As you watch your new tattoo heal, you may have a sudden moment of panic: Why does it look lighter or almost faded? Will it stay this way? And will my tattoo lose color over time?
A tattoo will always look different than it did when you were sitting in the artist’s chair, but we will dive into just how much it might change from day one, and why.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Tattoos Can Get Lighter After Healing
- 2 What Are The Chances of Fading During the Healing Stages?
- 3 Why Would a Tattoo Get Lighter After Healing?
- 4 Our Final Thoughts
Tattoos Can Get Lighter After Healing
There is a fact you have to deal with when it comes to tattoos: your tattoo will never again look exactly like it did when you left the shop. But there are ways to take care of it that help keep it as close as possible to looking like that fresh ink.
New tattoos that seem to be lightening or have an appearance of being faded are nothing to be worried about; these are natural parts of the healing stages. Many will darken again once fully healed, but this is not a certainty for all tattoos. This depends on numerous factors such as:
- The artist and their skill level
- Whether the tattoo requires a second session or touch up
- The pigment used
- The colors of the tattoo
- Your aftercare process
In addition, older tattoos that seem to be losing color or getting more dull over time are also a natural part of tattoo aging, but we’ll tell you how you can slow this process down and keep your tattoos looking crisp and new.
What Are The Chances of Fading During the Healing Stages?
New tattoo aftercare starts the moment you leave the tattoo shop, and it includes some important steps.
- After four to six hours, remove the bandage your tattoo artist put over your tattoo.
- Wash your tattoo thoroughly with antibacterial soap; here are a few of our favorites. Pat dry with a paper towel or fresh towel.
- Continue this washing routine morning and night for three days, and don’t put anything else on your tattoo during these days.
- After day three, you can begin to introduce cream or lotion into your aftercare routine. Always clean your tattoo before applying moisturizer.
Your tattoo will likely begin to look like it is fading after the third day. This occurs for a few reasons.
- Your tattoo goes through a process called weeping. This is when your new tattoo pushes out excess blood, plasma, and ink from the wound. There is nothing you can do to prevent or stop the weeping stage of your tattoo and you should not attempt to do so. This is necessary for optimal healing of your tattoo.
You may panic that you are losing ink, but it is simply ink that has not been placed properly within your dermis and would cause blowout, anyway; blowout occurs when an artist puts the ink too deep in the dermis and it results in tattoos not looking crisp, but almost pixelated or blurry. It is much better for your body to push out this excess ink which serves no purpose to your new art.
- After about five days to a week, your tattoo may begin to form scabs or show signs of peeling skin. Don’t panic; your tattoo rests safely beneath these protective layers. Do not touch, pull at, or try to remove these layers. Your body is replacing your damaged skin with new skin cells, and playing with these protective scabs may distort or completely take away ink from your tattoo.
- In its last stage of healing at around week three, your new tattoo will look like it has dulled or as though it has a cloudy appearance. This is called the milk scab, and it’s a normal process. Do not scratch at or panic over a milk scab. This disappears around week four or five, depending on your body’s own healing, at which point your tattoo will look significantly brighter.
Why Would a Tattoo Get Lighter After Healing?
There are a few reasons why early in your healing journey as well as through the aging of your tattoo that it might get lighter after healing.
Excessive Weeping or Leeching
Your tattoo weeps blood, plasma, and ink during the first three days of healing. There could be excessive weeping due to an inexperienced artist, or you could have lost some pigment from scabs or skin that peeled off during the healing process.
This can happen and can be rectified with a tattoo touch-up, which is usually offered for free from shops.
Your tattoo artist has to saturate the pigment that they are using in order for it to properly settle and take hold within your dermis. If the pigment was not properly saturated, this could cause your tattoo to look dull. This can also be rectified with a touch-up.
Fine Lines and Tiny Tattoos
Color issues can also occur if a tattoo is meant to look “delicate”, is tiny, has fine lines, or doesn’t have a black outline at all. This can cause aspects of your tattoo to look blurry or blended over time, rather than as crisp and sharp as it did in the first year.
This process of aging is sometimes referred to as “feathering” and it happens with super single needle tattoos. With very small details using very fine lines, you must accept that in time, these tattoos will not look as spectacular as they did the moment you got them.
“If it's a single needle tattoo, most artists cut the ink down because they can't use just straight black because it bleeds out, so they cut it so it's not as strong of a black pigment, so the body will actively remove it faster,” says Brian Keith Thompson of Body Electric Tattoo.
Some people’s bodies simply reject the presence of a tattoo and it tries to battle this new wound as intensely as possible. This may cause excessive scabbing or peeling that takes away ink in the process.
Distress could have also been caused by you picking and peeling your tattoo during its crucial healing stages.
Placement of the Tattoo
There are parts of your body where tattoos will experience more fading or discoloration than other areas. These areas are places that see a lot of movement or those which rub up against other parts of the body, such as:
- Fingers and palm
- Between your thighs
- Inner and outer elbow
These are also places where there is a lot of sweat or blood flow tends to be poor.
A twelve-year-old foot tattoo.
Migrating Ink Particles
Over time, ink particles that are sitting in your dermis may be absorbed by your bloodstream, travel through your body, and be disposed of. This is because your body never stops seeing the particles are foreign and white blood cells continuously try to destroy it. It’s for this reason that after ten or twenty years, crisp lines look rather blurry, and bright colors can appear rather dull.
Migrating ink particles can be combated by only one thing: a highly skilled and experienced tattoo artist who knows exactly where to place ink in the dermis and precisely the best pigment to use for the work. Low quality ink will definitely experience extensive migrating particles over time. This is why it’s best to break out the Benjamins if you want a tattoo to last you many years.
Loss of Collagen
Collagen maintains your skin’s elasticity and “youth”, and with loss of collagen comes dullness of the skin, which could, in turn, dull your tattoos. This is especially prominent in smokers as their poor circulation reduces the production of collagen.
Ultraviolet rays, either from sunshine or tanning beds (which have a higher concentration of UV), can severely dull or fade your tattoos. Sun damage, in general, is poor for your health but most especially for your ink as it speeds up the aging process.
Lucky for you, we’ve compiled the Best Sunscreen For Tattoos: Our Top 6 Choices Reviewed.
Over-Cleansing or Poor Products
Your aftercare routine and the subsequent maintenance of your tattoo is important. It’s just as important to ensure that you are using quality products on your skin and are not over-applying products or are overwashing. This could lead to dehydration of your skin which in turn could cause your tattoo to appear dry or faded.
Always ensure that your products are fragrance and paraben free, that you are using lukewarm water, and that you follow the directions of a tattoo professional during the first three weeks of healing your tattoo. Don’t try to put your own spin on your aftercare and start using a bunch of products; you risk compromising the healing of your new ink or instigating an allergic reaction.
Our Final Thoughts
Every skin is different, and being the largest organ on our body that is continuously exposed to environmental factors and external irritants, it also will experience more rapid aging or damage. A tattoo will naturally lighten or fade over time, and will never appear quite as bright as it did when you were seated in the artist’s chair. But you can surely maintain the health of your skin and the quality of your tattoo through excellent moisturization products, sunscreen, and proper hydration and self-care.