A tattoo is a lifelong investment, and like anything else that is made to last forever, it needs quality care. Tattoos will always experience some aspect of fading, but if you neglect this art piece on your skin, you can bet you’ll have a blurry, dull mess on your hands in just a few years.
There are key factors that can impact fading, and some extra care on your end can battle it. Read on to learn more.
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Can Color Tattoos Fade?
During the first few days of a new tattoo, our body goes into hyperdrive and our immune system tries to push out excess ink, blood, and plasma through a process called weeping. As our tattoo ages, our body continues to fight this excess ink through a detoxification process, but rather than pushing it out of a now closed wound, it attacks the pigment, grabs onto it, and pulls it down into our bloodstream and to our nearest lymph nodes. A study found that after 42 days of tattooing, only 68 percent of dye was still located in the dermis.
Colored tattoos, which usually require a different tattooing technique that is far more delicate, shading that is not inserted as deep in the dermis, and pigments that have a shorter shelf life, tend to fade far more.
Tattoos that are not outlined, use a watercolor technique, or are exceptionally vibrant will be short-lived. If your goal is to have a long-lasting tattoo, reconsider these options.
Can Black & Gray Tattoos Fade?
Black tattoos are generally thought to be more hardy and long-lasting. Though they will experience some fading, sometimes changing the color pigment to a more blue/green toned ink, black tattoos experience less fading than color pieces.
What may happen to black and gray tattoos is a process called feathering, where lines no longer seem as crisp or defined. This is because the body continues to hold onto and pull the pigment from their place in the dermis.
Most black work or outlined pieces are done with specific needles and a certain intensity that has a more reliable deposit into the layer of dermis that best holds ink.
What Are The Main Reasons For Tattoo Fading?
There are a few factors in our day-to-day life that contribute quite heavily to the fading of tattoos. Being aware of these will help you with planning future tattoos, as well as maintaining the longevity of your current ink.
One of the most impactful factors in the fading of a tattoo is placement.
Areas further away from the heart generally experience less fading; good circulation allows your blood to take pigment with it more quickly.
In addition, tattoos on extremities, pieces of skin that rub up on other skin, or skin that experiences a lot of rubbing against tight clothing will fade faster. Tattoos on fingers, feet, palms, or inside the lips experience fading at a much quicker pace. You may also have tattoo fading due to significant weight loss or gain.
Different parts of the body are also more difficult to tattoo. Dermatologist Naissan O. Wesley says, “Tattoos on the palms and soles don't tend to last as long because the skin is thicker compared to other parts of the body and the tattoos tend not to go as deep.”
Low quality ink is made with low-pigmentation and a high-chemical compound. Inexperienced tattoo artists may also dilute the ink excessively. All these factors contribute to tattoo fading.
Quality ink is significantly more expensive but results in a tattoo that experiences less feathering and fading. We recommend asking your artist what they use for their work and then doing your own research on how this will last in your skin. Take a look at our guide for the best quality tattoo ink.
Highlighting details or white tattoos will also fade in a shorter amount of time. And you also need to keep in mind that the lighter or more pastel the color, the more it will fade. It may help to plan your tattoo coloring and design around this factor, as well.
Poor aftercare is one of the many reasons for the fading of a tattoo. How you take care of your ink the moment you step out of an artist’s chair will set up your tattoo for the rest of its life.
Proper aftercare should include:
- Keeping the artist wrap on your tattoo for four to six hours, and then washing your hands and removing it from your tattoo.
- With cupped hands, bring lukewarm or cool water to your tattoo.
- Using antibacterial soap, wash your tattoo thoroughly to remove all the sticky weeping. Remove all the soap with water brought to your tattoo with cupped hands.
- Pat your tattoo dry (do not rub it dry) with a paper towel or fresh towel.
- Repeat this process twice daily.
- On the third or fourth day, introduce moisturizer to the end of your care routine.
At no point during the first month of your tattoo should you be touching it for any reason other than your aftercare process. If you pick at scabs or pull off peeling skin, you add to the fading of the tattoo by pulling away ink with the pieces. This will result in white or patchy pieces on your ink.
You also have to be careful of the products you are using on your new tattoo, as many on the market are filled with harsh chemicals, fragrances, or paraben which can impact your healing. To play it safe, have a look at our list of the Best Tattoo Aftercare Products - Our Favorites Reviewed.
In addition, your own immune system will significantly affect how your tattoo heals. If you are prone to skin conditions, autoimmune disorders, or simply have difficulty healing wounds, this may impact the quality of healing and thus cause the fading of your tattoo.
Our tattoo also goes through a milky or dull stage that will make your tattoo look faded; this is a normal healing stage and will disappear in time.
If you are doing everything right during the aftercare process but still notice some significant fading, your artist will generally offer a touch-up for free.
Sun is the number one enemy of tattoos and as soon as your tattoo has had a month to heal, you should begin to apply sunscreen to it to keep it safe.
UV rays act like a little laser, blasting apart the pigment so that it becomes easier for your bloodstream to absorb it and take it away from your dermis. This significantly impacts the sharpness and brightness of your tattoo. Sun damage, such as a burn, can also contribute to the rapid fading of your tattoo.
If you work outdoors, you should wear light colored clothing that is loose-fitting to shield your tattoos. And if you plan to spend a day at the beach, you should lather on some sunscreen and reapply after every swim.
UV rays can also penetrate your skin on cloudy days, so be sure to keep your tattoo covered and protected if you wish to minimize fading and damage.
After years of tattooing, artists become very skilled in knowing exactly where ink needs to be placed to not only simplify the healing process, but to also extend the life of a tattoo.
Dermatologist Edgar Fincher says, "There is a definite difference between professional tattoos and amateur or self-injected tattoos. The professional ones are generally placed deeper, and the ink is more concentrated, so the overall result is that it stays longer and looks better longer."
Investing in a higher-quality artist also means an investment into the aging of your tattoo.
Natural Aging Process
Aging is unavoidable, and our skin is the largest organ in our body. Just as we take care of every other organ as we age, we need to pay some extra attention to our skin.
Nothing will completely stop your tattoo from fading, but there are a few ways that you can slow down the aging process and benefit your skin health.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Use moisturizer on your skin, daily.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Avoid smoking which damages your circulation and affects skin health.
- Avoid direct sun exposure if you can; dermatologist Wesley says, "Areas of the body that have had more cumulative UV light damage over someone's lifetime will also often have less dense collagen and more mottled pigmentation, resulting in poorer skin quality in general from photoaging.”
What To Do If Your Tattoo Has Become Very Faded
You have a couple of options available to you if you are too late in combating the fading of your ink and need to reverse the aging of your tattoo.
- Get a touch-up of your tattoo by the same artist who first did it, or a new artist who will brighten it up.
- Get a blowover on your tattoo, which essentially means putting a new tattoo over an old, faded tattoo.
Or you can embrace how your tattoo has aged with you and love it for what it is; afterall, ink tells a story and you don’t need to explain that story to anyone.
Our Final Thoughts
A tattoo will always fade over time, but with the right aftercare and through simple preservation tips, you can maintain the brightness and crispness of your tattoo. If your tattoo has faded beyond recognition or is causing a little regret due to poor quality work, it doesn’t hurt to ask a trusted professional artist for their recommendations on bringing your art back to life.
And feel free to have a look at our other article on That Fresh Ink Look - A Guide On How To Keep Your Tattoos Looking New.