What Happens To Tattoo Ink After It's Been Injected Into The Skin?

Written by: Pete
Updated:

From a young age, we are taught that our skin is constantly shedding and regrowing. If that’s the case, how do tattoos seem to last a lifetime? The entire process of tattooing and depositing ink into your skin is not that complicated, and we help clarify any questions you may have about what happens to tattoo ink when it’s injected into the skin.

What Happens to the Tattoo Ink?

You may be wondering what exactly happens to tattoo ink when it is deposited into your skin. A tattoo needle pierces and penetrates through your epidermis and deposits or injects ink into your dermis layer. This layer is thick enough to hold the ink and maintain that beautiful, crisp design we all long for.

All three layers of our skin are made up of totally different tissues and while the epidermis continues to push through layers and regenerate, the dermis is made out of something called Dense Irregular Connective Tissue which means it is packed full of collagen fibers going in all different directions, and creating a very tough and dense space, perfect for ink to stay put.

Does Our Body Try and Get Rid of the Ink?

As you can see, blood vessels and nerves are present in the dermis and these are what will react to the pain of the process and what will also try and combat the foreign substance in your body. That means that a little bit of ink can be taken away by your bloodstream and destroyed, but not enough that it completely causes your tattoo to fade. Therefore, it’s for that reason that tattoos naturally fade over time; our immune system responds to the trauma and the foreign ink.

Where Does the Ink Go?

Since your body does try and get rid of the ink, but can’t seem to fight against the Dense Irregular Connective Tissue to do so completely, you may be wondering where those droplets of ink go.

Some of that ink gets pushed up and out through the wound during a healing process called weeping. Since the blood cells attacking the foreign substance would rather keep and destroy the ink so it doesn’t get to other parts of the body, some white blood cells float off in your bloodstream and get filtered through your body’s organs. In some studies, very small nanoparticles of ink were found to be collecting inside lymph nodes.

How tattoo ink moves in the skin over a few months of being tattooed.

Does This Mean Having a Tattoo is Harmful to Your Health?

Not necessarily, but this does depend heavily on the ink your artist is using. Many cheap inks can contain heavy metals, chemicals, or questionable ingredients and could potentially cause long-term health issues. It’s for that reason that you should do extensive research and select a highly-qualified tattoo shop and inquire into what tattoo inks they are using; vegan and chemical-free ink options are best. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites, here.

Why Does Tattoo Ink Fade Over Time?

Our immune system will never stop trying to protect us from the foreign particles that are being held in our dermis, and as such, our tattoos will gradually lose some crispness, color, or details over time. This can easily be rectified with a touch-up.

External factors can also influence how our tattoos age, especially UV rays - the number one enemy of tattoos. For more information on why tattoos fade and how to slow it down, check out our article, Help! How Do I Stop My Tattoo From Fading? - A Complete Guide.

Our Final Thoughts

Tattooing is an ancient practice and at some point in the past, our ancestors discovered that the dermis is the layer of skin that will hold tattoo ink most efficiently. While our body’s immune system response is to get rid of the foreign particles over time, in general, you are safe and ink will not have long-term negative health impacts.

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