Why Do Tattoos Fade?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 5, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Tattoo fading might seem like a counterintuitive topic, considering how tattoos are supposed to last for a lifetime. This permanent nature is one reason why people get (or avoid getting) tattoos. 

Yes, tattoos can last for life, but they do fade. They will always be there, but they will not always look as they did when brand new. 

Fading is not due to a single reason. There can be many different factors coming together to cause your tattoo to fade, and some of them are things you can totally prevent from happening.


What Causes Fading in Tattoos? 

In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common reasons why tattoos fade, including how to mitigate some of them so your tattoo can look fresh for longer.

Location 

Your body might be a blank canvas for a tattoo artist, but not all parts of that canvas are friendly to ink. Any areas of your body that sweat a lot or experience lots of contact or friction are not ideal for getting tattoos.

Your hands and fingers, for example, are always active and are probably the body parts you use the most. Your feet and ankles, which take part in walking, are also very busy (even if you don’t exercise). They are also often covered in socks and shoes, which promote friction. 

People get tattoos in these areas, but they should realize that the ink may require special care and that fading could occur more rapidly than usual. 

Inner thighs are also a poor choice of tattoo location, as they tend to rub against clothing or each other. The same applies to armpits, which sweat a lot. 

Full-body tattoos or tattoos that stretch to multiple body parts may fade unevenly because of friction and sweat. 

Ink Quality

The ink used in your tattoo plays multiple roles. For one, it determines how good the final tattoo looks. However, depending on quality, it can also determine how fast the tattoo fades.

Lighter inks look vibrant and add life to tattoos. When you combine them with darker colors, they can highlight parts of the image so that it looks even more impressive. However, lighter inks also fade faster than their darker counterparts. The first to disappear is white ink, followed by yellow, then light green, then pink. 

The last colors to fade are browns, deep reds, greys, and blacks. These will remain visible long after the lighter shades are gone. On the one hand, this means you should try not to have too many light colors on your tattoo if you want it to last longer. On the other hand, if you want a non-permanent tattoo, you can get a white one.

You can also correct the fading of lighter colors by getting an occasional touch-up

The quality of the ink also matters. Not all inks are the same. Unfortunately, there is FDA approval for tattoo inks. They are unregulated, so it’s up to you and your tattoo artist to do your due diligence.

Some tattoo inks use heavy metals as their source of color, which can reduce the ink’s lifespan. Worse, it may trigger tattoo ink allergies or cause ink poisoning. 

Some artists prefer to mix their own ink, and inexperienced ones may make overdiluted colors that fade faster. The quality of ink used on your tattoo mostly boils down to the tattoo artist’s abilities. A skilled tattooist will know which ink is best to use.

Artist Skill

A quality tattoo will cost more, but it will last longer too. Skilled artists can charge more because they are in demand. They are usually famous for good reasons: their work looks better and lasts longer. 

The skin on your body isn’t even. Some parts are thicker than others, and only an experienced tattoo artist will know just how to place the needles so the ink gets where it’s supposed to regardless of the thickness of the skin.

An experienced artist can, of course, make mistakes. No one is perfect. However, they are less error-prone than inexperienced tattooists. They have a better intuition for the correct amount of pressure to apply to different areas of skin. 

An inexperienced artist might not have the same precision, which means the ink might not reach the right depth in some sections of the tattoo. It will, therefore, fade unevenly. 

The Quality of Aftercare

Your tattoo must heal correctly if it’s going to last. How you care for your ink during the first month can determine how long it will go without fading. 

For starters, it’s a bad idea to ignore your tattoo artist’s aftercare recommendations. Sure, there are no standardized instructions for aftercare, but you should at least trust the tattoo artist that put the tattoo on you, especially if they have a lot of experience. 

Ask for clarification if there’s anything you don’t understand, and be sure to use an appropriate healing lotion throughout the aftercare process/

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.

It would help if you resisted picking at the scabs or trying to peel off the skin. Your tattoo will naturally ooze plasma in the first few days as your immune system works overtime to attack the ink particles, which it views as foreign objects. 

Scabs will start to form after a few days. No matter how unsightly they look, do not pull on them as you could draw out some of the ink. Premature scab removal might lead to blank spots and patches on your tattoo. Let the tattoo heal naturally.

Finally, you do not want to scrub the skin excessively or immerse the tattoo in water. You should undoubtedly avoid swimming pools and hot tubs. 

Exposure to the Sun 

The sun is probably the single most significant reason why tattoos fade. The ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin and break down the ink particles, causing them to fade over time. To avoid that, wear UV resistant clothing, apply lots of sunscreen with an SPF of 30-50, and avoid tanning beds. If you must tan, use lots of sunscreen over your tattoo.

During the first month with your new tattoo, you will want to avoid the sun as much as possible. 

Weight Gain

Whenever you gain or lose weight, the skin gets stretched or loosened as a result. Weight gain leads to stretch marks, while weight loss leads to saggy skin. 

In both cases, the tattoo can appear distorted and may appear faded because of the change to your skin’s appearance. 

Normal Aging

The skin is quite elastic, and its flexibility changes as you age. As you grow older, the skin gets saggy, and the body creates new skin, which might warp the tattoo and cause fading. 

Therefore, skincare is vital for keeping your tattoos looking fresh as you age. Using moisturizers can keep your skin looking supple and elastic. Drinking enough water and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also slow skin aging. 

Over-Cleansing

While trying to take care of your skin is commendable, it’s possible to overdo it, at least when it comes to your tattoo. It’s okay to remove excess oils and dirt from your skin. However, if you overdo it, you might end up drying out your skin. 

Both scrubbing and lack of hydration can speed up the fading process. 

Smoking

Smoking is not only unhealthy in general, but it’s also harmful to your tattoos. Smoking reduces collagen production in the body. Collagen is the main ingredient that keeps your skin fresh and elastic.

Smoking also leads to the drying out of the skin. These things can change your skin negatively, leading to the gradual decline of pigmentation in the skin and the fading out of the tattoo.

Immune System Activity

Your immune system sees the ink particles from your tattoo as foreign objects, and your white blood cells will try to digest them. 

The smaller particles will get consumed by the white blood cells and sent to the liver, where they will be broken down and passed out in your urine. 

The larger particles, which the white blood cells cannot consume, will remain. However, they may get broken down into smaller particles through sun exposure and skin changes. This process leads to more consumption by white blood cells. As a result, over time, your tattoo will fade naturally due to action by the white blood cells. 

Conclusion

As you’ve noted from many of the causes above, tattoo fading is a natural process. As anyone who has had a tattoo for a decade or more will tell you, it stops looking as fresh as it did as time goes on. Sometimes the fading can be so bad that you have to squint to figure out what the tattoo is supposed to be.

Fading will always occur, but you will ensure your tattoo lasts for a longer time if you take steps to protect it.  And if time hasn’t been kind to your tattoo, visiting an experienced tattoo artist for a touch up is a great idea.