Does Tattoo Ink Expire?(Solved)

Does Tattoo Ink Expire?

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Does Tattoo Ink Expire?

Tattoo ink is the pigment used in tattoos and can be natural or synthetic. Pigments are finely ground mineral inks that give skin its color. Synthetic pigments are often made from lead, which is toxic to humans.

Yes! Tattoo ink does expire. The main ingredients that can cause tattoo ink to expire are:


The main ingredient in ink is a pigment, which helps create the tattoo’s color.

These pigments can include anything from iron oxide for browns and blacks, titanium dioxide for whites, and carbon black for dark blues and purples. These pigments may break down over time as they come into contact with oxygen, causing discoloration.

Titanium dioxide is considered a safer alternative to many other pigments because it is more resistant to fading and discoloration.

However, titanium dioxide may break down over time and be dangerous for those with an allergy to titanium.


The carriers in ink help the pigments mix with the carrier liquid. These commonly include alcohols, glycols, and polymers.

Alcohols are often added to tattoo ink as a preservative, fragrance, or to increase the ink’s sterilization.

Glycols and polymers act as stabilizers to prevent the tattoo ink from freezing. Over time, these carriers can break down, which may affect the consistency of the ink.


To make tattoo ink sterile, many manufacturers add preservatives such as formaldehyde to prevent bacterial growth in the liquid.

As a general rule, preservatives also increase the shelf life of products. However, prolonged exposure to formaldehyde may be unhealthy and lead to complications such as nausea, dizziness, and skin rashes.

Why Are Rotary Tattoo Machines Better?

Many people who are sensitive to formaldehyde should avoid tattooing altogether.

What Happens If I Use Expired Tattoo Ink?

1. Infection

One of the risks of using expired tattoo ink is the increased risk of infection. If your skin isn’t fully healed, bacteria can enter your open wound, leaving you with a nasty, painful infection.

2. Allergic Reactions

Your skin might also react badly to expired tattoo ink, especially if you’re allergic to preservatives or the pigment particles have disintegrated. Your body may react badly enough that swelling and other symptoms occur.

3. Skin Damage

The pigment particles in the ink may also damage your skin if they are no longer safe to use. If your skin is not fully healed and the ink particles become trapped under it, it can lead to a nasty infection or permanent damage.

4. Bleeding

One of the scariest risks of using expired tattoo ink is that you may bleed from the area where you applied the tattoo. This can often happen without you even knowing.

5. Open Wounds

When you apply expired tattoo ink to your open wound, you’re putting yourself at risk of infection and skin damage. The pigments in ink can get trapped under the skin, leaving you with a nasty infection or even open wounds.

How Long Does Black Tattoo Ink Last?

The lifespan of black tattoo ink can vary depending on a few factors, such as:

1. Ink Quality

The better the quality of the ink, the longer it will last.

2. Tattoo Size

The larger the tattoo, the more ink is used, so the lifespan of black tattoo ink will be shorter.

3. Tattoo Location

Tattoos on areas with higher amounts of sweat, such as your feet or back, may fade quicker than those on less perspiring zones, such as your arm.

This is because sweat causes skin cells (keratin) to cling to each other, creating a shield that protects against water and causes any ink underneath to fade quicker than it would normally.

4. Tattoo Artist

Tattoo artists who use poor-quality tattoo inks may apply them too heavily, which can cause the tattoo to be more prone to fading.

5. Tattoo Aftercare

The better the aftercare, the longer the tattoo will last.

5. Skin Type

Some people have thinner skin than others, and their tattoos may fade quicker.

This is because darker ink requires more pigment, which is delivered deeper into the skin, and this cannot be done on skin that is too thin as the pigment will break through the other side of your skin instead of staying in one place as it should.

How Do You Revive Old Tattoo Ink?

Shaking-Breaks settled pigment.
– Distributes pigment throughout the solution.
Adding Distilled Water
– Distributes ink and releases pigment.
Addition of Glycerin-Dissolves the gums in the skin, creating a moist environment for oxygen.
Addition of Preservative-Maintain sterility.
– Kills bugs and bacteria in the ink.
Use of Homogenizer-Breaks up bubbles of dried ink.
– Helps add more pigment.
Use a Micron Filter-Removes excess pigment particles.
– Saves more ink for later use.

How Do You Know If Tattoo Ink Is Bad?

1. Changes in color

While the ink may initially seem dark black or grey, it soon starts to change. The pigment in the ink will start to run, and the color will be washed out very quickly.

2. Smelly

An unopened container of tattoo ink will likely have a very light, mildly sweet smell that many people tolerate well enough.

However, an opened container of tattoo ink may have a stronger smell that can cause stinging eyes, nose irritation, and a headache-inducing smell.

3. Change in Consistency

The ink exposed to the open air will soon harden and become very thick. The pigment in the ink and any other ingredients will turn into a hard chunk in the bottom of the container.

This ink can be saved by reheating and allowing it to melt again.

4. Inactivity

The best evidence that tattoo ink is bad is if it isn’t doing anything at all anymore. While some products are designed to help ink stay put, they may only work for a while.

Tattoo ink may never recover from being exposed to the air.

Does Tattoo Ink Expire?

5. Presence of Mold

If the ink container is left open and drying out, mold may grow. This is a dangerous substance and should be removed immediately.

There are some ways to remove the mold, but throwing away the ink and finding new containers is best.

Can You Add Water To Dried-Up Tattoo Ink?

Adding water to dried-up tattoo ink can dilute the pigments in the ink, which can change the color and make it less vibrant. This can result in a tattoo that looks faded or washed out.

Additionally, adding water to the ink can also change its consistency, making it thinner or waterier. This can make it more difficult to apply the ink evenly, resulting in an uneven or patchy tattoo.

In some cases, adding water to tattoo ink can even lead to bacterial growth.

This is because water can introduce bacteria into the ink, which can then multiply and cause infection or other health problems for the person receiving the tattoo.

To avoid these issues, it’s generally recommended to dispose of dried-up tattoo ink and purchase a new bottle of ink immediately after the ink dries out.

If you add water to dried-up ink, you should be careful not to get contaminants, such as water or bacteria, into the new ink bottle.

To do this, pour some old alcohol into a new disposable cup and use this to rinse out the dried-up container that held the old ink.

You can then use this cleaned container to dispose of any dry and unusable ink and fill it with a fresh bottle of tattoo ink. 

Why Do Old Tattoos Leak Ink?

1. Sun Damage

Exposure to UV rays can cause the skin to break down, which can cause the ink to fade and spread. This is especially true for tattoos in areas exposed to the sun, such as the: 

  • Arms
  • Shoulders
  • Back

2. Natural Ageing Process of the skin

Your skin goes through changes with old age. One of these changes is the skin breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers.

The breakdown of these fibers leads to wrinkles and loose tissue, which leads to sagging. This can cause some ink to leak out into surrounding tissue as the skin sags over time.

3. Hormonal Changes

The skin can also undergo hormonal changes (such as after pregnancy or menopause), making it more likely for the ink to leak out into surrounding tissue.

4. Environment

Your tattoo may also bleed and leak if the environment is too cold, which can cause skin damage and inflammation. Tattoo ink that bleeds into the surrounding tissue can cause it to become loose, allow more ink to leak, or both.

6. Infection

Tattooing can be painful, especially if you get a lot of breakouts or pimples after getting a new tattoo.

If your body has an infection such as acne or staph infection, that may increase the risk of infection in your tattooed area. This can also increase the chance of an infection in your ink.

Can You Check How Old The Ink Is?

Yes! You can check how old the ink is in two ways:

1. Direct Dating

You can do this by comparing the age of the ink to the age of other materials in which it is used. Here are a few examples:

  • Compare it to ink from a fountain pen.
  • Check the production date on an ink cartridge when buying a new pen.
  • Check if it’s dated using dyes with known age ranges.

2. Indirect Dating

You can infer the age of the ink indirectly by examining the type of fountain pen, ballpoint pen or other writing instrument and then checking for examples of those pens with dates in their product range.

For example, if you have a pen with a date code 2023, you know the ink inside it must be from 2023 or earlier.

What Is Tattoo Ink Made Of, And How Does It Expire?                       

Tattoo ink is typically made of a mix of FDA-approved, sterilized pigments, water, solvents and additives. Despite being composed mostly of inorganic substances (pigments), tattoo ink has a shelf life.

If you are not constantly in the tattooing business or don’t make your pigments, the best place to buy new ink is a trusted professional supplier.

If you have ever had your ink mixed at a salon, you may have also been given a package of disposable ink tubes to use while your tattoo is healing.

This is standard practice, and the tubes can be replaced with new ones anytime. The same dye lot expiration date will apply to the disposable ink tubes and regular tattoo inks.

Here is a table that shows the approximate shelf life of popular tattoo inks;

Element/CompoundPurposeShelf-Life YearsExpiration
PigmentsColorIndefiniteNo expiration
WaterDiluent3-5Degrades over time
AlcoholSterilizerIndefiniteNo expiration
GlycerinHumectant2-3Degrades over time
Witch HazelAstringentIndefiniteNo expiration
Propylene GlycolHumectant2-3Degrades over time

Does Tattoo Ink Go Bad After The Expiration Of A Bottle?

Tattoo ink can go bad after the expiration of a bottle, although the extent and specific effects of the expiration can vary depending on a few factors.

  1. The shelf life of tattoo ink can depend on the brand and formulation of the ink. Some manufacturers may include preservatives or other additives that prolong the shelf life of the ink, while others may not.
  2. The ink’s storage conditions can also affect its shelf life. The ink exposed to light, heat, or air can degrade faster than stored in a cool, dark, and dry environment.
  3. The time the ink is exposed to air can affect its shelf life. The ink that remains in a sealed bottle for long periods tends to degrade more slowly than the ink exposed to air for shorter periods.
  4. Decolletage or chest tattooing, done with a needle and involves the upper chest or neck area,
  5. Those areas can be more sensitive to the effects of tattoo ink deterioration than other areas of the body when those areas are left uncovered and not protected by clothing.


Tattoo ink can go bad after the expiration of a bottle, although the extent and specific effects of the expiration can vary depending on a few factors.

Keeping your tattoo ink in an airtight container is important to avoid losing it prematurely.


I'm Vincent, a registered skincare specialist and an award-winning tattoo artist. I've been in the industry for over 10 years and have worked with some of the best tattoo artists in my field. I've loved everything to do with tattoos and arts in general, as well as exercise and wellness! This site is a place for me to share some of the expertise knowledge I have, as well as keep up-to-date with current research and studies. Tattoos are a huge passion of mine, I faced many questions from customers about different products, and there was hardly any help on the internet. I decided to start a blog and help other people!

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