Tattoo Fading–and How to Avoid It

Tattoo fading is a serious concern if you’re an ink enthusiast. There’s nothing like showing off a freshly done piece when it’s vibrant and crisp–and there’s nothing as disappointing as seeing that same piece turn dull or blurry.

Although it’s true that all tattoos are subject to aging, we’ve got some inside insight on what you can do to prevent tattoo fading. Grab your sunscreen and read on!

Tori Amos as the Sphinx sleeve by Mikey Vigilante at Paper Crane Studio in Long Beach

(Sleeve by shop founder Mikey Vigilante)

1. Choose your artist wisely.

The way a tattoo is applied makes a big difference to the final outcome, but did you know it can also impact how well a tattoo wears over time? Needles need to penetrate the dermis to deposit ink properly, which means an artist needs to aim for about 1-2mm into your skin. If a needle goes deeper than that, the tattoo might not settle properly. Similarly, if an artist goes shallow by penetrating only the epidermis, tattoo fading is likely to occur.

We strongly suggest choosing an artist who is experienced or who is being apprenticed by an excellent artist. This will ensure that a tattoo is being properly applied according to tried and true practices.

Additionally, we encourage you to check out an artist’s healed tattoos, either in their portfolio, on their social media, or in pictures clients have tagged them in. If there is a major discrepancy in the way their brand new tattoos look compared to ones that are a few weeks to a few months old, that can be a red flag to consider.

Social media can be deceptive thanks to filters and editing software. We pride ourselves on showing tattoos as they are, without retouching or other tricks–and we try to get healed pictures whenever our clients drop by. What you see is what you get at Paper Crane, so you can trust that your tattoo will be applied correctly.

2. Think about placement.

Tattoo fading is more likely to occur with certain placements–even when the tattoo is applied perfectly by a reputable artist. If you’re thinking about one of the following tattoo placements, we encourage you to be aware that you might need a touch-up sooner than you would with another placement:

  • Foot
  • Kneecap
  • Elbow
  • Armpit
  • Finger, palm, and hand
  • Inner lip
  • Ear
  • Face

This is not an exhaustive list–and a tattoo in one of these places does not automatically mean you’ll experience an issue, as a lot of tattoo fading has to do with how you care for the piece. But in general, these areas either see a lot of sun or a lot of friction, exfoliate faster than other placements, or simply don’t hold ink well.

We are willing to tattoo you in these areas, but we ask you to consider fading before you move forward. If you understand the risk, we’ll be happy to work with you–or if you’d rather, we can suggest alternative placements that we know you’ll love.

3. Trust your artist.

Every artist has a different approach to tattooing–that’s one of the things that make it such a wonderfully varied art. At a single studio, you can find one artist who swears by “bold will hold” and another who does watercolor scenes all day long.

We believe that application, placement, and daily care are the biggest factors when it comes to tattoo fading, regardless of the style of tattoo you get. We also believe in trusting your artist: If you’ve researched their work and picked them for a reason, then listening to their professional input will lead to an awesome tattoo that you’ll enjoy for years to come. If an artist isn’t comfortable with a style or suggests tweaking an idea so that it will wear better, we encourage you to take their advice as the expert.

A good example of this is a white ink tattoo. White ink tends to be fickle: It can react to sunlight and potentially oxidize as a result. If you’re looking to get something that is only white ink, an artist will advise you about this risk.They might suggest a different color, or they might recommend moving the tattoo to a place that won’t be as likely to experience sun exposure.

If you can’t agree on something during a consultation, we suggest talking to another artist who specializes in the particular effect you’re going for. That goes for placement as well: Not every artist feels comfortable with finger or palm tattoos, for example, but they will typically be happy to refer you to someone else who can make that happen for you.

4. Observe the aftercare period.

We cannot stress the importance of aftercare enough. Your new tattoo is an open wound, one that needs to be protected diligently for ten days while it goes through the initial healing period. You can find our full aftercare guidelines here, or you can email us if you have questions.

If you get a new tattoo sunburned or pick at the scabs while it’s healing, you will very likely experience fading. A touch-up may remedy the problem–but your artist will definitely be able to tell whether or not you followed aftercare guidelines, so be prepared to be honest.

5. Prevent tattoo fading by protecting your skin.

Sun exposure is a lifelong concern for anyone due to skin cancer concerns. If you have tattoos, the sun can also cause major damage in the form of fading–even if you don’t get a sunburn.

Sun damage is cumulative, which means that over time your tattoo can start to fade if you don’t take the proper steps to protect it. We encourage you to put sunscreen on your tattoos daily, even if its chilly out. You can also consider clothing with built-in SPF, which can be worn throughout the day or thrown on after your sunscreen has worn off. If you opt for sunscreen alone, don’t forget to reapply!

6. Too late to stop tattoo fading? Get a touch-up!

If you’ve experienced tattoo fading, we suggest reaching out to your artist to see about getting a touch-up. If you can’t work with your original artist for whatever reason, you can always send us a picture of your current tattoo so we can see if a minor touch-up is a good solution.

In some cases–like a tattoo that has been sun damaged for many years–we might suggest a total rework of a piece to restore vibrancy and clarity. In other cases, a cover-up might be the best way to move forward.

Whether you’re getting ready for a new tattoo or wanting to protect one you’ve already got, we hope that you art stays beautiful for a lifetime!