How to Keep a Tattoo Looking New and Fresh

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 9, 2020
    Last Updated: July 6, 2021

Getting a new tattoo is always exciting. The crisp, clear lines and vibrant hues of fresh ink can get any tattoo addict’s heart racing. Unfortunately, tattoos do fade with time, resulting in a dull, washed-out appearance. If you were planning to expand your art, this makes it challenging to add new details.

Even worse, it can transform a tat you once loved into something you are no longer proud to show off. The great news is that you can take steps to preserve a tattoo and keep it looking like new. While it requires some advanced planning and effort, it’s well worth the investment of time and energy required.


Tattoos That Look Fresh Are Tattoos That Are Cared For

Your skin is made up of three main layers- the epidermis on the top, the dermis beneath that and then the tissue layer of the hypodermis. A professionally completed tattoo deposits ink into the dermis.

After you get your tattoo, the epidermis will usually heal within two to three weeks. It can take up to six months for the lower layers of skin to heal, however. Once the itching, redness and flaking that may come with early-stage healing has subsided, you can start your long-term maintenance routine.

Wear Sunscreen

Even after your tattoo is fully healed, you must regularly apply sunscreen to protect it from the sun. Ultraviolet rays will break down the chemical structure of your tattoo’s pigments, causing them to fade.

This principle is even used in tattoo removal. The preferred method of modern removal is the Q-switched laser. It relies on high-intensity pulsed beam light to break up pigment, allowing the body to absorb it.

Since you don’t want to get rid of your tattoo and hope to keep it looking good for a long time, you need to protect it against light.

Avoid laying out in the sun. Ideally, avoid going outdoors from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., when the sun is at its brightest. Use a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 every day and cover your tattoo, for example, with long sleeves, if you can.

My favorite and most recommended sunscreen for using on tattoos is EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion.

This broad-spectrum sunscreen has all of the attributes required for not only protecting your tattoo amazingly well, but also for helping to keep it bright and vibrant. It’s suitably strong at SPF 50 and is water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Most importantly, EltaMD is extremely tattoo-friendly and doesn’t contain any fragrances, oils, or parabens.

These measures won’t just protect your tattoo. They will also protect your health and wellbeing. UV rays can cause sunburns and skin damage, including premature wrinkles, spots and fine lines. They also contribute to skin cancer.

If you insist on sporting a sun-kissed glow, look into fake tanners. Sunless tanning solutions can be applied via sprays or in lotion form, giving you a healthy bronzed hue without harmful UV exposure.

Beware that tanning beds are not a healthy alternative to sunbathing. Tanning beds are thought to be even worse than the natural sun because they emit higher UV rays concentration.

Tanning bed use is also associated with an increased risk of skin cancer. One study showed that 97% of women diagnosed with cancerous melanoma before age 30 used tanning beds.

Exfoliate

Exfoliate your tattooed skin regularly once it’s healed. You might be worried that exfoliating will remove the ink. Exfoliation removes only the very top, superficial layer of skin. Your tattoo is inked beneath this, into the dermis.

Exfoliation gets rid of dead skin cells in the epidermis. These dead cells can otherwise cause flakiness, making your tattoo look faded and as if it’s peeling. When the dead cells are removed, the healthier, fresher skin underneath is revealed. You will notice that your tattoo’s colors appear more vibrant again. You’ll also see that exfoliated skin tends to feel smoother and softer.

How do you exfoliate your tattooed skin? You can use either physical or chemical exfoliants. Physical exfoliants work by literally scrubbing off the dead skin cells. You can use a loofah or natural sponge to apply an exfoliant product with “beads,” which will feel gritty against your skin.

Alternatively, you can use a chemical exfoliant with a product like alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid. These chemicals gently dissolve the old skin cells. Finally, you can create your exfoliant. Do-it-yourself exfoliant recipes use simple ingredients you can find around the home, such as sugar and coconut oil.

Exfoliate once or twice a week for the best results. Exfoliating more frequently can result in skin irritation and isn’t recommended.

Moisturize

Moisturizing your tattoo helps to prevent dry skin and keeps the color looking fresh. Healthy, hydrated skin will present your art’s colors and details more vividly. If the skin is dry, it becomes dull and the hues of your tattoo will likewise look dull and faded.

Before moisturizing, wash your tattoo first. Warm water and soap or body wash are sufficient. Don’t apply moisturizer to dirty skin or you risk trapping bacteria and other dirt underneath the layer of lotion, increasing the risk of infection.

Once clean, dry your skin with a clean towel, then apply a thin layer of lotion. If it’s no longer absorbing, you’ve applied too much. Wipe off the excess and use it elsewhere. Letting too much cream sit on the skin increases your risk of developing pimples.

To maintain beautiful, smooth skin that presents your tattoo at its best, you also need to remain hydrated. Drinking water hydrates skin cells and plumps them. Dehydration leaves skin looking dry, faded and dull. Fine lines and wrinkles will become more evident and can mar the appearance of your tattoo.

Beware of Weight Gain

Depending on the location of your tattoo, extra pounds can make it look faded. When the skin stretches to accommodate excess fat underneath, the pigment is likewise stretched. Although it’s not lighter in color, it appears less vivid because pigment points are spaced further apart.

A skilled tattoo artist may be able to “fill in the dots,” though fluctuating weight gain should be avoided. The stomach is most prone to this problem. Alternatively, you can experience a similar issue if you bulk up muscle.

If You Haven’t Gotten Your Tattoo Yet

Tattoo maintenance requires you to look at the big picture. Even before you get your tattoo, you should be taking specific steps with an eye towards ink longevity.

Plan Your Tattoo Placement Carefully

If you’re worried about fading, some advanced planning can help mitigate the risk. First, consider your tattoo placement carefully. Ideally, you will place the tattoo in an area with minimal friction. If you place ink on your hip, where it’s always being rubbed by your jeans’ waistband, for example, it will fade faster.

The situation will be similar if you get a tattoo on your ankle or foot, where socks and shoes are constantly rubbing. In general, areas with a lot of skin-to-skin or skin-to-fabric friction will be more prone to fading.

Sweat can also be an issue for tattoos. Certain body parts sweat more than others. For instance, your feet are frequently confined in shoes without much breathability. The acidic nature of the sweat can exacerbate fading. Additionally, blood flow to extremities like the foot is low, which can also hinder healing right after you get inked — another point worth keeping in mind.

Choose Your Colors Wisely

Color is another consideration if you want to minimize the risk of fading ink. All tattoo colors will fade with time due to factors like sun exposure and aging skin. However, some colors tend to fade faster than others.

Lighter colors are the worst culprits, with white ink fading fastest of all. Pastels are also problematic, due to the unique shading techniques they demand. Darker colors will usually last longer. Although, even plain gray and black tattoos will fade if you don’t care for them properly.

If you are dead set on getting a white tattoo, there’s no need to cancel your plans in favor of another color that won’t fade as fast. Just beware that you may have to get touch-ups sooner and more regularly than you would with other colors.

Select a Professional Tattoo Artist

This should go without saying, yet unfortunately, plenty of people still go to unprofessional tattoo artists, ending up with poor-quality ink or, worse, dangerous infections. Choose a reputable, qualified tattooist to do your work. A legitimate pro will also use high-quality ink products, which are less likely to fade over time. It might cost more, still, the investment will be worth it in the long run.

Great Aftercare Will Improve Your Tattoo’s Life

Your mission to keep your tattoo looking new in the long-term starts as soon as you’ve gotten your ink. Proper aftercare keeps your new tattoo looking its best and also reduces the risk of infection or other healing issues that could mar your art’s end appearance.

Keep in mind that your healing tattoo is essentially an open wound. Always follow any aftercare instructions provided by your tattoo artist. In general, however, these guidelines will help ensure desirable healing.

Keep It Clean

After you’ve removed the bandage covering your fresh tattoo (check with your artist when you can do this), clean the area gently with lukewarm water and a gentle soap.

Don’t scrub or rub the area, however. This can increase the risk of scratches and scabs. Splash some water on the ink instead of running it directly over the area and use your finger in a circular motion to wipe the area clean. Once finished, dry the tattoo with a light towel. Pat it dry instead of rubbing it.

Moisturize

Use an unscented tattoo moisturizing lotion to keep your skin hydrated. Added chemicals of scented products can cause irritation. Moisturizing will further support the healing process and prevent additional dryness, flaking and scabbing.

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.

You will notice some scabbing and flaking in the first days and weeks afterward. Don’t stress. This is an entirely normal part of the healing process. Nevertheless, it’s essential that you don’t pick at any scabs. The skin underneath this protective tough covering is healing. Picking the scab exposes it and interrupts the healing process. It can also increase the risk of scarring.

Avoid Friction

Friction on a fresh tattoo can intensify itching and flaking and may also scratch off protective scabs. Avoid tight clothes and stick to loose, breathable fabrics. This will also be more convenient for you. Having harsh materials like denim rubbing on your sensitive skin while it’s still inflamed from the tattoo process won’t be pleasant.

Steer Clear of the Three S’s: Soaking, Sun, and Smoking

If you like to take baths, beware that you will have to take a break after getting a tattoo. Soaking in a tub will interfere with the healing process. You’re exposing an open sore to the bathwater, increasing your risk of infection, which can impair the final look of your art.

Additionally, soaking in a tub will cause the skin to soften. If you have scabs on your tattoo, a healthy and regular part of healing, the resulting softness may cause them to peel off. This will leave your tattoo even more exposed to microbes that could cause infection.

Sunlight will damage your fresh tattoo, especially while it’s still healing. The same is true of tanning beds. Wait at least two weeks before you go into the sun with your tattoo. When you go out, cover the ink if possible and wear a high-proof sunblock of SPF 30 or more. Make sure it’s a broad-spectrum product that protects against both UVB and UVA rays.

If you’re a smoker, try to take a break after you’ve gotten a tattoo. Smoking delays wound healing. Again, remember that your tattoo is essentially an open wound. On top of this, smoking negatively impacts skin, destroying the collagen that gives skin its plumpness and elasticity. When skin loses plumpness, your tattoo may appear less vibrant.

The Bottom Line Keeping A Tattoo Looking New

Even with proper maintenance, your ink won’t look like it did right after it was done forever. Expect to invest in touch-ups at some point down the line. However, these preventive steps will give your tattoo more longevity, allowing you to put off the need for repairs.

In the end, these maintenance tips don’t require a significant investment of time, energy or money. What’s more, many of the steps you need to keep your tattoo looking new will also protect your skin and wellbeing overall. For example, wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen safeguards against sunburns, signs of premature aging and skin cancer.

The above guide gives you all the information you need to keep your tattoo from prematurely fading and to keep it looking sharp. Don’t wait until your tattoo is years old before taking action. The first step begins before even getting inked.