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How to Brighten Your Old Tattoo

A bright tattoo sleeve.

It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, tattooing was considered taboo in many parts of society. Now, more and more people are proudly showing off their new (and old) tattoos as they continue to gain acceptance and popularity, even in more “professional” spaces. Of course, tattoos are nothing new. They’ve been around for centuries. And many people have had ink on their bodies for decades. Yet as time goes by, even the most vibrant tattoos can begin to fade, and you may be one of the many seeking advice on how to brighten your tattoo. 

As years go by and our skin “matures,” our tattoos can also begin to show their age. The ink may start to spread, blurring or blending once-crisp, clean lines. Formerly bright, bold colors may begin to fade or appear dull. Letters and words may blur until they’re no longer even readable.

How to Brighten Your Tattoo: Prevention

The best way to brighten your tattoo is to prevent it from fading in the first place. That starts the moment your tattoo artist sets down the machine with appropriate tattoo aftercare until the tattoo is fully healed. Remember, a new tattoo is an open wound. It deserves extra tattoo care, patience, and attention to help it heal fully and properly over the next several months.

It doesn’t stop there, though. After the tattoo is fully healed, regularly moisturizing the skin both from within and without is important for helping the skin stay young and supple. To help keep your tattoo looking bright, remember to drink plenty of water, nourish the body with healthy foods (especially fruits and vegetables, quality proteins, and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids), and practice healthy skin hygiene. This includes not only keeping the skin clean but moisturizing it with a brightening tattoo balm or lotion as part of your tattoo care. 

Most important of all is to protect the skin from sun damage. That is, use sun protection every time you are out in the sun to help extend the life of your skin and your tattoo(s). You can either keep the tattoo covered with SPF fabric or use a quality sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. 

But what if the tattoo is already showing signs of aging? Even with proper tattoo care, tattoos will eventually show their age and lose their brightness. And, let’s be honest, life happens, and from time to time, all of us can get a little lax with proper tattoo care.

How to Brighten Faded Tattoos

Once damage to your tattoo has been done, there’s no way to completely reverse it. However, there are steps you can take to help even an older tattoo look fresher. These include:

  • Removing old, dead layers of skin by exfoliating
  • Making an appointment with your tattoo artist to retouch and rejuvenate your tattoo
  • Lightening or even removing an old tattoo
  • Covering up or redesigning your old tattoo.

Dead Skin Removal to Brighten a Faded Tattoo

Especially if you live in a dry, hot climate or neglect skin care (hey, it happens to the best of us), your skin may begin to look dry, dull, or ashy. Fortunately, you can gently slough off old, dead skin to help it look younger, fresher, and more vibrant. And this is true of tattooed skin as well. Removing this dull layer by exfoliating the skin as part of your regular tattoo care (and skincare) routine can help your older tattoo look more vibrant and new. 

Avoid scrubbing aggressively or using any harsh chemical ingredients or rough cloths, though, as they can damage the skin and the tattoo. Instead, choose a gentle, natural exfoliating gel, soap, or other product to help remove the top dead layer from your skin. This isn’t something you’ll want to do daily either. Exfoliation should be limited to between one and eight times per month, depending on how sensitive your skin is, what product(s) you use and the manufacturer’s recommendations, and your overall tattoo care routine. 

Tattoo Touch-Ups

Even with proper tattoo care, your artwork can naturally fade or dull over time. And after a certain amount of time, neither exfoliation nor hydration will be enough to renew your tattoo. At this point, it’s probably time to make an appointment with your favorite tattoo artist to re-outline or re-color your fading tattoo to add back in detail and vibrancy. This is also a good time to fix any errors or make any design changes if you’re so inclined.

Some artists include tattoo touch-ups in their original price or offer discounted rates on tattoo updates. So, if your artist is still around and available, it may be worth reaching out to see if they can do the work. That is, of course, if you were happy with the original design.

It’s also important to note that dark blues and blacks resist fading more than some of the brighter colors. If you have reds, oranges, yellows, or greens in your tattoo, those colors can fade the fastest and you may need to go in for recoloring on brightly colored tattoos sooner or more often to keep them looking vibrant over the years. Some tattoos fade more rapidly due to the tattoo location (especially if it rubs against other body parts or clothing), the type of ink chosen, the tattoo artist’s experience (the ink needs to be inserted into the correct skin layer, rather than too shallow or too deep), and the age of your skin.

Tattoo Removal

Because tattoo removal is so costly and painful, it’s perhaps the least appealing option. However, even if you want to cover an old tattoo, parts of the tattoo may need to be lightened or removed to give you the freedom you want for your new design. 

Lightening of an old tattoo typically takes three sessions. While the tattoo will still remain, it makes it easier to cover if the darker or thicker blacks and blues are lightened. This process also helps prevent darker or brighter colors from popping through into the new tattoo. 

Tattoo Coverups

While it can be difficult to take something old and make it new again, you may be surprised what a talented tattoo artist can do with your piece. The artwork could be completely re-inked with the original theme, colors, and style; or an entirely new design could be created to cover up the old design by incorporating some of the colors and lines into a new, more complex piece. Or, the artist could add more current designs or embellishments to update old art into a piece that looks new again. 

You will, however, need to go to an experienced and talented tattoo artist to ensure your coverup is done well. It can take a lot of creativity and flare, with patterns, shading, and redirection to cover the old tattoo with something you love.

How to Keep Tattoos Vibrant: The Bottom Line

Prevention is the best cure when it comes to keeping your tattoo looking its best and brightest. Follow the aftercare instructions meticulously immediately after getting your tattoo. Then keep your skin healthy by hydrating it from without (with quality tattoo balms or lotions) and within (with hydration and nourishing foods) and protect it from the sun with a good tattoo care routine. In other words, it’s a good idea to invest in quality lotions designed for tattoos, and don’t forget sun protection!

If you do decide you want to rejuvenate your old tattoo to make it look young again, set an appointment with your tattoo artist to discuss the best direction for you, your skin, and your tattoo. 

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Updated on October 4, 2022

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