Why Does a Tattoo Fade?
Believe it or not, the tattoos we wear age with us, almost from the moment they are put in our skin. During the healing process following a tattoo our immune system attempts to start breaking down the pigment particles. Due to their size, it’s not terribly successful. The millions of pigment particles remaining make up the tattooed artwork.
Since there’s no way to stop the clock on time, we must live with some minor degradation over decades of wearing tattoos as the immune system nibbles away bit by bit at them. Another contributing factor to fading is from sun exposure. Exposure to the sun can shift the appearance of the pigment in our skin, cause it to slide into a different shade of the previous color, or often to a lighter tone.
Those who work outside will often see an accelerated amount of fading with their tattoos. The style of tattoo will also play a role in how fast, or slow it fades. Thicker line-work, bold and saturated colors will often remain brighter and bolder for a longer time in comparison to thinner, fine-line tattoos.
This is due in part to the appearance of larger tattoos because there’s less focus on the intricacies of them unlike soft grey-wash or fine-line pieces. Tattoo inks are also a unique, contributing factor to the speed at which fading occurs. Not to say one brand of ink is superior, but the composition of the ink combined to application could contribute to tattoo fading.
Overall skin care can also play a role, so ensuring you’re helping your body’s largest organ to the best of your ability prior to being tattooed and continuing after is extremely helpful to reduce fading. High friction areas like the elbow and insole of the foot usually show excessive fading very rapidly. There are some simple preventative measures to slow down the amount of fading for a tattoo.
Proper sun protection is the absolute most important, physically blocking the tattoos from direct, prolonged exposure is ideal, but not always possible. Zinc-based sunscreen applied properly and often can be a great alternative when physically covering isn’t possible. A healthy diet with nutrient dense food and plenty of water daily will also help slow the fading of your tattoos.
How Long Does it Take for a Tattoo to Fade?
When done properly, a tattoo should show only a slight amount of settling within the first 6 months, which is totally normal. Depending on the style, location and lifestyle, a tattoo could show some early signs of fading in as early as 2-5 years although most tattoos won’t show significant fading for 10-20 years.
Who Usually Needs a Tattoo Redone?
Most tattoos will need to be redone at a point when they no longer bring joy to look at because the lines aren’t as crisp or the color isn’t as bold and saturated as it once was. High wear areas, as previously mentioned, will need more upkeep. The alternative if one chooses, is to enjoy the aged and faded look that likely will come at some point later in life. Some people wear these faded tattoos as a badge of honor.
How Can You Redo a Tattoo?
Option #1: Touch Ups
A tattoo touch up, sometimes called a freshen up, will essentially redo the tattoo by going over existing black line work that’s faded to shade of grey and re-coloring the tattoo. Touch up tattoos work best when designs are simple and less saturated without full coverage. Examples would include script, American Traditional, black work and symbols all make great candidates for touch ups.
Tattoos that don’t always translate well to this type of redo are New School, Watercolor or Realism tattoos, due to the intricate amount of detail and heavy ink saturation. When looking to redo a tattoo in this method, it’s always advisable to return to the original artist whenever possible.
This will almost always yield the best results. When this isn’t possible, ensure you’re choosing a tattoo artist who is not only familiar with touch up work, but one who does the same style of the original tattoo. Not all tattoo artists do touch ups.
Option #2: Coverups
Another option to redo your tattoo is to have a completely new piece of art placed over top the old, faded tattoo. As the name implies, a tattoo coverup is using a new tattoo to cover the old one. One major consideration for coverup tattoos is they almost always will need to be larger, darker, and more saturated than the original. It’s rarely possible to cover a black or very dark tattoo with lighter tones and color.
Large tattoos that contain a lot of black, like thick tribal are among the most difficult to cover because even adding texture is nearly impossible. Redoing a tattoo with a coverup will require a bit of compromise, especially if the tattoo is on a body part that just can’t support a larger tattoo, like a finger, hand, or even inside of the wrist. Like a touch up tattoo, finding an artist who specializes in cover up tattoos is going to be paramount to success.
Not every tattoo artist will do a cover up and not every cover up tattoo will result in a favorable result. It’s very important when selecting an artist that you review their work, preferably tattoos that have been healed for 6 months or more. This is the best way to ensure you’re getting a great, new tattoo and not just a good tattoo cover up.