Why Does My Tattoo Look Like It’s Shrinking?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on February 27, 2023
    Last Updated: April 7, 2023

Tattoos are an investment, both in terms of time and money, so it’s natural to be concerned if you think your tattoo appears to be shrinking. There are several reasons why a tattoo may seem to be shrinking, but the good news is that in most cases, it’s just an optical illusion.

Possible Causes

Age and Skin Changes

As we age, our skin goes through a number of changes that can affect the appearance of tattoos. Over time, the skin loses elasticity and collagen, which can cause tattoos to appear smaller or distorted. The loss of collagen and elastin leads to sagging skin and wrinkles, which can change the placement of the tattoo and cause it to look smaller.

Additionally, as we grow older, our skin becomes less supple and may lose some of its firmness, causing it to sag or stretch. This can cause tattoos to shift in position and appearance, leading to tattoos that were once crisp and clear appearing blurred or misshapen. For this reason, it is common for older tattoos to appear smaller or less vivid than they did when they were first created.

Weight Changes

Another factor that can contribute to the shrinking of tattoos is significant changes in weight. Whether it’s due to weight gain or weight loss, fluctuations in body weight can cause the skin to stretch or shrink, affecting the appearance of the tattoo. For example, if a person gains weight, the skin may stretch, causing the tattoo to appear larger, but if they lose weight, the skin may shrink, making the tattoo appear smaller.

The stretching and shrinking of skin can cause tattoos to become distorted, with lines and shapes appearing misshapen. This can be particularly noticeable in tattoos located in areas of the body that are prone to significant weight changes, such as the abdomen, hips, or thighs.

Poor Quality Work

In some cases, tattoos may appear to shrink or fade because of poor-quality work. Tattoos created by inexperienced or unskilled artists may not last as long as tattoos created by experienced professionals. Poor quality tattoos may be created using too much ink, causing the tattoo to blur or fade over time, or with a machine that is not calibrated properly, leading to uneven lines and a lack of detail.

Tattoos created with subpar equipment or by artists who do not follow proper sterilization protocols can also put you at risk of infection and further damage to your skin. To avoid this issue, it is important to choose a reputable artist who uses high-quality equipment and has a solid reputation for creating tattoos that last.

Sun Exposure

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can break down the pigments in tattoos, causing them to fade or shrink over time. UV rays can cause the ink in tattoos to break down, leading to a loss of color and vibrancy. Excessive sun exposure can also cause sunburns, which can lead to peeling or blistering of the skin, further damaging the tattoo.

Sun exposure can also cause the skin to age more quickly, leading to changes in the appearance of the tattoo, such as fading or shrinking. To protect your tattoo from sun exposure, it is important to use a high-SPF sunscreen and to cover the tattoo when spending extended periods of time in the sun. Additionally, it is important to avoid tanning beds, as the intense UV rays from these devices can be even more damaging to tattoos.

Preventing Shrinking and Fading

To maintain the appearance of your tattoo and prevent it from shrinking or fading, it is essential to take proper care of it. Correct tattoo aftercare includes:

  • Keeping the tattoo clean and moisturized.
  • Avoiding exposure to harsh chemicals and excessive sun exposure.
  • Avoiding picking or scratching at the tattoo.
  • Avoid extreme changes in body weight over a short duration of time.

It is recommended to keep the tattoo clean and dry for the first few days after it is created, and to then apply a thin layer of tattoo aftercare ointment or lotion to keep the skin hydrated and prevent scabbing. It is also important to avoid soaking the tattoo in water for the first few weeks, as this can cause the ink to bleed or fade.

In the long term, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and taking care of your skin can help to keep your tattoos looking vibrant and sharp. This includes eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and avoiding smoking, as these habits can all have an impact on the appearance of tattoos over time.


Tattoos can appear to be shrinking for a variety of reasons, including natural aging and skin changes, weight changes, poor quality work, and sun exposure. By taking proper care of your tattoo and choosing a reputable artist, you can help prevent your tattoo from looking like it’s shrinking and keep it looking at its absolute best for as long as possible.

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