Tattoo Healing and Colour Change

  • By understanding the process of pigment fixation, you will be able to explain to your client why their tattoo will change in colour during the healing stages after their treatment.
  • Pigment fixation is the body’s immune respond to the trauma/wound created in the skin in response to the procedure, thus protecting the body from foreign matter implanted in the skin by trying to remove it.
  • Repair will occur by the migration of keratinocyte cells whereby a hardened barrier (scabbing) will form, protecting the area from bacteria and any external environmental elements.  
  • During the skin healing cycle (keratinization cycle) the outermost cells of the epidermis is replaced by keratin over a two – four-week period.
  • During this cycle the pigment implanted will change in appearance and colour.
  • Week 1 – Due to excess pigment in the epidermis, the colour of the tattoo will appear bolder and darker, this is also when pigment becomes fixated into the skin.
  • Due to swelling in the treated area and clusters of immune cells responding to trauma in the skin, pigment may appear patchy.  The scabbing may also cause the tattoo to appear bigger than the initial “stencil” prior to the procedure.  This stage is temporary and lasts up to five to seven days.
  • Week 2 – Redness and swelling has reduced, the scabbing on the treated area has started to flake off the wound and the appearance of the tattoo reduces in size between 20 – 70%, and the pigment implanted appears significantly lighter. The client may be concerned during this skin regeneration stage, as the pigment is masked by a top layer of dead skin cells as new skin is forming underneath.
  • Week 3 – Pigment starts to raise to the surface of the skin increasing in boldness due to the concentration of immune cells surrounding the tattoo reducing, and macrophage and connective fibroblast cells become permanently fixed in the dermis.  Pigment has been absorbed by these cells, and colour can be seen through the skin.
  • Week 4 to 6 – This is the last stage of the skin healing cycle and when true healed results can now be seen.  The healed colour of the pigment will be inclusive of the client’s natural skin tone/colour.
  • The area of the face has many blood vessels and therefore will metabolise pigment faster than the legs or arms.  Another reason why body tattoo’s retain pigment for a longer period of time.
  • You will notice during your client’s refresh appointments that the bulb of the brows (near the nose) will fade faster than the tail area.  This is due to a higher level of movement of the corrugator and procerus muscle at the front of the brow area. 

Why do Cosmetic Tattoos change colour?

Skin Undertone

The levels of melanin in the skin can add colour to the final healed result.  

Medications and Medical Conditions

Certain medications may react with pigment molecules, for example clients taking Accutane (an acne medication) will have extremely sensitive and thin skin that is very prone to scarring, and pigment will not hold. Never treat a client who is on this medication and wait a minimum of 8 months after medication has been stopped before proceeding with future treatment.

Client’s on blood thinners such as warfarin or aspirin have issues with blood clotting and will bleed more during the procedure, resulting in pigment being pushed out of the skin during the procedure, resulting in poor retention.

Always get a written doctors consent from your client before they stop any blood thinning or regular medications. 

Skin Care Products and Treatments 

Retinoids, alpha hydroxyls or any harsh chemicals used by the client on the treated area will cause fading of the pigment and can even discolour the pigment.  In salon treatments such as chemical peels, laser, dermabrasions will also fade and affect the colour of the tattoo.  Excess cleansing will disrupt the hydration barrier of the skin causing dryness and irritation, also affecting the tattoo.

Sun Exposure and External Environmental Factors

Excessive sun exposure will affect the vibrancy of the pigment and cause fading of the tattoo.  Microbladed hair strokes may appear less sharp.  Indoor fluorescent and halogen lighting can also emit high levels of UV which penetrates through the skin.

Alcohol and Coffee Consumption

Alcohol has the same effect as blood thinning medications; therefore, it is important to make your clients aware that they must not drink alcohol two days prior to their procedure.

Coffee can also significantly increase the coagulation factor; thus blood clotting can also be an issue if your client consumes a high intake of caffeine. 


Effects of smoking impacts the skins ability to heal, cause excessive bleeding during the procedure which can cause pigment migration.

Skin’s Cellular Composition

Oily skin types – excess sebaceous glands in the dermal layer of the skin can affect the retention of pigment into the skin.  It is common that clients with an oily skin type will need regular refresh/touch up sessions due to pigment fading.  Water-based pigments as opposed to glycerine-based pigments may help in these cases.

Not Following Aftercare Instructions

For example, if a client caused excessive sweating due to exercise or using sauna, picking the scabbing area, or washed their brows in the first week of healing.

Quality of Pigment Used

Check the used by date of your pigments, and make sure that they are stored in a dark cool area, and that you purchase a reputable high quality pigment brand.

Tattoo Method/Technique

If you implant the pigment too deep into the dermis of the skin your pigment my heal too cool and turn blue.  If you have not implanted the pigment deep enough there will be poor if no retention.  Skin stretch is very important, allowing you to penetrate the whole surface layer of the dermis as you perform the procedure, avoiding patchy uneven results.

Needle Configuration

The smaller the needle configuration, pigment will appear cooler and ashier. 

Infections and Infection control

If the cosmetic tattoo artist does not follow the best practice with hygiene or does not use sterile products, infections could be caused during the cosmetic tattoo process. The client not following the correct aftercare procedure at home can also cause infections. Make sure your clients are aware that the skin, once open, needs to be treated like any other wound and it is prone to infections if not looked after properly. They need to apply their aftercare cream with cotton buds and/or clean fingers. Make sure they do this in a clean area and that they wash their hands before touching the treated area. 

If the client complains about an infection, for example, if the area is hot to touch, tell them to see their doctor as soon as possible for treatment. If you have a client that experiences an infection, make sure to clean your entire salon with the appropriate disinfecting agents to ensure that you are not cross infecting the whole salon. 

You are encouraged to attend a separate Infection Control Training Course.