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How to Keep Your Tattoo from Fading Over Time

A person touching up their faded tattoo.

It’s true your tattoo could look the best it ever looks on the day you get it: bright, vibrant, clean, and sharp. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take—big and small—to help the tattoo look fantastic for years to come. And one of the most important is knowing how to keep tattoos from fading from day one.

It starts with going to a professional tattoo artist. Sure, it can be fun to go to a friend who’s just learning, but tattoos from amateurs are also more likely to distort, become blurry, or fade over time. This is because licensed professionals are more adept at ensuring the right concentration of ink goes into the correct layer of skin for longer-lasting, better-looking tattoos. In addition, lighter-colored tattoos and certain pigments for tattoos are also likely to fade more quickly. 

It is worth noting, though, that even with a professional artist, depending on the placement, the aftercare (or lack thereof), and even the health of your skin, issues can still occur, leading to a less-than-perfect-looking tattoo over time. For example, changing weight, pregnancy, weight lifting, and other body changes can also affect your tattoo. As the skin changes, the ink in the tattoo can also stretch, distort, or fade.

Because skin also changes as we age—we all will lose elasticity and find our skin stretches or sags—choosing the right placement of the tattoo can help it look better for longer. For instance, the skin on the shoulders and ankles tends to sag less than the skin on the upper arms or abdomens. Areas with thicker skin, such as the palms or soles of the feet, are also likely to fade faster as it’s more difficult for the artist to get the ink into the deeper layers of skin. Plus, as the skin naturally sloughs off more in these areas, the tattoo will often fade more quickly.

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Keep a Tattoo from Fading with Great Aftercare

As soon as you leave the tattoo studio, it’s important to prioritize your tattoo aftercare. Remember, while a tattoo is artwork that represents your personal style or a meaningful memory, it’s also a medical procedure. It involves the use of needles and many small punctures to place the ink in the proper layer of skin. Anytime the skin barrier is broken, you’re more vulnerable to scarring, infections, or other issues. 

Properly care for your new tattoo by:

  • Covering it with a good tattoo bandage that’s both protective and breathable. 
  • Keeping it clean by washing it gently with a fragrance-free aftercare soap and warm water.
  • Avoiding direct sunlight or keeping it covered with sun-protective clothing when outside. (Don’t use sunscreen until your tattoo is fully healed.)
  • Not scratching or picking at your tattoo.
  • Avoiding tight clothing over the tattoo, and ensuring your clothing doesn’t rub against your healing flesh.
  • Not immersing your new tattoo in water, including baths, swimming pools, or even steam rooms. Showering with a new tattoo is fine, but avoid water that’s too hot or cold.
  • Using a light layer of a healing moisturizing balm or lotion designed to help your tattoo heal.
  • Avoiding smoking, drinking, or drug use to help support a healthy immune system.

Stop Tattoo Fading Over Time

Your skin is your largest organ and the barrier that protects you, so it’s important to give it extra TLC throughout your life. Not only can this help prevent or slow tattoo fading, but it can also help your skin in general look smoother, healthier, and younger as you age.

One of the most important steps to help prevent your tattoo from fading is avoiding sun damage. Cumulative UV light damage can decrease levels of collagen in the skin and cause the skin to have uneven pigmentation. This can lead to more faded, distorted tattoos as you get older.

So, to help keep a tattoo from fading after it’s healed, remember to:

  • Use sunscreen with at least 15 SPF every time you go out in the sun and more if you are out longer. If you have fair skin, use a higher SPF on your tattoo—30 to 60—and remember to use waterproof sunscreen and reapply often if you’ll be playing in the water. 
  • Keep your skin clean by washing it with a gentle, fragrance- and dye-free soap.
  • Use a light layer of dye- and fragrance-free moisturizer day and night to keep your skin soft and smooth. You’ll want to avoid using any chemicals or preservatives that can fade your tattoo color over time. And avoid slathering a thick layer of lotion or balm on the tattoo. 
  • Try using a tattoo brightening cream daily. Natural ingredients like vitamin E, lavender, sea buckthorn, and aloe can help hydrate the skin without fading your tattoo. 
  • If possible, avoid large weight fluctuations, which can stretch the tattoo and cause it to look faded and distorted. 
  • Avoid any exfoliating products for at least the first three to six months after getting a tattoo. Once the skin is healed, though, most of the ink will be in the lower layers of the skin. Choosing a very gentle alpha-hydroxy acid or retinol product that doesn’t irritate the skin may help your tattoo look more vibrant as you remove the dead skin and excess skin pigmentation. Don’t overdo it or use harsh products, though, as that can damage the tattoo and cause it to fade more quickly over time.

If time has already faded your tattoo, you can also find a professional tattoo artist to help revive or evolve your old tattoo. Because the colors may have also blurred, you may choose to update the tattoo with a background or revamp the lines. 

Or, you could also choose to just let your old tattoo be. After all, it’s naturally aged with the rest of your body, and, just like you, it’s still beautiful, even if it has changed over time. 

Updated on January 10, 2023
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