Fight the fade: Why your tattoos lose vibrancy and what you can do about it
It’s a fact of life: as you get older your skin changes, losing elasticity and naturally becoming thinner and drier. Unsurprisingly, changes to your tattoos can occur too, including tattoo fading.
But why does this happen and is there anything you can do to slow, or maybe even prevent, your fresh tattoos from losing their vibrancy?
The good news is ‘yes!’… you can prevent your tattoos from fading to some degree. Just as adopting healthy habits can improve the look and feel of your skin and body, the same goes for your tats.
But first things first; why do tattoos fade? To answer this question, it helps to know a little about how the tattooing process works.
Why do tattoos fade?
When you get a tattoo, the needle deposits ink in a layer of skin known as the dermis.
Over time, cells from your immune system – called macrophages - gradually absorb the tattoo ink and disperse it, which can lead to some tattoo fading.
On top of this, factors such as sunlight, friction and improper care of your tattoos can all accelerate the process of aging your skin and/or fading your tattoos.
In this article we’ll take a deep dive into the factors behind tattoo fading. And, armed with this new knowledge, you’ll be able to take steps to ensure your skin and ink looks its best for many years to come!
Poor initial care of your ink
Did you know the first hours and days of your tattoo’s life are arguably it’s most important?
It may sound obvious, but this is the time when your skin is dealing with the fresh wound made by a needle poking you up to 3,000 times per minute. How it heals from this trauma can shape the look of your tattoo for the rest of its life.
This means a good tattoo skincare regime is really important. In fact, improper care of your ink during this stage of your tattoo’s life can lead to misshapen and faded tattoos down the line.
Your tattoo artist will be able to advise best on how to take care of your new tattoo. But the main thing to remember is to keep it clean. This can mean keeping your wrap on for 24 hours, then gently washing the tattoo with antibacterial soap and water. Afterwards you should pat the skin dry, not rub it, to avoid irritation.
Over the next few days, you’ll want to continue to keep it clean and moisturised. And, while it’s important to regularly apply a suitable moisturiser, be careful not to overdo it. This can lead to soggy scabs, urgh.
We favour natural, unscented, tattoo-friendly products which tend to be kinder on your skin. Some scented products have even been shown to cause scarring and premature fading of tattoos, so probably best not to risk it.
At Stories & Ink, our Aftercare Cream has been specifically designed to soothe, calm and repair damaged skin immediately after tattooing.
Why do tattoos fade when healing?
Sometime between two to four weeks after getting a new tattoo – when your tattoo scabs and/or peels - your new ink may appear more faded and duller than expected. Don’t worry, this is completely natural.
It happens because the old skin, damaged during the tattooing process, forms a thin layer over your tattoo and masks its true appearance. In time this old skin will naturally exfoliate itself, revealing your tattoo underneath in all its vibrant glory.
A bad overall skincare routine
Is it bad to not have a skincare routine? It’s a commonly asked question in our line of work. When it comes to tattoo care in particular, the answer is a big, fat, ‘yes’.
Having a tattoo should naturally involve some kind of skincare routine. And we’re talking about more than a little moisturising now and again (although moisturising is important! – see below).
Some of the most common crimes against your skin include:
Not drinking enough water
Drinking water regularly has a number of health benefits, helping prevent dehydration, stopping headaches and improving concentration and even your mood.
When it comes to your skin, not getting enough H20 can impact it in a number of ways, making it appear flakier, more wrinkly and drier to name a few.
How much water you should drink depends on a few factors. But generally speaking, it’s advisable that healthy people drink between four and six cups a day.
One way to remember to get enough water is to have a drink with each meal. And you’ll be pleased to hear that cups of coffee and tea count towards your daily water intake, so go ahead and put the kettle on.
What’s this got to do with tattoos? It’s quite simple: if your skin looks good, so should your tats!
Not using suncream or other SPF products
All tattoos exposed to the sun are at risk of fading. This is particularly true during the healing period when your skin is more sensitive to UV rays.
Both UVA and UVB rays can pose problems for tattooed skin. UVA rays, or ‘aging’ rays as they’re ominously known, penetrate deep into the layers of your skin and can break down tattoo ink. Meanwhile, UVB rays are responsible for sunburn.
A sunburn on a new tattoo can lengthen the time it takes to heal. And, in some cases, it can even distort the lines and colouring of the tattoo. For these reasons, covering up newly tattooed skin is definitely recommended until it heals.
After your tattoo has healed, dermatologists recommend you protect your tattoo with a water-resistant sunscreen (SPF 30+). Avoiding sunbeds is also highly recommended as UV rays can be more intense.
Not keeping your skin moisturised
Keeping your skin properly moisturised should rank pretty highly when it comes to keeping your tattoos fresh. For best results we recommend a specialist tattoo moisturiser, such as the Stories & Ink Daily Moisturiser.
Offering daily damage control for healed tattoos, our moisturiser firms and smooths skin while intensifying your ink. Meanwhile, UVA/UVB filters prevent discolouration and help shield your skin from sun damage.
The location of the tattoo can affect fading
There are certain areas of your body where a tattoo will fade faster. Areas of the body tattoos fade most include the hands, feet, elbows, armpit and inside of the arms.
The reason is simple: friction. For example, tattoos on your feet fade quicker as socks and shoes are constantly rubbing these areas. Meanwhile, we use our hands a lot, especially our palms which hold and grip things throughout the day. And although the skin is thick here, there is little fat or muscle underneath which means tattoos tend to fade much faster.
There are also some less obvious areas that tattoos can fade, such as parts of the legs, or even the shoulders. Again, it’s to do with friction. In this case, you might want to think about how to stop your new tattoo rubbing on clothes.
People who wear tight trousers might experience greater friction on any leg tattoos. While bags carried on shoulders regularly will lead to some shoulder friction. And collars can rub neck tattoos.
In any event, it probably won’t be your primary concern when choosing the location of your tattoo. But whether it’s going to rub or not is definitely something to consider if you want to guard against future fading. And during the healing phase it’s best to wear looser garments to stop excessive friction.
Having tattoos in high sweat areas
Firstly, sweating is an absolutely necessary function of the human body, helping cool us down and cleaning our pores of dirt and bacteria. Studies have even shown that fit people both perspire more and start sweating sooner during exercise. So it’s certainly no bad thing.
When it comes to new tattoos though, there are a few issues with sweating.
Will sweating ruin a new tattoo?
After getting a new tattoo, your artist will often advise you to skip intense exercise for at least 48 hours.
This is becasue during the healing time, immune cells called macrophages phagocytes help trap the ink inside your skin’s cytoplasm - the liquid inside of your cells. But when your body starts sweating excessively, the ability to trap the ink is hampered, potentially leading to blurry or discoloured tattoos.
This means it’s best to avoid excessive workouts after getting a fresh tat. And you may want to steer clear of gyms until your tattoo has healed as equipment can harbour bacteria - not something you want getting near a fresh tattoo.
Which parts of the body sweat the most?
Experts at The Perth Sweat Clinic says the sweatiest areas of the human body are:
- Inner thighs
- Small of the back
- Upper lip
- Back of the knee
- Back of the neck
So tattoos in these areas may be more prone to fading or discolouration during the healing phase.
How long after a tattoo can you sweat?
It’s best to wait at least 48 hours before doing any kind of activity that’s going to make you sweat heavily - potentially longer if advised by your artist. Longer term, it can take between two and four weeks for the tattoo healing process to take shape, according to dermatologist Dr Nicolas Kruger. And as healing times can vary between people, you should see how your tattoo is doing rather than relying on any set guidelines.
Low quality ink can fade tattoos
The quality of your tattoo ink will have a big impact on the look of your tattoos, particularly when it comes to fading.
Good-quality tattoo ink should look bright and stay vibrant for many years. On the other hand, poor-quality tattoo ink will fade quickly, maybe even with the year.
Why? Cheaper brands tend to use cheaper pigments in their inks and less of them. Whereas high-quality brands will use purer and more concentrated pigments, resulting in brighter and more vivid tattoos that last longer. And because there can be a big difference in quality between brands, it’s best to leave it up to the pros when it comes to choosing and buying ink.
We also recommend staying clear of home tattoo kits. Not only can they use poorer quality ink, but some have even been found to contain infection causing bacteria.