When you get a tattoo, it's obviously important to do your research. But one thing that may sometimes get overlooked is the aspect of permanence. Yes, a tattoo is a major decision, and can stay on your skin for your whole life. But a tattoo might also fade. And there are a ton more things that cause tattoos to fade than you might realize, some of which may seen a bit weird.
Since our bodies change over time, it's only natural that tattoos, too, will change as time progresses. As the years go by, you can either touch up your ink, or let the fading be a new aesthetic, but it's important to understand how your habits impact the longevity of your tattoo.
"Most tattoos end up fading due to over-exposure — whether it’s from the sun or other elements," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. Some tattoos, however, fall prey to other kinds of exposure, some of which seem quite counterintuitive. So whether you're over-careful, or not quite careful enough, you might inadvertently be doing things that could end up ruining the chances of your tattoo lasting very long.
Here are nine freaky things that can cause your tattoo to fade, according to experts.
1. Not Applying Sunscreen
It's common knowledge that with a new tattoo, you should stay out of the sun, but even as the years go by, you should be cognizant of how the rays might be affecting your ink. And since it's hard to avoid sunlight altogether, experts emphasize that the best line of defense is good old-fashioned sunscreen.
"Although your tattoo artist will likely warn of the damages the sun can do, it's easy to forget the importance of properly caring for your ink when you're outside," Morgan Statt, health and safety investigator at ConsumerSafety.org, tells Bustle. "If you avoid or forget to put sunscreen on your tattoo, exposure to UV rays will fade the ink and speed up the aging process of your piece." So make sure to always cover your tattoo on hikes, beach days, or even picnics in the park. Otherwise, it may fade more quickly.
2. Using Tanning Beds
Tanning beds should be avoided in general, but if you're still inclined to use them, you should also know that they might be risky for your tattoos.
"Tanning beds might be even worse for your tattoo [than regular sunlight] since it's a higher concentration of UV rays being absorbed by your skin," Statt says. Let this be a good reminder that, whether outdoors or indoors, UV rays will always be an issue when it comes to protecting your skin, and sunscreen is your best bet.
3. Low-Quality Ink
This is a major example of how important it is that you find a tattoo artist who is being as safe as possible.
"If your tattoo artist uses lower-quality ink, the more likely it is that your piece will fade over time," Statt says. "The FDA does not currently regulate tattoo ink, which can pose safety issues if you don't research the shop or artist ahead of time. Although certain states do have regulations in place, many do not address the contents of the ink used. Heavy metals and a wide range of chemicals can be present that may negatively affect the quality and longevity of your tattoo." A faded tattoo is one of the better possible outcomes from low-quality ink, but still worth looking out for.
You may have thought long and hard about where to place your tattoo based on pain level, its ability to be covered, or even the aesthetics alone. But one thing you may not know is that tattoos in areas prone to friction are way more likely to fade.
"Places where there is a high build up of friction (like your fingers or even shoulder blades where you might often carry a backpack) can lead to fading of your permanent tattoo," Backe says. So it's important to consider how often your tattoo will have skin-to-skin, or skin-to-fabric contact over the years. Even your socks and shoes could be a culprit for fading your beautiful ankle tattoo.
5. Adding Your Own Spin On The Healing Process
When you get a new tattoo, it's important to pay attention to what your tattoo artist recommends. If you go above and beyond that, you might actually increase the chances of your tattoo fading over time.
"Too many people put all sorts of ... salves and lotions on during the healing process," former tattoo studio owner Nick Hughes tells Bustle. "They [can] act as a poultice and draw the ink out which leads to poor coloration after healing. As counterintuitive as it sounds, hot water and soap are the best things you can use and let the body do it's own miraculous healing." If you have a particular product in mind, make sure it's thoroughly researched, otherwise your new ink may not last as long as you'd like.
6. Getting Your Tattoo In A Sweaty Place
Along with friction, sweat can be a tattoo issue as well. Not every sweaty body part and its accompanied tattoo will fade, but some tattoo artists still take this into consideration.
Certain body parts can exacerbate this issue more than others "The foot is notorious for [not healing tattoos well] because the skin is very thin, the blood flow tends to be poor, and we wear shoes a lot which causes excessive sweating," Hughes says. "Sweat [on the foot] tends to be slightly more acidic which doesn't help. The palm of the hand also suffers from the same problem to a lesser degree." So, as always, ask your tattoo artist about your desired location, and make sure you're on board with the potential effects.
7. Skin Elasticity
"The main cause of a tattoo fading is actually the skin over the tattoo," Eric Graham, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Sentient Lasers, tells Bustle. "As time goes on, the skin changes — the skin sags and the body creates new skin causing warping and fading over the tattoo. This went largely undiscovered until emergency room doctors reported [that] patients with third degree burns [had] parts of the tattoo faded while the areas with the skin removed showed a bright, vibrant tattoo." While this may sound a bit overwhelming, doing things like staying hydrated and moisturizing your skin can be a good way to protect your tattoo in the long run.
Skin elasticity is an issue beyond just aging and hydration. If you happen to be a smoker, it can also change your skin, and your tattoos, in turn.
"We all know that smoking isn’t great for our health but it’s little known that it can also lead to your tattoos fading," Backe says. "Smoking reduces collagen production in the body which is the key ingredient in maintaining your skin's elasticity. This can lead to pigmentation bleeding out of your tattoo." Trying to quit smoking, or avoid it altogether if you haven't started, is a good bet to protect your tattoos and overall health.
9. Over-Cleansing Your Skin
Trying to take care of your skin, and the tattoos on it, is a noble pursuit. But don't get carried away, experts say, or else you might actually cause your tattoo to fade.
"It’s good to cleanse but be careful of ‘over-cleansing,'" Backe says. "Removing dirt and oils from your skin is healthy but you don’t want to dry out your skin. When the skin is dry, it means you're missing that hydration barrier you need to not only avoid irritating the tattoo but [it can result in] loss of pigmentation too." So for a colorful, long-lasting tattoo, your best bet is a gentle skincare routine, not constant scrubbing at your ink.
In the end, taking care of a tattoo doesn't have to be impossibly difficult. There are just certain things that are important to keep in mind. "Since skin is the body’s largest organ, [skincare is] important to take care of your body," Graham says. "Staying hydrated, refraining from or limiting smoking, exercise, and diet all play key roles in keeping a tattoo looking its best." Your tattoo might change with your skin over time, but you can do your best to protect it.