How Tattoos Age Over Time

Women with Sleeve Tattoo |
Women with Sleeve Tattoo

After a tattoo has healed, it looks amazing. However, it won’t always look like this. It is imperative to look after your skin so that your tattoo will look great for longer.

You’ve probably seen pics of tattoos that have experienced the test of time (perhaps from a well-meaning family member who wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into).

But, the allure of a beautiful design has proven too much, and you still want to get inked. 

Skull Shin Tattoo |
Skull Shin Tattoo

That’s great! However, your well-meaning family member also has a point – tattoos do get affected by the test of time. Don’t worry, it’s not a reason to cancel your tattoo appointment!

There are a few key things to keep in mind – before and after you get inked – to ensure your new tattoo stays clear and unfaded over the years. 

Why Do Tattoos Fade and Blur?

There are a few reasons why tattoos fade – luckily, some of these reasons are preventable. If you do not look after your tattoo when you leave the studio, then it can negatively impact the ink. 

Roman Numerals Wrist Tattoo |
Roman Numerals Wrist Tattoo

UV rays from the sun can take a toll on a tattoo by breaking down the pigments of the ink, which will cause it to fade.

Spending too much time in the sun and the burn that results won’t do your tattoos any favors – this will damage your skin cells and the resulting peeling can accelerate the fading process.

Bull Chest Tattoo |
Bull Chest Tattoo

Also, generally not taking care of yourself can have a negative impact on your ink – poor nutrition and bad skincare habits don’t do you, or your tattoos, any good in the long run.

How to Prepare for a Tattoo

Tattoo prep can start long before you go into a studio and the artist disinfects your skin.

It is up to you to prepare weeks prior to your appointment to make sure you have the best experience possible, and that you enhance your chances of getting a tattoo that’s going to last and look amazing. 

Floral Hand Tattoo |
Floral Hand Tattoo

Flaky skin is far from the ideal canvas for a tattoo artist. Looking after your skin by exfoliating and moisturizing regularly a few weeks before your appointment can go a long way to help create the ideal surface for your tattoo.

If you have eczema or another skin condition, it’s best to pay a dermatologist a visit before you get a tattoo.

Flying Birds Wrist Tattoo |
Flying Birds Wrist Tattoo

The healthier your skin is, the better for your tattoo. One of the best things you can do to maintain healthy skin is to hydrate. Make drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day a habit. 

Another way to make sure your skin is in tip top form is to eat a healthy diet. Eat foods rich in vitamin C to support your immune system and get your body ready for the needle.

Cut out foods that will dry out your skin, such as sugary and salty snacks, and focus on adding foods that are rich in the essential fatty acid omega-3 into your diet.

Fish like salmon and tuna, and brazil nuts and almonds are great sources of this nutrient, so visit your local sushi bar and choose a packet of nuts instead of chips for movie night.

Woman with Arm Tattoos in Sun |
Woman with Arm Tattoos in Sun

A beach day is not a good idea before a tattoo session. Neither dry skin, nor burned skin, is the ideal canvas.

Slather on the SPF or, better yet, try to stay indoors when you can (or at least just protect the area that is to be tattooed) during the weeks leading up to your appointment.

Location, Location, Location

One of the key factors of getting a tattoo is which part of your body will be displaying the ink.

If you’re thinking long term (which you should if you’re getting a permanent tattoo) and longevity is important to you, consider a part of your body that doesn’t experience a lot of friction and isn’t exposed to the sun a lot. 

Woman with Shoulder Tattoo |
Woman with Shoulder Tattoo

For example, your shoulders, back, upper arms and chest are generally great places to get tattooed as they’re much less active compared to your hands, wrists or hip creases. 

Heart Bicep Tattoo |
Heart Bicep Tattoo

You have also got to keep your clothing choices in mind. Tight pants, for example, rub against your legs causing friction (not the best situation for tattoo longevity). 

Tattoo Depth

For a tattoo to look crisp for longer, getting the ink placed at the correct depth is important. A tattoo will fade a lot quicker if the needle doesn’t go into the skin deep enough; and if the needle goes too deep, then the lines of your tattoo could come out blurry. 

Inner Forearm Tattoo |
Inner Forearm Tattoo

The ink should be placed on the second layer of your skin – the dermis. The epidermis, the top layer, is too shallow, and if you hit the hypodermis, you’ve gone too far. 

Colorful Leg Tattoo Sleeve |
Colorful Leg Tattoo Sleeve

This being said, it’s vital to go to an experienced tattoo artist. Do your research and make sure you see portfolios of the artists’ works. Getting recommendations from people you trust is a great way to find artists that do good work.

Close Up View of Tattooing |
Close Up View of Tattooing

Plus, if your friends have had tattoos for a while, you can see how their designs have aged – this is an even better way to see if their artist is the one you should make an appointment with.

Not All Colors and Designs Fade the Same

The sun has an effect on all colors, but different colors fade at different rates. 

Black is the shade that takes the longest to fade, while red tends to lighten quicker. So, if longevity is a key concern of yours, sticking to black may be the best choice for you.

Black Shaded Tattoo |
Black Shaded Tattoo

The design of the tattoo also has an impact on how long it will stay crisp. 

A hyper-realistic tattoo with fine lines and shading needs less ink, which means it could fade quicker than more simplistic tattoos with fewer finer details.

Arm Tattoo Placement on Woman |
Arm Tattoo Placement on Woman

This is also very dependent on the skill of the tattoo artist – another reason to not rush choosing the person who will be inking you.

One of the key factors of the design of a tattoo is how big it will be – this also has an impact on how a tattoo will age. Basically, the bigger the tattoo, the less susceptible it will be to the passing years.

Dyes are injected into your skin cells when you get tattooed. This ink, obviously, stays inside you, and as you age, your cells can change and move.

Due to the size of a large tattoo, you’re less likely to notice when this happens because there’s a lot of ink to work with, whereas a smaller tattoo with finer details could show this change up more prominently.

Looking After a Fresh Tattoo

Finally, after doing your research and deciding on a design you love, you have your brand-new tattoo. What now? If you want your tattoo to keep looking its very best, it’s important that you start looking after it immediately. 

Man with Traditional Arm Tattoos |
Man with Traditional Arm Tattoos

Take your tattoo artist’s advice. Before they send you on your way after your session, they will let you know the best way to take care of your new tat. Take notes of what your tattoo artist advises, and follow their instructions to the T. 

You’ll most likely be advised to leave the tattoo covering on for a few hours before washing it gently and moisturizing.

Woman with Full Sleeve Floral Tattoo |
Woman with Full Sleeve Floral Tattoo

Use a gentle soap and un-fragranced lotion – you don’t want to develop an irritation over your fresh tattoo. It’s important to keep your tattoo clean, so you should wash and moisturize it at least a couple of times a day. 

Be aware of your wardrobe choices – don’t put any tight clothes on over your bare tattoo. Wear loose clothes that won’t rub against your tat, or wrap your ink with clingfilm and medical tape before getting dressed. 

Woman with Forearm Tattoos |
Woman with Forearm Tattoos

While your tattoo is healing, it’s best to avoid going out into the sun. 

During the healing process when the tattoo is scabbing, you could get extremely itchy. You must resist the urge to scratch or pick at your tattoo! You could cause damage to the design or open the wound and get an infection.

If your tattoo feels hot and doesn’t stop bleeding after a day or two, it’s best to check in with your tattoo artist or doctor.  

The length of time it takes for a tattoo to heal varies from person to person – how well you heal in general and the design has an impact. Be patient and give your tattoo as long as it needs to heal fully.

Be In It for the Long Haul

When you first get a tattoo, you’re excited and can be obsessed with taking care of it. However, as time goes by and you get used to seeing this artwork on your body, good habits can fall by the wayside. This should not be the case!

A tattoo stays with you for a lifetime, so you should take care of it long after the healing process is complete. Dry, flakey skin will cause your ink to fade faster, so get into the habit of washing and moisturizing daily. 

Woman with Full Upper Body Tattoo |
Woman with Full Upper Body Tattoo

If your diet isn’t giving you enough nutrients and vitamins, your tattoo, and you in general, won’t look any better for it. Taking care of yourself and your tattoos doesn’t stop at good skincare habits – good nutrition is key.

Eating foods rich in antioxidants (think dark berries such as blueberries, acai berries and goji berries) as well as foods with carotenoids (think red bell peppers) can help protect your skin from the sun and promote melanin production and help keep your tattoo looking its best for longer.

Touch Ups and Cover Ups

Even if you go to an amazing, qualified artist and are obsessed with taking care of your ink, after some time your tattoo will need a touch up. 

Also, you may want to get a touch up a few weeks after you get a new tattoo – after your body heals and peels, colors may fade slightly. You’ve got to wait until your tattoo is completely healed before getting it touched up, though. 

Male Tattoo Forearm and Wrist |
Male Tattoo Forearm and Wrist

After a few years, getting back into the tattoo studio and going under the needle can give your design new life and get it back to that crisp look you used to love.

A touch up just involves tattooing over the original design, and when you do it is completely up to you.

The alternative to a touch up is a cover up. If you’re no longer a fan of your current tattoo, you could get a whole new design to replace it instead of having it removed.

Full Sleeve Arm Tattoos Male |
Full Sleeve Arm Tattoos Male

Obviously, what cover up design you get depends greatly on the original tattoo – you’ll need something of a similar size. If you want a cover up, speak to your tattoo artist and see what they recommend – they may have some ideas of what would work best.


Time takes its toll on everything, including tattoos. So, spend time thinking about the tattoo you want to get and how it will most likely age as the years go by and decide whether you’re fine with that.

Preparing yourself, looking after your fresh tattoo and adopting healthy habits goes a long way to ensuring your ink stays in top form for longer.

Recent Posts