exposed to sunlight, the tattoo will fade, and black tattoos will turn grey due to the exposure to UV. 

The degree to which a tattoo is exposed to sunlight directly influences how quickly a black tattoo will turn grey. If a tattoo is in the sun all the time, the process will happen very quickly, and the tattoo will not stay black for very long. 

If the tattoo is not exposed to sunlight much or is only ever exposed to indirect sunlight, then it will last much longer. In this instance, black tattoos will stay darker for much longer and take more time to turn grey. 

This is why tattoos that are placed on areas of the body that are usually covered in clothing will last longer and remain darker for much longer than tattoos that are exposed to sunlight. A tattoo on your thigh will last significantly longer than a tattoo on your forearm for this reason. 

Poor Quality Tattoo Ink

Another reason why black tattoos may turn grey is simply due to the quality of the ink that is used for the tattoo. Tattoo inks are available in various levels of quality, and the most high-quality inks are the most expensive. 

Some cheaper tattoo shops will use poor-quality tattoo ink to save money, which means that the tattoo itself is likely to be less expensive as well, but the drawback here is that the tattoo will not last as long, and a black tattoo will fade to grey more quickly. 

Poor quality tattoo inks are less robust and therefore break down more quickly. These links do not stay in the skin for very long, and they are often rejected by the body very quickly. 

This is among the most common reasons why black tattoos turn grey and is likely to be the case if your tattoo turns grey very quickly after application. If your black tattoo turns grey after only a few days, it is very likely that the tattoo artist used very poor-quality ink for your tattoo. 

Lack Of Tattooing Skill 

Another issue that is a very common cause of black tattoos fading to grey is the lack of skill. Every tattoo artist must be trained and must practice their craft to become good at applying tattoos well. Just because someone is a good artist does not mean they are good at applying tattoos. 

Sinking a tattoo into skin is difficult and requires a very specialized set of polished skills. If an artist is not skilled enough to sink ink deeply into skin or not skilled enough to apply ink properly, the tattoo will not last very long at all. 

This issue is often found with tattoos applied by apprentice or beginner tattoo artists and is only evident after a few weeks when the tattoo loses color and pigment very quickly. 

Regardless of the reputation of the tattoo shop, the quality of the tattoo ink used for the piece, and where the tattoo is placed, if the artist who applies it is unskilled, a black tattoo will turn grey very quickly. 

The Healing Process

One aspect of getting a tattoo that is often overlooked is the tattoo healing process. When a tattoo is applied, it creates a wound in the skin that has to heal. If a tattoo is not allowed to heal properly, there is a high chance that the tattoo will not last for a very long time before fading. This is especially true for black tattoos. 

When a tattoo is healing, the body wants to form a scab over the wound to protect it. Scabbing can be very bad for tattoos, and if these scabs are allowed to form too big, they can draw much of the pigment out of a tattoo, resulting in a faded appearance after the wound fully heals. 

This is why tattoo aftercare and protecting the healing process are so important for the longevity of a tattoo. 

If the scabs on a tattoo are picked off, they are likely to pull some ink with them, which has been known to cause a faded, grey tattoo or to even cause gaps in the tattoo after healing. 

Poor Tattoo Aftercare 

Poor tattoo aftercare is a major cause of black tattoos turning grey. If a tattoo is not cared for properly after application and during the healing process, it is not likely to heal well, and the tattoo is very likely to fade, and black tattoos are likely to turn grey before the tattoo has even fully healed. 

If a tattoo is allowed to scab too much, if it is allowed to get too wet, if it is not washed or cleaned, and if a tattoo is neglected after application, then the tattoo will not take well, and it is likely to fade very quickly. 

The first few days after the application of a tattoo are vital for tattoo longevity, and if this is not taken seriously, a black tattoo will turn grey very quickly, even if the tattoo is very fresh. 

How To Help Prevent Tattoo Fading

If you want to get a black tattoo, or if you already have one, there are ways to help your tattoo last longer and prolong the time it takes for the tattoo to fade significantly. 

Every tattoo will eventually lose its intensity, but if you follow the right procedures and take the right steps, you can keep that reality as far into the future as possible. 

The best thing that anyone can do for their tattoos and the best way to prevent fading is to look after the tattoo well. This is a broad term that encompasses a variety of tattoo care but looking after your tattoo well will keep it looking good for a long time. 

Take care of your tattoos well by using sunscreen when you go outside, be sure to keep your skin healthy and moisturized, and be sure to develop a good tattoo aftercare routine after applying the tattoo. 

Let’s investigate the best ways to help your black tattoo last longer and keep it looking as fresh as possible for many years by learning more about taking good care of a tattoo. 

Go To A Good Tattoo Artist

The very best thing you can do if you are getting a black tattoo is to go to a good tattoo artist who uses good-quality tattoo ink. 

Getting a tattoo from an artist who knows how to sink a tattoo well with very good tattoo ink will last significantly longer than using an inexperienced artist with inferior inks. If you want your black tattoo to stay black and not turn grey, go to a good artist.

Take Aftercare Seriously

One of the biggest mistakes that tattooed people make is not caring for the tattoo well after it is applied. 

Taking good care of your tattoo while it is healing will ultimately make the tattoo last much longer and allow more pigment to remain in the skin for a longer period. Ask your tattoo artist what the best aftercare is for you and follow their advice very carefully. 

Keep Your Tattoo Out Of The Sun 

Another very simple but very effective method to keep your black tattoo looking fresh and dark as long as possible is to keep your ink out of direct sunlight as much as possible. 

Try to keep your tattoo covered during the day, and if that cannot be done, then be sure to use plenty of high-strength sunscreen to protect your tattoo from the sun’s harmful rays. 

Go For A Tattoo Touch-Up

The final and most effective way to keep your tattoo looking as black and fresh as possible is to go for a tattoo touch-up. 

A touch-up session with a good tattoo artist will cover all of the light areas, neaten up any lines that have blurred, and renew the tattoo to its original bold and saturated self. 


All tattoos fade over time, regardless of whether they are black or have color. The ink will break down over time, and the tattoo will become less vibrant. This is how black tattoos end up looking more grey than black. However, if you intentionally take careful care of your tattoo, it will take much longer to fade, keeping the tattoo looking good for years. 

Be sure to take good and careful care of your tattoo, let the wound heal well, keep it out of the sun, and go for touch-ups when the ink fades, and your black tattoos will last for your entire lifetime without looking grey!

Some of my favorite designs, tattoo books, and aftercare products, selected for you

working on tattoo at my studio
Working at the studio on one of my projects

Thank you for reading my article, I hope that you have found it helpful. If you would have trouble finding ideas for your tattoo, wonder what is meaning of design that you have found or what to buy for aftercare, to make sure that your tattoo will be healing quickly and easily, here are some of my favorite products in one place, hope that this will also help.

Design and tattoo ideas

For some ideas you can have a look at those 3 books with hundreds of designs that I use with my clients, they are available on Amazon for Kindle or in classic, paper version (links below):

Tattoo meaning

If you would like to read more about the meaning of different tattoo styles and designs before you will decide what you would like to have, I can recommend a book that was really useful for me when I was starting my tattoo adventure – it’s “Conscious Ink: The Hidden Meaning of Tattoos” by Lisa Barretta (through the link you can find it on Amazon for around $10).

Tattoo aftercare

The skin at the tattoo site often dries out. To prevent it and speed up healing for my clients, I usually recommend one of those tattoo aftercare balms (you can find them on Amazon):


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