Tattoos That Still Look Great As You Age

  • Written By Dan Hunter on August 17, 2019
    Last Updated: October 13, 2021

A lot of people who get tattoos end up regretting them due to the quality becoming worse or fading away with time. If you’ve decided you want to get a tattoo, don’t overlook the long-term factors of getting one.

Tattoos that age well are mainly in body locations that don’t rub on clothes and other parts of the body. You should also take into account the size of the tattoo, sun exposure and color when aiming for a tattoo in the long run.

Aftercare Following a Fresh Tattoo

This is one of the most important factors that contribute to how your tattoo is going to look 30 years from now. Putting the effort in ensures you don’t later regret any damage that can be done if you don’t look after a tattoo during the initial (and highly important) healing stages.

To ensure the best healing process for your fresh tattoo, follow these tips for two to four weeks:

  1. After 24 hours: Remove the wrap and wash the tattoo gently with unscented soap and water, and then pat it dry.
  2. Morning and evening: Wash the tattoo with a gentle soap and carefully pat dry
  3. Lotion: Don’t forget to apply a suitable lotion at least twice a day to prevent the area drying out and cracking. Usually, no bandaging is required.
  4. Cool showers: Hot water can aggravate the skin.
  5. Clothing: Avoid wearing clothes that might rub or stick to your tattoo.
  6. Swimming: Avoid swimming pools and other bodies of water, since they’re a breeding ground for bacteria. This includes baths; stick to showers for the first few weeks.

Doing anything wrong while the tattoo is healing can lead to premature ink loss and fading.

The Location of the Tattoo

The best places to choose are those that suffer the least amount of friction. What these places would potentially be, will depend highly upon your lifestyle, so it’s something that’s best determined by yourself. 

Generally, though, some of the best areas to have tattoos are:

  • Upper arm
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Chest

These parts of the body are usually much less active compared to others like the hands or feet, and don’t tend to rub against clothing or other objects as much as other areas, such as the thighs (think tight jeans), and wrists (think typing on a laptop).

Depth of the Ink in the Skin

Where the ink ends up in your skin is a crucial factor in what happens to your tattoo over time. At the right depth, not only will your tattoo look crispy and clean, but also last much longer.

If the needle doesn’t go deep enough into the skin, the ink would eventually fade out much faster than usual. If, however, the needle goes too deep into the skin, it can cause the tattoo to blowout, where instead of getting neat lines, you’d have blurry ones.

Tattoo Blowout

To understand why this happens, we need to look at our skin. The skin is made up of 3 layers:

  • Epidermis — top
  • Dermis — layers in between
  • Hypodermis — bottom

Ink ending up in the epidermis ends up fading away quickly after healing since a new epidermis is generated regularly. Ink in the hypodermis ends up blowing out since this region mainly consists of fat, and the pigments making up the ink are fat-soluble.

As such, the dermis is where the ink should be. It’s the core layer of the skin, and it takes a skilled artist to put the needle in at the right depth.

Be sure to pick an experienced, knowledgable and licensed artist, and you shouldn’t have too many problems with needle/ink depth causing further issues down the line.

Exposure to the Sun

The sun hurls us with all kinds of radiation. This radiation can induce some of the pigments in the tattoo to undergo photochemical reactions, which can release free radicals such as reactive oxide. This sort of photosensitivity has been found in black, blue, and red tattoos.

Consequently, this can cause damage to body tissues and, therefore, trigger inflammatory reactions that can range from itching to redness and swelling to pain. All of this makes long-term exposure of your tattoo to the sun detrimental to its aging. The best way to deal with this is by using sunscreen on your tattoo during the hottest parts of the day.

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

Color Choice

All pigments are affected by UV light from the sun, which, in time, causes the pigment’s molecules to degrade and for the color to fade. However, not all pigments degrade at the same rate; therefore, not all colors fade at the same rate.

This property is called lightfastness, and while a scale of measure has been created, which can be used to rate the lightfastness of different pigments, this is not the case for the manufacturers of tattoo dyes and pigments. 

It’s been found that black has the best lightfastness, making it the most stable, as compared to red, which has the poorest lightfastness and can fade very quickly. Lighter colors also have a lower lightfastness rate than darker colors.

Considering this, black and grey tattoos are your optimal choice if you want a tattoo that ages well.

Black is best when aiming for longevity

Style and Detail of the Tattoo

Tattoo style, as well as the level of detail, are strong contributing factors to the tattoo’s aging. The more realistic the style and the higher the level of detail used change with a higher intensity than tattoos that are more simple with less fine details.

While such a thing is dependent on the artist’s skill and the quality of the reference, the use of finer lines and, with black tattoos, lighter shades, involves watering down the ink. As a consequence, less ink is used to make these fine details, which makes them more vulnerable to fading away with time.

Tattoos with large amounts of shading tend to fade faster than bolder, blockier examples

On the other hand, adopting styles that are simpler and use bolder lines with a lesser need for fine detail is more resistant to this. The reason for this is the fact that more ink is present in the skin, which takes a longer time to be degraded. On the surface, the effects are much less pronounced due to the boldness of the lines used.

Size of the Tattoo

Larger tattoos are superior to smaller and finer ones when it comes to the test of time. To explain why this is, we have to look at the skin itself.

The skin is made up of layers of cells. When you get a tattoo, dyes are injected in those cells, which remain inside. As you age, cells are liable to change and be displaced. Thus, with large-sized tattoos, there’s enough room to compensate for such displacement, which isn’t the case with smaller tattoos.

Small tattoos don’t stand the test of time as well as larger ones

Ink Quality

Not all inks are made equal. While tattoo inks have come along way in recent years, poor products still exist, and can lead to premature fading. If in doubt, ask your artist which type/brand of ink they use so you can do some research. Alternatively, artists will even let you supply your own ink.

Can Tattoos and Age Be at Odds?

If you want a tattoo to still look good as you get older, there are a few rules you should follow; the most important being:

  • Choose black ink over colored variants
  • Protect your tattoo at all times while in the sun
  • Choose an experienced artist who uses quality products and knows how deep to insert the ink
  • Look after your tattoo as best as possible – especially during the initial healing stages

With this in mind, you should be sure of what kind of tattoo you want, and the meaning you want it to represent. Such decisions shouldn’t be taken lightly, considering how long a tattoo will be with you.

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly 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.​

Related Tattoo Articles