Why Is My Tattoo Turning Yellow?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on March 02, 2023
    Last Updated: April 7, 2023

Getting a tattoo is a significant investment, both in terms of time and money. That’s why it’s essential to understand what happens to tattoos as they age, including why they may turn yellow over time. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why tattoos turn yellow and what you can do to prevent or minimize the yellowing of your tattoo.

The Science Behind Tattoo Color

The pigments used in tattoos are usually made of iron oxide, titanium dioxide, or other metal salts. These pigments are inserted into the dermis, the second layer of skin, using a tattoo machine. The color of the tattoo will appear bright and vibrant immediately after the tattoo is finished, but over time, the color may fade or change due to various factors, including sun exposure, skin aging, and the type of pigment used.

Why Tattoos Turn Yellow

One of the most common reasons tattoos turn yellow is due to the type of pigment used. Certain pigments, such as those made of iron oxide, are more likely to fade or change color over time. Additionally, tattoos that contain red and orange pigments are more susceptible to yellowing pigment will naturally degrade faster than other colors.

Sun exposure is another common reason why tattoos turn yellow. The UV rays from the sun can break down the pigments in the tattoo, causing them to fade or change color. This is especially true for tattoos located on areas of the body that receive frequent sun exposure, such as the arms, legs, and chest.

Another factor that can contribute to yellowing is the aging of the skin. As we age, our skin naturally becomes less elastic and more prone to damage. This can cause the tattoo to become blurred or fade, and it can also cause the tattoo to turn a different color over time.

Why Does My New Tattoos Look Yellow?

It’s not uncommon for tattoos to look yellow when they’re first done, but this is usually not a cause for concern. When a tattoo is freshly done, the ink may be mixed with plasma or lymphatic fluid that can give the tattoo a yellowish appearance. This is typically temporary and will fade as the tattoo heals.

It’s important to note that yellowing in a fresh tattoo can also be caused by bruising. Bruising can occur when the needle penetrates the skin and causes bleeding and discoloration. Bruising usually appears as a yellow, purple or blue color and can be painful to the touch.

Bruising and Swelling

How to Prevent Yellowing

While it’s not possible to prevent yellowing entirely, there are steps you can take to minimize it. Here are some tips to help you keep your tattoo looking vibrant and colorful for as long as possible:

  • Protect your tattoo from sun exposure by wearing clothing that covers the tattoo or using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Avoid exposing your tattoo to harsh chemicals, such as chlorine, bleach, and other cleaning products.
  • Keep your skin moisturized to prevent the tattoo from fading or becoming blurred.
  • Avoid smoking, as the nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause your tattoo to fade or yellow more quickly.
  • If you notice that your tattoo is yellowing, you can try using a color-restoring product to help bring back its original color.

What To Do If Your Tattoo Starts To Turn Yellow

If you’ve noticed that your tattoo has become discolored, it can be frustrating and concerning. Here are some steps you can take if your tattoo has become discolored:

  1. Identify the cause of the discoloration: Discoloration in a tattoo can be caused by a variety of factors, including sun exposure, poor aftercare, or an allergic reaction to the ink. Try to identify the cause of the discoloration to determine the best course of action.
  2. Consult with your tattoo artist: Your tattoo artist can help you determine the cause of the discoloration and recommend appropriate treatments. They may be able to perform a touch-up session to add fresh ink to the discolored areas of your tattoo.
  3. Consider tattoo removal: In some cases, discoloration in a tattoo may be severe enough to require removal. Laser tattoo removal is a safe and effective option for removing unwanted tattoos, including those that have become discolored over time.
  4. Protect your tattoo from further damage: To prevent further discoloration in your tattoo, it’s important to protect it from the sun and other environmental factors. Avoid direct sunlight on your tattoo and wear protective clothing or sunscreen when spending time outdoors. Follow proper aftercare instructions to ensure that your tattoo heals properly and maintains its vibrancy over time.

In some cases, discoloration in a tattoo may be a natural part of the aging process or a result of exposure to environmental factors. However, if you have concerns about the health of your tattoo or notice any unusual symptoms, it’s always best to seek professional medical advice to ensure proper treatment and prevent further complications.

When to Seek Medical Attention

In some cases, yellowing can be a sign of an underlying skin condition or infection. If you notice that your tattoo is turning yellow, it’s essential to seek medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Itching or burning sensation
  • Redness or swelling
  • Discharge or pus
  • A feeling of tightness or hardness in the tattoo

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to see a doctor as soon as possible, as you may need treatment to prevent the spread of infection or further skin damage.


While yellowing is an uncommon but entirely possible problem that tattoo owners could face, there are steps you can take to prevent or minimize it. By taking care of your skin, protecting your tattoo from sun exposure and harsh chemicals, and seeking medical attention if necessary, you can help ensure that your tattoo stays vibrant and colorful (in the right way) for years to come.

Related Tattoo Aftercare Articles