Do All Tattoos Fade?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: March 17, 2022

All tattoos fade at one point or another. However, tattoos will fade at different rates depending on a number of factors. These include sunlight, ink quality, body placement and aftercare habits, among others.

Just as you will age over time, your skin and everything within it will change also – including your cherished tattoo.

All is not lost, however. By listening to our advice, you’ll be much better prepared when it comes to combating the evils of time and keeping your tattoo looking clearer and crisper for as long as possible.

What Factors Fade My Tattoo?

The good news is that not all tattoos deteriorate in the same way or at the same speed. How you treat your tattoos will affect their longevity. It’s important to realize that your habits will affect the quality of your tattoo. 

Poor Aftercare

In the hours, days, weeks, and months following your fresh tattoo session, how you treat this artwork will affect whether it looks fresh once it’s healed or faded.

Follow proper tattoo aftercare with these steps:

  1. Keep the bandage on for a few hours
  2. Remove the bandage and wash clean with unscented soap
  3. Let it air dry to avoid towel fabric getting stuck in the open wound
  4. Keep moisturized and uncovered

Your tattoo is a wound that’s healing, so it may scab up. Pulling off scabs too early may alter and even destroy the details and crispness of your piece.

Sun Exposure

Your tattooist will likely tell you after you leave the shop to avoid sunlight. You may forget, though, that this effect of sun exposure will continue well past your first stages of healing. 

UV exposure penetrates the layers of your skin and creates an immune response, causing more immune cells, called phagocytic cells, to migrate to the affected area. These new cells can crowd out the cells holding ink, causing them to move elsewhere in your body. The effect of these rays on your skin is visible over time, but especially noticeable in the coloration of your tattoo as it causes fading or discoloring.

The sun can do a lot of damage to your tattoo over the years

Sunburn is especially damaging to your skin. Sunburnt skin will inflame and shed layers faster than non-burnt skin. This exposes your tattoo to the elements more because there will be less epidermis to keep it protected while your skin regenerates and heals. 

Tattoo Technique

The quality of a tattoo is, in large part, the responsibility of the artist. Tattoo artists deposit ink below the top layer of your skin — the epidermis — into the second layer — the dermis. The cells of your dermis hold the ink in place permanently. 

However, if you’ve selected an ill-trained artist or someone too inexperienced, they may not penetrate deep enough into your skin. If a tattoo artist deposits the ink into the epidermis and not the dermis, your tattoo will fade. The cells of your epidermis will shed and regenerate, removing the ink over time.

Type of Ink

Here’s the deal about tattoo ink — no one regulates it. The components of tattoo ink are varied, and, just like any product, there are some companies that make ethical, healthy, long-lasting products and others that do the exact opposite. A poor ink quality can break down in your system or cause premature fading.

Color also makes a difference. Generally, lighter colors tend to fade faster than darker colors, especially whites, yellows, greens and reds. For a tattoo that lasts as long as possible without fading, choosing rich, pigmented colors or black and gray is your best bet.

As you can see here, dark colors hold up much better than lighter ones

Do your research before getting a piece done, so you know how to evaluate ink. You can then chat with the parlor staff and see what type of ink it uses and how that aligns with your research.

Placement on Your Body

If you’ve placed your tattoo somewhere where it’ll rub against clothing or another part of your body, it’ll fade faster. Just like pants fade where your legs touch, your tattoo will deteriorate as a result of friction.

Between the fingers, inside of the arm, or any place where your clothes constrict will be more prone to fading.

Natural Aging Process

The skin over your tattoo is what determines the quality over time. It’s like a screen protecting the image. Just like a window that isn’t properly cleaned and has scratches, the screen of your skin will filter the tattoo.

As you age, the elasticity of your skin changes, meaning your tattoo will usually show signs of fading when your skin begins to change as you get old.

Moisturize and take care of your skin to mitigate the problem. A good tattoo lotion should help to lock in moisture and nutrients to keep the tattoo looking more vibrant for longer.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing. Click here to buy from Amazon.

Don’t worry though – tattoos can still age great as you get older; they don’t all turn into unrecognizable blurry smudges, partly due to great advancements in tattoo inks in recent years.

Touch It Up

If time hasn’t been kind to your tattoo, it’s never usually completely unsalvageable. Take your worn-out ink to a good tattoo artist and they should be able to touch up the area and revitalize it back to possibly even better than it looked originally!

No Such Thing as an Ageless Tattoo

If you’re on the fence about getting a tattoo, checking out a gallery of faded and aged tattoos might be a useful activity for you to test your resolve. Tattoos will never look perfect all the time, but then, nothing does. Going into your tattoo session knowing this will prevent disappointment afterward, but know that you can prevent your tattoo from fading.

Take care of them with proper aftercare, moisturized skin, reduced sun exposure and a quality artist, and they’ll last longer. Treat them poorly, and it’ll show.