Tattoos last forever—at least, that’s usually the idea when you get them—but they do tend to fade. Colors disappear and fine lines and lettering become blurry and less vibrant. The rate at which a tattoo fades depends on several factors including the quality of the ink, your skin health, friction, and exposure to the sun, but fortunately you can slow the fading process and have your tattoos stay fresher, longer. Here’s how to care for your tattoo to better survive in the long run.
Minimize sun exposure
Protection from the sun reduces your risk of skin cancer and keeps your tattoo from rapidly fading. The artists at Oxbow Tattoo in Easthampton, MA explain the sun is a major contributor to the breakdown of all tattoo styles. “All pigment slowly spreads over time, and sun exposure can really accelerate the degradation of a tattoo, regardless if its color, black, or black and grey.”
To keep your tattoo looking newer, wear sunscreen at least SPF 30 or higher. If you can cover your tattoos when it’s sunny out, that helps, too. Otherwise, moisturize and apply sunscreen often.
The more hydrated your skin, the more vibrant and healthy your tattoos will look. Tattoo Moisturizer mentions cocoa butter as highly effective in preventing tattoo aging, saying “Cocoa butter is rich in healthy fatty acids as well as Vitamins E and K. These are components that help combat—or at least, delay—the appearance of aging skin,” but you can choose whatever moisturizer you love for your skin type.
Then there are specific tattoo care products like Mad Rabbit tattoo cream, made with vitamin C and E, rosehip oil, cocoa butter, Argan oil, and aloe. Whether you buy into the marketing of tattoo-specific lotion is up to you, but the principle stands that moisture is important.
Apply extra care to tattoos with more exposure
Some places on the body see more wear and tear than others, and since over exposure can affect the longevity of a tattoo, these areas should get extra attention. Oxbow Tattoo mentions the shoulders as an example and recommends applying extra sunscreen. Finger tattoos are another area where tattoos often fade faster than usual: “We use our hands constantly, so the bending and rubbing can contribute to the need for a touch up in some cases,” they explain. In this case, a special tattoo cream might be a good investment.
Keep in contact with your tattoo artist
If you minimize sun exposure and keep your skin hydrated, your tattoo will stand the test of time (or, at least, fade slower than usual), but the longevity of a tattoo begins in the design. “Tattoo ink has come a long way, and artists’ application skills really help tattoos stay vibrant and beautiful for many, many years,” says Oxbow Tattoo. If the longevity of your tattoo is important to you, talk with your artist about the longevity of your design and the location you want it drawn before you get inked to begin with.
And be realistic about touch-ups, as your tattoo will likely need it over time as the only “real” way of keeping your tattoo looking new, so know the signs that your tattoo is ready for a touch-up. “If your tattoo has lost its vibrancy in color and seems dull or lacks the color that was originally tattooed, it’s time for a touch-up” says Oxbow Tattoo. “If the black lines have spread significantly and appear fuzzy, losing their crisp appearance, you could have your tattoo relined to get it looking sharp again.” So keep in touch with your artist—your tattoo is a walking advertisement of their work, and they’ll want it to stay as bright and beautiful as you do.