Nothing beats that day-one look of fresh ink; it’s bright, it’s crisp, and it catches the attention of everyone who sees it. A tattoo is a lifetime investment, so taking the time to look after it to prevent fading, blurring, and the dulling of colors is the key to continuing to love your tattoo ten or 20 years down the line.
So what can you do to preserve your ink? We’ve put together your complete how to and care guide for keeping your tattoos looking new, which you can start the moment you step out of the shop.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Tattoos That Look Fresh Are Tattoos That Are Cared For
- 2 If You Haven’t Gotten Your Tattoo Yet
- 3 Great Aftercare Will Improve Your Tattoo’s Life
- 4 Our Final Thoughts
Tattoos That Look Fresh Are Tattoos That Are Cared For
In order to ensure that your tattoo continues to look brand new after months or even years, you should implement a care regimen that respects and aims to combat the aging process of skin.
Though your tattoo includes ink that is deposited in your dermis, which are lower layers of skin, taking care of your epidermis (your upper layers of skin) acts as a kind of shield of protection for that ink.
We have said it time and time again: UV rays are not only harmful for your health but they’re the number one enemy of your tattoos, no matter how old they are. If you consider that laser tattoo removal machines are basically highly concentrated pulses of UV wavelengths, you get a better idea of the kind of ink-blasting that can happen when you allow your tattoo to bake in the sun.
UV rays, whether artificial or natural, gradually fade your tattoos. They also can cause small particles of ink to break apart from your dermis and become absorbed by your bloodstream. This can cause your tattoo to look less crisp or blurry over time.
Lucky for you, we’ve compiled our list of the Best Sunscreen For Tattoos: Top 6 Choices Reviewed and La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Zinc Oxide sunscreen topped our charts.
A broad spectrum sunscreen will protect your ink, acting like a kind of umbrella over your skin, and sunscreens such as La Roche-Posay’s are a brand you can begin using after the weeping of a new tattoo. Look for sunscreens that are at least SPF 30, paraben free, fragrance free, allergy tested, and contain extra vitamins or antioxidant properties that add moisturization or soothing elements to your skin.
If you’re considering opting for a tanning bed, think again. Tanning beds have a high concentration of UV and can be just as damaging to your tattoos. You should choose to go for spray tans or use a self tanner if you really need that glow. Not only is it better for your tattoos but it’s better for your overall health.
Your tattoo is situated in the dermis.
Exfoliation is a cleansing process that includes little grains of sand, sugar, or salt in your cream or cleanser. This allows you to carefully scrub off layers of dead skin cells and reveal a brighter tattoo beneath.
Don’t worry about scrubbing off some of your ink; your tattoo is sitting in your lower dermis and exfoliators merely touch the surface of your skin. There are chemical alternatives that also do the same, but we prefer more natural, make-your-own body scrub recipes. You should always avoid any products that use plastic beads as an ingredient.
You can exfoliate your skin once or twice a week. This process should only begin after your tattoo has had at least two months of healing and not before. That’s because exfoliating removes the upper level of your skin (the epidermis) and during your first few weeks of a new tattoo, that’s the layer that is keeping your ink safe.
Dry skin is dull skin, so if you want to keep your tattoos looking bright and fresh, one of the easiest ways is to introduce a moisturizing regimen into your daily care routine. Moisturizer will provide hydration to your skin which not only makes your tattoos look great but also combats the natural aging process.
There are three moisturization options you can begin to use on your tattoo after it has stopped weeping (day three or four of a new tattoo):
- Cream - Greater water content which makes it extremely hydrating
- Lotion - Lighter formula which is often comfortable than a cream
- Ointment - Packed full of nutrients and healing properties that are great for a new tattoo, and can be used earlier than lotions or creams
Always wash your tattoo prior to applying a moisturizer, and ensure that the moisturizer is fully absorbed by your skin upon application.
Another way to get hydration to your skin is to drink a lot of water.
Did you know that wrinkles are a sign of dehydration? Keep your skin looking taught, bright, and young by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and other dehydrating beverages and turning to a glass of water, instead. Water also helps “flush out” your body of toxins while simultaneously helping skin cell growth through improved circulation.
Beware of Weight Gain
Sometimes gaining weight can’t be helped, and often if you’re working out, this weight gain comes in the form of muscle. Weight gain can have a negative effect on your tattoo, causing it to look distorted and fade in color due to the stretching of the skin. The best way to avoid this potential issue is to think carefully about tattoo placement.
Get a Touch Up
One of the easiest ways to liven up an old tattoo is to get a touch up by your artist. Depending on how long it has been since you got the tattoo, it may not even cost you anything out of pocket.
The artists at Oxbow Tattoo say, “If your tattoo has lost its vibrancy in color and seems dull or lacks the color that was originally tattooed, it’s time for a touch-up. If the black lines have spread significantly and appear fuzzy, losing their crisp appearance, you could have your tattoo relined to get it looking sharp again. ”
Touch up of a 20 year old tattoo
If You Haven’t Gotten Your Tattoo Yet
Are you researching how to best preserve your tattoo before the needles even hit your skin? We’re so proud of you! Preparing yourself and your skin prior to getting your ink is one of the best ways to ensure the longevity of your tattoo.
Things To Avoid Before You Sit In The Chair
There are a few things that you should avoid before you get tattooed, unless you’ve spoken to your artist beforehand and given them advance notice. Some things that could affect your tattooing process are:
- Alcohol - this thins out your blood and makes tattooing more difficult
- Aspirin - this is also a blood thinner that could pose a challenge for tattooing
- Numbing Cream - unless your tattoo artist gives you the go-ahead, numbing creams may constrict your blood cells or make the tattoo experience intolerable when the pain relief fades
These items may cause your tattoo artist difficulty with ensuring the ink reaches and stays within the appropriate level of your dermis, thus impacting how your tattoo looks after it has healed.
Plan Your Tattoo Placement Carefully
While most of us plan a tattoo placement around pain, it’s also important to consider how certain areas may age over time. There are a few factors you should consider when it comes to location:
- Friction - will this area move a lot, rub up against items of clothing, or rub up against other body parts?
- Circulation - locations with poor circulation fade faster (eg. feet, fingers)
- Weight Gain - is this an area that will experience fluctuations in weight that might distort or fade my tattoo?
- Accessibility - will I be able to reach this tattoo and give it the care it requires or can someone help me?
- Sweat - locations that experience excessive sweat can exacerbate fading of tattoos
If you’re unsure about a location, your tattoo artist will know what’s best for their work and which placement will keep it looking brighter longer.
Choose Your Colors and Design Wisely
There’s a reason many people keep their tattoo theme as black; it simply holds the best and ages the best. Lighter colors fade very quickly, and white tattoos will vanish within a few years, no matter how much care you give to it.
Tiny tattoos, delicate tattoos, fine lines, and watercolor tattoos, which are currently quite trendy, also pose an aging issue. They experience blurring and fading at a far more rapid pace due to the nature of the design and the needles used. If you are willing to accept that your tattoo may go from tiny and sharp to an indistinguishable blob within five to ten years, then proceed with your delicate tattoo. Otherwise, you may want to reconsider.
Select a Professional Tattoo Artist
This is self-explanatory and yet needs repeating: good tattoos are not cheap, and cheap tattoos are not good. Do your research prior to selecting a shop or an artist to work with, and be sure to have a look at their portfolio. Ask to see healed client photos as well, so you know what to expect when your tattoo is a few months or years old.
Experienced and professional artists will use expensive ink, high-quality needles, and have the perfect hand pressure to get the ink settled in your skin without concern. It’s worth paying a bit more for a tattoo if you know it will age significantly better.
Keep in contact with your artist in case you have concerns about the healing of your tattoo, or wish to get a touch up over time.
Great Aftercare Will Improve Your Tattoo’s Life
An excellent and thorough aftercare routine should begin the moment you take off your wrapping of your new tattoo. Being careful and conscientious of your aftercare regimen is the best way to ensure that your tattoo not only heals beautifully, but also maintains its beauty through your lifetime.
Keep it Clean and Moisturize it
After four to six hours of getting your new tattoo, you can begin cleaning it.
- Wash your hands and remove your bandage.
- Using an antibacterial soap or cleanser, clean your tattoo. Our favorite is Hibiclens Antimicrobial and Antiseptic Soak and Skin Cleanser.
- Scrub your tattoo gently but thoroughly; your tattoo is an open wound and is weeping, which means it is pushing out excess ink, blood, and plasma which needs to be removed from the wound.
- Pat dry (don’t rub) with a fresh towel or paper towel that leaves no paper product remnants.
- Repeat twice a day, morning and night. Do not over-wash as this can dry out your tattoo.
After your tattoo has stopped weeping, which is around day three, you can begin to apply a moisturizer to your tattoo. At around day five, you will begin to notice peeling, scabbing, or flaking on your tattoo. This is normal: do not peel, pick at, or touch them, or it will disrupt the healing process and could distort your tattoo or remove ink in the process.
When moisturizing, be sure to follow these tips:
- Only apply moisturizer on a clean tattoo
- Apply it gently so you don’t pull off the flakes or scabs
- Make sure that the moisturizer absorbs in the skin and dab off any excess moisturizer (oversaturating tattoos is as bad as letting them dry out)
- Use moisturizers that are fragrance free and paraben free
During your first three to four weeks of your new tattoo, you should avoid tight fitting clothes and harsh materials. These could pull the protective scabs or pieces of skin that are forming on your tattoo which could be painful, cause infection, distort your tattoo, or even remove pieces of the ink when ripped off.
Steer Clear of the Three S’s: Soaking, Sun, and Smoking
Never soak a new tattoo in a bath, pool, or hottub. Not only does this put your tattoo at risk of infection due to bacteria exposure, it also will disrupt the natural healing process by softening the scabs which could lead to scab bubbling.
Sunlight or artificial UV rays will cause old tattoos to blur and fade, but the damage is far worse for new tattoos. You could get a severe sunburn if you expose your new tattoo to the sun, which could penetrate past the epidermis and leave your new tattoo with blisters and burns.
And finally, if you’re a smoker, smoking unfortunately delays the healing process as it affects your circulation, negatively impacting your skin cell regrowth. If you want your new tattoo to heal as bright as possible, perhaps you should consider putting down the pack for a month or two.
Our Final Thoughts
Though your tattoo may never look exactly as it did when your tattoo artist gave it a final wipedown, you can certainly extend the life of your tattoo through proper and ongoing aftercare, as well as making intentional choices against things that may affect the longevity of your tattoo.
A tattoo is a lifelong investment and should be treated as one. If you find that your care and consideration still isn’t helping your tattoo pop, discuss with your local artist about the cost of a potential touch up.