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What colour do black tattoos fade to?

Black tattoos are a popular choice due to their classic, bold look. However, over time black ink can fade and change color. Understanding how and why black tattoos fade can help you care for your existing ink or decide if a black tattoo is right for you.

How Black Tattoo Ink Fades

There are a few key factors that cause black tattoos to fade:

  • Sun exposure – UV rays from the sun can cause tattoos, especially black ink, to fade faster.
  • Quality of ink – Lower quality ink may not be as stable and can fade more quickly.
  • Location on body – Areas that see more abrasion like hands and feet are more prone to fading.
  • Skin type – Tattoos tend to fade faster on people with oily skin compared to dry or normal skin.
  • Age of tattoo – Older tattoos that are years or decades old are more likely to have faded compared to newer ones.
  • Removal methods – If you’ve tried to remove a black tattoo, leftover ink particles can cause a faded appearance.

The main cause of fading is the ink spreading from the original tattooing over time. Tattoo needles deposit ink in the dermis, the second layer of skin below the epidermis. Over time, ink particles can migrate upwards towards the epidermis or deeper into the dermis. This diffusion makes the lines appear blurred and colors seem faded.

What Colors Do Black Tattoos Fade To?

When black tattoos fade, they tend to turn into shades of gray, blue, or green. Here’s an overview of the common fading colors:

  • Gray: One of the most common faded colors for a black tattoo. Since black ink dilutes as it spreads in the skin, gray is a natural faded hue.
  • Blue: Black ink can take on a blueish tone when fading, especially under the skin’s surface. This happens when the darker components of the ink fade first, revealing underlying bluish pigments.
  • Green: In some cases, black tattoos turn greenish when fading. This occurs when yellow components in skin combine with fading blue/black pigments.
  • Purple: In rare cases, black ink fades to a purple or dark magenta shade. This is likely due to a reaction between fading ink and skin pigments.

Keep in mind that faded black tattoos are often an uneven mix of these colors. One section may be grayish, while another leans green or blue. The variation happens because ink fades unevenly based on factors like sun exposure and skin type.

When Do Black Tattoos Start to Fade?

Most black tattoos start to show at least minor fading within 6 to 12 months. However, the fading process happens gradually over years or decades.

Here’s an overview of what to expect with black tattoo fading at different stages:

Time After Getting Tattoo Amount of Fading
First 6 to 12 months Possible minor fading, such as slight lightening of dark solid sections
2 to 5 years Fading increases, with blurring around edges of lines and dark areas
5 to 10 years Noticeable fading sets in, with distinct lightening of colors
10+ years Severe fading occurs, with tattoo colors taking on lighter, muted or diluted shades

Again, factors like sun exposure and skin type impact these general timelines. For example, black tattoos on the hands or feet may start to significantly fade in just 2 to 3 years. Meanwhile, tattoos protected by clothing and with minimal sun exposure can remain relatively unfaded for 5 years or longer.

Preventing Black Tattoos From Fading

While some tattoo fading over time is inevitable, you can help prevent excessive fading of black ink using these tips:

  • Sun protection: Apply broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to tattoos before sun exposure. Wear sun-protective clothing over tattoos when possible.
  • Moisturize: Keep tattoos hydrated with an unscented moisturizer to maintain healthy skin.
  • Avoid abrasion: Be gentle with areas like hands and feet where tattoos experience more abrasion.
  • Exfoliate carefully: Use gentle exfoliators like damp washcloths rather than gritty scrubs around tattoos.
  • Avoid tanning beds: UV rays in tanning beds rapidly fade tattoo ink.
  • Touch up when needed: See your artist for a touch up if fading becomes noticeable.

With proper sun protection and skin care, it’s possible to maintain black tattoos with minimal fading for years. But some amount of fading over decades is still normal.

Options for Restoring Faded Black Tattoos

If your black tattoos have faded significantly, you have a few options to consider:

  • Laser removal: Laser treatments can remove faded ink, allowing you to get the area retouched. Multiple sessions are usually required.
  • Cover up: Getting a larger, darker tattoo over the top can conceal faded areas.
  • Touch up: Your original artist may be able to refresh areas by retracing lines or filling in patches.
  • Avoidance: If fading is minor, you may opt to simply leave it rather than undergo removal, cover ups, or touch ups.

Discuss the pros and cons of each option with your artist to decide what’s best for your specific tattoos. Keep in mind cover ups provide complete coverage but require tattooing a larger area. Touch ups target only faded spots but may not restore tattoos to look completely new again.

How to Care for Black Tattoos

Caring properly for black tattoos during the healing process and beyond is key to minimizing fading. Here are some top care tips:

  • Leave the bandage or wrap on for as long as your artist recommends, usually 12 to 24 hours.
  • After removing the bandage, wash the tattoo gently with mild unscented soap and water. Pat dry with a clean towel.
  • Apply a very thin layer of unscented moisturizer multiple times per day for 2 to 4 weeks during initial healing.
  • Avoid submerging the tattoo in high bacteria water like pools, hot tubs, or baths during healing.
  • Wear loose, breathable clothing over healing tattoos to prevent abrasion.
  • Apply high SPF sunscreen once fully healed before sun exposure.
  • Get touch ups every few years if you notice fading starting to happen.

Proper aftercare and sun protection are critical for keeping black tattoos looking their best. Follow your artist’s advice on caring for new tattoos.

Choosing an Experienced Tattoo Artist

Selecting a highly skilled tattoo artist is one of the best ways to get a durable black tattoo that resists fading. Here’s what to look for:

  • A licensed, professional shop: Avoid “scratchers” working outside legal shops.
  • An artist experienced with black ink: View healed photos of their black tattoos.
  • A specialty in the style you want: Choose someone who excels at your desired tattoo style.
  • A portfolio you love: Make sure the artist’s work is high quality.
  • Strong reviews and references: Talk to past clients about their experiences.

Take time researching artists and visit shops in person. The right tattooer will create beautiful, lasting black ink tattoos.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do some black tattoos fade to green?

Black ink can turn greenish when fading due to reactions between skin pigments like melanin and the remaining blue and yellow tattoo pigments. The specific compounds in the ink and differences in individual skin both play a role.

Should I avoid black ink if I don’t want fading?

You don’t necessarily have to avoid black altogether. Opt for an experienced artist skilled at applying durable black ink. Also be diligent about sunscreen and aftercare. Darker skin tones resist visible fading more than fair skin as well.

How long until color tattoos fade?

Color tattoos fade at about the same rate as black tattoos. Minor fading becomes noticeable between 6 months and a few years. More significant fading happens over the course of decades. Proper artist choice and aftercare help color tattoos last.

Can faded black tattoos be restored?

Yes, faded areas can often be refreshed with touch ups by your original artist. Laser removal may be done first to eliminate the faded ink. Cover ups are another option, but require tattooing a larger area.

Should I tan before getting a black tattoo?

No, tanning or sunburns immediately before tattooing is not recommended. The damaged skin does not heal as well. Plus tanning fades the ink faster later on. Avoid tanning for 2 to 4 weeks before getting tattooed.


Black tattoos remain a classic choice thanks to their bold, timeless look. However, some fading of black ink over time is inevitable for most tattoos. Typical faded colors include gray, blue, green, and purple hues. Fading happens gradually and becomes more noticeable after years or decades. Caring properly for new black tattoos and protecting healed ink from sun exposure helps slow the fading process. Working with an experienced tattoo artist skilled in applying black ink also improves longevity. If your black tattoos ever do fade significantly, consult your tattooer about touch ups or other restoration options.