How Long Do Tattoos Last? Tattoos, Time, And Fading

Written by: Pete
Updated:

Despite being constantly told that tattoos are a permanent decision that lasts a lifetime, the truth of the matter is that tattoos do change over time. They will never look exactly as they looked when you stepped out of the artist’s chair, and you need to keep this in mind prior to getting a tattoo.

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Do Tattoos Really Last Forever?

While the general outline and design of the ink will certainly last a lifetime, your tattoo will go through some profound changes. This is because the ink will always be a foreign substance to your body and your immune system will continuously try to break down the ink and take it away in your bloodstream. The immune cells that perform this process are called macrophages.

But one French study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that these macrophages pass on the ink to their replacement cells and that’s why your tattoo is still present on your skin but looks lighter, faded, or blurry. Essentially, the macrophages in our skin hold the ink, release it when they die, and then the new macrophages “gobble up” the ink that was left behind.

What Factors Influence the Fading of Tattoos?

All tattoos experience some fading over time, and, in fact, we wrote an entire article about this process! But here is a summary of what may impact how long your tattoo lasts:

  • Age is a primary factor in tattoo aging.
  • The location of the tattoo may also influence how long a tattoo lasts, especially if it is in a region that constantly rubs against clothing or experiences a lot of movement.
  • Sun exposure is the number one enemy against a tattoo lasting a long time.
  • Poor aftercare or not maintaining the hydration of your skin could contribute to your tattoo not lasting long.
  • Poor designs or mediocre quality work will also influence how quickly your tattoo changes over time.

Our Final Thoughts

While a tattoo certainly lasts forever, it definitely experiences many changes over time. You may need touch-ups on older tattoos, or even a cover-up or blastover of your old tattoo if you find it hasn’t lasted to your liking.

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