As a tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.
Tattoos are enjoying a wave of popularity and social acceptance. Everyone's getting one, so you could be excused for thinking that tattoos are a relatively new trend (although they have been around for centuries).
You're probably not that old, but you may be sporting a tattoo that's aged at least a decade. . . and showing that age, too. The reality is that our tattoos grow old and age just as we do. Over time, the ink will spread beneath the skin, blurring once-straight and bold lines and making them blend together. Colors begin to fade, lose vibrancy, and take on a blob-like appearance. Letters and words merge into one another, no longer legible.
Our environment—particularly the sun—damages and fades tattoos quickly. Moisturizing and using sun protection are ways to extend a tattoo's life but unfortunately, once the damage is done, there's no way to reverse it entirely, but there is something you can do. Below, you'll find all the options available to freshen up those old tattoos, including
- touch-ups and color rejuvenation,
- lightening and removal,
- redesigns and cover-ups.
Use Exfoliating Gel to Refresh Your Old Tattoo
Sometimes, gently sloughing off the dull top layer of dead skin can help refresh an old tattoo. For this, I like Aftershock exfoliating gel, which has natural alpha-hydroxy acids derived from grapes, lemons, pineapple, and passion fruit. This amazing ink rejuvenator gel will assist with removing old, dull, dead skin that has grown on any aging tattoo.
This miraculous gel will brighten up your ink but needs to be used with caution. Leave it on your ancient tattoo for about 5 to 15 minutes and let the natural alpha-hydroxy acids do their magic on the top dead layers of dead skin. Although this gel has immediate results, to continue to enjoy those benefits, you will need to incorporate the practice into your monthly routine.
Tattoo Touch-Ups and Color Rejuvenations
Touch-Ups. When a tattoo reaches a certain condition, no amount of exfoliating gel can bring it back to life. This is when an appointment with a talented artist could be the answer. Your fossil of a tattoo could be re-outlined again with a solid, crisp black line. This would enhance its clarity and give the tattoo artist the opportunity to add some detail back, especially in those areas of the design that are small and complex that have lost their detail because the ink has spread. Portraits and designs that include faces can benefit highly from some touch-up work.
Color Rejuvenation. The colors are usually the first thing in a tattoo to show wear. Re-coloring faded tattoos that have maintained their outlines can make them current again. This is also the opportunity to repair or fix any errors or parts of your design that you honestly never really liked.
Most tattoo artists will charge less or nothing for touching up their own designs, so consider going back to the person who tattooed you originally.
Tattoo Lightening and Removal
There is no greater freedom in the tattoo universe than the option or ability to change up the design you were initially given by your Artist. The options mentioned here are your one-time, get-out-of-jail-free card!
Tattoo removal is an expensive and often quite painful process, but it is one option for dealing with an old, worn-out tattoo. For an Artist to create a new, awesome cover-up, some of the old tattoo might need to be lightened or removed. Often, darker outlines and block coloring cannot be covered up entirely without some form of external intervention such as removal or lightening.
Tattoo Lightening. Tattoo lightening takes about three sessions. The tattoo is not completely removed, though, so you can still make out the old design when your lightening sessions are completed. The lightener tones down the thick, dark inks like blacks and blues and lowers the brightness of general colors that can pop through a good cover-up.
Tattoo Removal. Many of the current methods of tattoo removal do not work well on the inks used in tattoo studios of today, but luckily, they may work on those done quite a few years ago. The methods are reasonably effective when used to lighten a tattoo for a cover-up. This form of tattoo lightening does not take anywhere near as many removal sessions to achieve your desired result.
To learn more and get ideas about cover ups, read How to Cover Up Your Old Tattoo With a New Tattoo Design.
Total Tattoo Redesign or Tattoo Cover-Up
Your tattoo might have gotten to a point where there isn't a lot that can be done to improve it. The inks may have spread too far and blended into the colors next to them, potentially creating an entirely new color (most likely that washed-out blue-black of most ancient tattoos). This is where either the decrepit tattoo design is completely re-done and inked again in the same theme, style, and colors or a whole new design is created as a tattoo cover-up.
With a tattoo that can't be resuscitated, consider encompassing the old ink into a larger, more complex tattoo design. What about developing it into a sleeve, back job, stocking, or body suit? What can be accomplished when blending an old into a new tattoo is mind-boggling and totally inspiring.
A talented Artist may opt to redesign your elderly, more basic tattoo by adding to the current design and embellishing on it. Experienced artists can incorporate previous tattoos into a part or section of the of the fresh design.
If, like me, you've shed tears over a tattoo, if you consider your tattoos as works of art or your own personal life story, then it's time to act.
You may have paid a fair wack of cash for your amazing piece of art, so maybe you could have even taken good care of it. Yet life happens to all of us, the years pass by and our bodies show that wear and tear.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Anne
Trunterin on March 12, 2019:
The darkest ink is BLACK
Brian Evans on August 31, 2017:
I have an eagle diving on my right forearm I got when I was 18, I am now 48 and would like to have it altered or re-designed, any ideas please
Kathi andrews on August 31, 2016:
I have a new tattoo that needs color modification and detail ,Jeffery Hubbard in Birmingham Alabama was the artist ,very talented but unfortunately he did a horrible job on mine and is no longer accepting appointments.I am looking for an artist who can work on finishing with expert detail to color and depth. Any suggestions I am in the Birmingham area but can travel within the area
Flanagan on April 27, 2015:
I have two year old sleeve.still looks decent.just want to revive.
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on April 17, 2014:
Thanks for you lovely comment Kalinin1158, tattoos certainly are a personal thing, but I am with you - got quite a few and love them!!
Lana Adler from California on April 17, 2014:
Very informative article! I love tattoos (have 5 myself), and I'm always thinking of ways to improve/design/re-design them or add something. Voted up