Does Tattoo Ink Go Bad?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on February 03, 2022
    Last Updated: February 3, 2022

Most things in life have an expiry date but with many of these, you don’t even think about it until it’s too late. Food, drinks, make-up, toiletries all go bad after a while. However, is it the same for tattoo ink?

Expiration dates are there for a reason, and they are used to indicate that after this date it will be unfit or unsafe to use, due to chemical or biological degradation. The expiration date could also mean that the product is likely to become contaminated after a certain length of time, making it unsafe for use.

You wouldn’t drink milk that’s out of date, so why would you put tattoo ink in your body past its expiration date?

We’ll let you know if tattoo ink does expire or go bad, and the dangers of using this ink for your tattoo. 

How Long Does Tattoo Ink Last?

Most tattoo ink manufacturers give their tattoo inks an expiry date of around two years. This often gives tattoo artists plenty of time to use the ink before the expiry, and you will find that many tattoo artists have run out of ink a long time before the two years is up. This is especially so with those tattoo artists who work with mainly black and gray ink.

However, if you don’t tattoo regularly or use lots of different colored ink, you may find that some of your colored ink remains after the two-year shelf life.

Does Tattoo Ink Expire or Go Bad?

While the tattoo ink itself doesn’t expire, you will find that some components of the ink are susceptible to contamination, especially once opened. If you already have a tattoo, the ink in your skin won’t expire, but it will fade over time.

As a tattoo artist, you should never use tattoo ink that’s past its expiry date. If you’re going to have a tattoo done, you will need to check this with your tattoo artist, as well as checking that the ink is stored properly, as this can also affect the ink expiring.

The two-year expiration date is a guide for your inks. However, just like food that’s not stored correctly, the ink can go bad before the expiry date. 

Your ink must be bottled in a sterile environment to give it the best start and make sure that it’s not contaminated before leaving the factory. Check out the manufacturer and the hygiene standards that they use before investing in the ink.

Once you have the ink it needs to be stored in a sterile, cool, dark place with a sealed lid. Each time the ink is opened, air will enter the bottle, contaminating the ink. Make sure that the ink is only opened when needed, as this will keep it fresher.

How To Tell if Ink Has Expired

It can be difficult to tell when the tattoo ink has expired, especially if you’re not looking specifically for this. Therefore, it’s important to always check your inks before using them for tattooing.

If your tattoo ink has gone past the expiry date, it needs to be thrown away, even if it looks perfect. The expiration dates are there for a reason, to keep your customers safe. If you know that your ink hasn’t been stored correctly, you need to also throw the ink away. 

You can sometimes tell if your ink has gone bad or has been contaminated by just looking at it. The tattoo ink may have split, leaving the solid and liquid elements separate in the bottle, or it could have evaporated, making the tattoo ink thicker or more solid. If you notice any of these changes in your ink, you must throw it away.

Why You Don’t Want a Tattoo With Expired Ink

Tattoo ink becomes unusable when the ink is contaminated. Contamination will cause bacteria to grow in the ink, and make it harmful to use in the skin. This could result in serious consequences for both you and the person you’re tattooing.

There is the minor issue of faded, dull colors or tattoo designs turning out badly due to using thin, expired ink. Whereas this may be bad for someone paying for a tattoo that they have dreamt about for a long time, it’s not dangerous.

The more dangerous effects of using expired tattoo inks would be that it causes a bacterial infection. This infection could result in your tattoo being badly damaged and your skin being scarred due to swelling, pus, and scabbing. 

An infection can be cleared by taking a course of antibiotics. However, using the contaminated tattoo ink could lead to other health issues that can be life-changing, such as non-tuberculous mycobacteria, hepatitis, and tetanus.


Tattoo ink itself doesn’t expire or go bad. However, certain elements of the ink do expire, and the ink can become contaminated. 

You need to make sure that the tattoo inks that you used come from a reputable manufacturer who bottles the ink in a sterile environment. Then once you have the ink, you need to make sure that it’s stored correctly, and only opened when it’s being used.

If you notice any changes in your ink or that it has gone past the expiry date, you need to throw this out straight away.

Your customers’ health and safety are your number one priority, along with your reputation as a tattoo artist. You don’t want to ruin this by using bad tattoo ink.

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