How to Keep Your Tattoos Looking Fresh and Prevent Fading
Tattoos are permanent, but the ink pigments that form your art can degrade to look dull and lifeless with time or improper care. Fading is an inevitable process (just like aging), but if you want your tattoo colors to stay nice and vivid, you'll want to know what to do.
However, please note that newly tattooed skin is essentially a weeping wound. Some of the steps mentioned are only suitable for fully healed tattoos. It generally takes a month to heal but may take longer.
For clarity, I will mark with a disclaimer the steps that are appropriate for healed or fresh tattoos.
Exfoliate Your Tattooed Skin
✻ Only on completely healed tattoos ✻
It’s a misconception that the more you exfoliate, the more ink you remove. That couldn’t be any further from the truth for two very simple reasons:
Exfoliation only lifts off the outermost layer of your skin and your tattoo ink is deposited way beneath that — in fact, it is hidden under several sub-layers.
- Even for non-tattooed skin, dead skin cells dull the overall complexion, so by removing them, the clearer, healthier looking skin underneath is revealed.
What Happens When You Exfoliate Tattooed Skin
Our skin is made up of three layers: epidermis (which has five sublayers) on the top, dermis, and hypodermis (tissue layer) below.
Exfoliation happens when the outermost layer (first layer of the epidermis — stratum corneum) is shed or removed. Your tattoo is in the dermis layer. If the ink is deposited any higher, your tattoo will “bleed.” A good, qualified tattoo artist will make sure that doesn't happen.
When you get rid of all the grimy dead skin cells, you help uncover the supple, new skin under it. Which is why you’ll that find skin that’s just been exfoliated tends to feel smoother and softer.
How to Correctly Exfoliate Tattooed Skin
Both physical and chemical exfoliators are great for body skin (facial skin might require gentler formulations as that skin is thinner and more prone to damage).
Physical exfoliants include scrubs, microfiber or terry cloths, cleansing brushes, exfoliating mitts/gloves, loofahs, and other natural sponges. Anything that requires a little elbow grease to slough off dead skin falls into this category.
Chemical exfoliants use — you guessed it— chemicals or acids to gently dissolve or dislodge pesky old skin cells. Exfoliating moisturizers or body washes with AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) such as lactic acid or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) do a great job of eradicating dead skin and help lifeless-looking tattoos appear richer in color saturation.
How Often Should I Exfoliate?
Even though exfoliation helps the skin shedding process, doing it too often can compromise your skin’s moisture barrier. So once or twice a week at most is generally sufficient.
Special Tattoo Exfoliant?
Don't buy into the notion that you need an exfoliant made “especially for tattooed skin.” It’s just a marketing gimmick and will cost you more money — any over-the-counter exfoliant will work just fine.
Moisturize and Hydrate
Moisturizing is essential in most skincare routines. It's a simple but highly effective step for maintaining healthy tattooed skin.
In almost all cases, a tattooist will send you home with aftercare instructions that will include applying some kind of moisturizer or healing balm/ointment to help the healing process.
This is important for both healed and healing tattoos.
For fresh tattoos, it keeps the skin nourished and supple and eases itching, dryness, and peeling as the dead skin layers shed. The hydration also prevents your tattoo from cracking (ouch), which is both painful and detrimental to the final outcome.
For fully healed tattoos, a healthy and uncompromised skin barrier provides for richer colors and details.
How to Correctly Moisturize Tattooed Skin
Always make sure your tattoo is freshly cleansed before applying moisturizer. Wash with a gentle but effective body wash. You run the risk of a rash or infection applying moisturizer on skin that hasn't been cleaned, because what you are doing is to basically occlude (cover) the skin and trap bacteria and dirt under a layer of cream.
Dab your skin dry with a clean towel and apply a thin layer of moisturizer. Applying too much moisturizer might cause your pores to clog and develop nasty little whiteheads or pimples.
Protecting Tattooed Skin from the Sun
✻ Both fresh and completely healed tattoos ✻
Avoid Ultraviolet (UV) Rays
This means, no sunbeds or tanning booths. Tanning devices emit artificial UV radiation to create a cosmetic tan, these ultraviolet light can break down the chemical structure of the pigment in tattoo inks, as well as increase the possibility of skin cancer.
Regardless of where it comes from — the sun or a tanning bed — UV rays are bad for your skin in general and dulls your tattoos.
Avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10 am to 2 pm, these are the hours were sun intensity peaks and UV radiation is strongest.
For fresh tattoos, have your tattoos properly covered and away from direct sunlight. If your tattoos have already healed, apply a broad spectrum sunscreen generously, and frequently — ideally a SPF30 and above.
Broad spectrum (also known as full spectrum) means that the product can protect you from both UVA and UVB.
UV Rays Mini Crash Course
Prematurely ages your skin, causes wrinkles and a loss in skin elasticity, dark spots
This is the guy that gives you a sunburn
The general consensus is that both UVB and UVA rays contributes to skin cancer, they alter the DNA of your skin on a cellular level and causes cell mutations, and ultimately, skin cancer.
If you love having your body in a sun kissed bronzed shade, try alternatives such as fake tanners or self-tanners. Sometimes known as “sunless tanning”, these bronzing solutions are topical applications of skin-safe chemicals in various methods.
You can get yourself spray tanned at a profession studio where you get coated with even mists of DHA. Or, if you’re an avid DIY type, self-tanners now come in a myriad of forms — from gels, lotions, aerosol spray cans, mousse, dry oils to even towelettes you basically wipe on! All these options provide such a diverse way of achieving that beachy glow, all at your own time and within the comforts of your own home.
Tattoo Touch Ups
Everybody heals at different speeds and our skins' recovery process can sometimes produce outcomes that are less than desirable — sometimes due to the application technique, sometimes due to naturally occurring conditions of the skin.
You might be fully healed and find that colors may not be completely even throughout; accidentally rubbing your scab off might also create patches once your skin recovers. This is where a touch up (within 6 months to a year of a newly healed tattoo) comes in.
A touch up can enliven old tattoos, the same way it can "spruce up" an imperfectly healed tattoo.
Touch ups usually involve going over the existing tattoo with a fresh coat of color or to include additional details, but generally done in small sections where required — instead of the entire tattoo (unless it is a small one).
Depending on the common practice of where you are located, some tattoo artists may touch up your ink for free (if the original was done by them). Others will require a small fee.
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.