We need to warn you right off the bat: your tattoo will never look as bright as it did the moment before your artist wrapped it. A raw wound with freshly deposited ink hasn’t gone through its healing process which can dramatically alter how the ink looks, fully healed. This can be especially concerning for people who noticed their black tattoo turning grey.
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How the Healing Process Turns a Tattoo Grey
A tattoo is an open wound and this trauma done to your largest organ, your skin, needs to be rectified by your body. As such, it goes through a cell regeneration process that tries to mend the wound. This mending can look and feel different for each person and each tattoo. For black tattoos or tattoos with thick, black details, this can sometimes result in a more intense healing process.
The first stage in tattoo healing is when your tattoo goes through a process called weeping. This is when your body pushes out any excess blood, plasma, or even ink from your tattoo, to make way for scab formation. While some ink loss is a normal part of this process, if your artist is inexperienced, this could be a major part of tattoo fading or a black tattoo looking grey.
Your tattoo will form scabs to help heal the tattooed area. Because your tattoo ink has been deposited in your lower dermis, these scabs on your epidermis do not influence the ink. But your layer of epidermis is regrowing, which is likely to dull the pigment that sits below it. And if you pick at or peel away these scabs, you can take ink with them.
The best way to imagine it is to consider a drawing made with marker on paper that you color over with clear wax; you can still see the color and image below, but it certainly does not look as bright or potent as when it was initially drawn. The clear wax in this case is your epidermis regrowth.
In addition to this, your tattoo may go through a cloudy or milky stage where the tattoo appears exceptionally dull or clouded. This is normal and will dissipate after a week or so, but regardless of this scab fading, your tattoo will still not be as bright as it was when you first left the shop.
After your tattoo has fully healed, which is usually around one month for most people, your tattoo should be sharper and brighter in color. The dullness you once saw should have disappeared. It will not be as potent as when your tattoo was fresh, but it should be considerably impressive and impactful.
Reasons Why a Black Tattoo Might Fade
If you’ve allowed your tattoo one to two months to fully heal but you’ve noticed your black tattoo is still faded or looking grey, there could be other reasons for this issue.
The number one cause of a black tattoo healing grey is because of cheap ink. Cheap ink will not sit when deposited in the lower dermis. This could be a result of poor pigment or heavily diluted ink. It may not be noticeable when you leave the artist’s chair, but it gets pushed out too much when healing or looks faded, washed out, and patchy at the end.
An Inexperienced Artist
Another reason for your black tattoo healing grey could be caused by an inexperienced artist. Apprentice artists or beginner artists with poor experience do not know where to properly deposit tattoo ink in the dermis. This means that the color does not hold. If a greying tattoo is the cause of an inexperienced artist, this can be touched up.
If your black tattoo is looking gray, it may actually be intentional and due to miscommunication with your artist. Greywash is when black ink is diluted or mixed with white ink to create a grey color that is better for shading, highlighting, or detailing. If your black tattoo looks grey, it may actually have been shaded with greywash. If this has not given you the desired effect on your healed tattoo, you could always request to fill it in with black.
A black tattoo appearing grey may have a scab or milk scab over it. This is just dead skin that will fall off with time - do not pick at them. Black tattoos also form thicker scabs, and scab differently than shading done with colored ink.
If these have fully healed and you are still noticing grey, your scabs may have pulled ink with them. This is more common than you think and can happen with even the most meticulous aftercare, especially for thick black pieces. This can be rectified with a touch up, if your artist says it is fully healed and missing ink.
Exposure to UV Rays
Sun is the number one enemy of new and old tattoos. It is a major contributor to tattoo fading, acting like a laser tattoo removal and blasting away the pigment from the tattooed dermis. UV rays will find dark abnormalities on skin and focus on those regions. This makes black tattoos especially susceptible to fading.
If you have tattoos, especially black pieces, you should avoid direct sun exposure without proper sunscreen. You should also avoid tanning beds, which contribute to the fading of tattoos. UV exposure will dull, fade, or “grey” your black tattoos. In some cases, people have noticed black ink turning a green-ish tone with UV aging.
The placement of your tattoo matters, and some areas experience more friction than others. This friction, especially during the healing stage, can contribute to the fading of your black tattoo. Skin-to-skin friction or tight clothing can impact the potency of a black tattoo.
Sweating is a contributor to tattoo fading, and this should be considered with placement as well. Apart from impacting a new tattoo’s healing negatively, it also contributes to an acceleration of tattoo fading over time.
Learn more on sweat and tattoos: Can You Sweat With A New Tattoo?
Our tattoos fade over time, and that can’t really be helped. Black, sharp, potent tattoos could look more grey over five or ten years. The easiest way to rectify this is through a touch up or a blastover on an old tattoo.
Our Final Thoughts
While a black tattoo may appear more grey over time, early in the healing process this grey effect could be a result of scabbing that requires some more time to heal, or it could be caused by poor ink or an inexperienced artist.
After allowing your tattoo at least one to two months to heal, if you still notice your black tattoo appearing significantly more grey than normal, discuss your concerns with your artist. They may recommend a touch up to make your piece more potent, or aftercare products to brighten up your ink.