January 20, 2022 11 min read

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    Tattoos fade with time unless you either:
    • Stop aging
    • Own a time machine
    • Never go out in the sun

    Unless you're Dracula or H.G. Wells, your tats are going to fade. (See what I did there? Dracula doesn't age or go out in the sun; a two-fer!) And if you do own a time machine, please tell me you are using it for FAR more interesting shenanigans than popping back in time to admire your non-faded tattoos!

    I've always wondered, actually, why someone hasn't invented a tattoo that purposefully fades. OK, settle down! I know part of the traditional tattoo experience is the very fact that it is permanent and requires commitment. But what about make-up tats, like eyeliner, that may go out of style? Or having your boyfriend's name inked in an intimate spot? Many will shout, "Blasphemy!" at the very idea of a purposefully fading tattoo. However, the folks at a company called Ephemeral are banking on the non-tattooed half of the adult US population opting for one of their 18-month tats. Currently, they are very pricey and only available in black, so it'll be a while before they are common.

    Someday, though, faded tattoos might be normal. But today is not that day! True, even the best tattoos fade, but with proper skincare, hydration, and proper tattoo care, even an older tattoo can retain its beauty, meaning, and vibrancy.

    What is a Tattoo?

    Tattoo artists use creative and artistic skills to create permanent markings on the skin using ink and needles. Tattoo ink is deposited into the second layer of the skin known as the dermis. The ink is purposefully formulated to have particles that are too big for the body's white blood cells to run off with. After scabbing over, the wound and the skin heal, keeping the color under the new layer. These changes in the skin’s pigment can be used to create almost any image imaginable and on any body part. More than fifty colors are used in tattoo studios by licensed tattoo artists today.

    Throughout history, people have sought to adorn themselves and distinguish themselves as members of a tribe, as initiated adults, or members of an elite group. Today the reasons for getting tattoos are numerous and varied. They still include an indication of group membership, but also include religious reasons, for protection, as a source of power, as a status symbol, as an artistic expression, for permanent cosmetics, and/or as an adjunct to reconstructive surgery. Whether it be a memorial piece or one that expresses interests, hobbies, or even love themes, tattoos are rich in cultural history!

    Healing Process

    tattoo aftercare and alcohol consumption

    The healing process for a new tattoo takes about two weeks, depending on your skin type and climate. This is the time required for the top layer of your skin to heal. You can minimize the risk of infection by only touching the tattoo to gently clean the skin until it heals. Follow the aftercare routine properly; you can start preventing tattoo fading the moment you receive the tattoo. Immediate aftercare is essential!

    • Keep new tattoos bandaged for the first 1 to 2 hours only.

    • Apply antibiotic ointment to your skin after removing the bandage.

    • Gently clean the tattoo with antimicrobial soap, such as Tattoo Goo, and water, and then pat dry.

    • Use a mild, unscented tattoo moisturizing lotion on newly tattooed skin throughout the day.

    • Use high-quality Vitamin E oil. Vitamin E is a good moisturizer and improves blood circulation, which shortens the healing time. It is also a good antioxidant and neutralizes the free radicals that cause aging. After the third day, gently apply a mixture of 1:4 vitamin E oil in olive or coconut oil on the area three or four times a day.

    • Protect it from the harmful UV rays of the sun for the first few weeks.

    • Avoid friction and wear loose clothes.

    • Do not scratch, pick, or peel the tattoo!

    • Avoid swimming while the tattoo is healing to reduce the chance of infection.

    Be sure to follow your tattoo artist's aftercare instructions, but remember that there are many tattoo aftercare products on the market. He or she may have a favorite tattoo lotion that they sell, but it might not necessarily be the best one for you. For instance, "Ask a Tattoo Artist: The 12 Best Lotions For Healing a New Tattoo," lists a wide variety of aftercare lotions, most of which are available from Amazon.

    Excuse Me, Your Epidermis is Showing!

    Har! Except now you have an answer to that childhood joke: "Heck yeah it is, I'm sportin' a new tat!"

    As you well know, your skin is your largest and second favorite organ. Taking good care of it is essential to keeping new tattoos from looking like old tattoos. One of the reasons that tattoos fade is because your skin ages. Your skin’s ability to produce collagen and elastin decreases with age. Combined with gravity’s constant pull, this leads to wrinkles, and sagging, thinner skin. Sweat and oil gland function also begins to diminish over time, which also contributes to dry skin and decreased skin quality.

    However, there are many contributing factors that can speed up the aging process. Excessive alcohol consumption, prolonged sun exposure, and smoking have all been proven to cause premature aging, which will change the look of your tattoo, as well as your skin.

    • Keep the tattooed area clean and moisturized even after the tattoo is completely healed.
    • Always wear high-SPF sunscreen when the tattoo is exposed.
    • Stay well hydrated.
    • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
    • Stay active and avoid excess weight gain.
    • If you do gain weight, try to lose it gradually, so the skin doesn’t sag too much.
    • Quit smoking!
    • Cut down on alcohol as well.
    • Do not over-cleanse and over-care your skin.
    • Avoid products that contain parabens as they can cause dry skin that can get brittle, cracked, painful, swollen, develop rashes, and age faster.
    • Try to stay healthy and take care of yourself; the way you feel will reflect on the way your tattoo looks.

    Collagen and Skincare

    Collagen is a protein that serves as one of the main building blocks for your bones, skin, hair, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is what keeps our skin from sagging. The body's ability to make collagen decreases with age. Even in our 20s, we slowly begin to lose collagen, but it is especially true as we reach later-adulthood. For example, women can lose up to 30% of their collagen production in the first 5 years of menopause.

    Collagen Supplementation & Tattoo Skincare

    Because we lose collagen as we age, many are using collagen supplements as part of an anti-aging beauty regimen. Because skin is largely collagen, it makes sense to eat the building blocks of collagen. Not all collagen is the same, of course. Your skin is very different than your bones, for example. However, they all use the same amino acids. Amandean’s marine collagen and collagen peptides contain a rich source of Type I and III collagen for healthy skin and bones.

    Meat, fish, and eggs are high in collagen. Bone broth is another excellent source of collagen as it is made from the bones and connective tissues of animals. You can either buy it at the store (even Walmart sells a bone broth!) or make it yourself. A quick search online or even on Pinterest will yield some great recipes. 

    If you are vegetarian/vegan, your body's biggest challenge to making its own collagen is getting hydroxyproline, an amino acid only found in animal food sources. However, your body can make it from proline and vitamin C. To help your body make its own collagen, these foods/nutrients are helpful:

    • Proline: In egg whites, cheese, soy, and cabbage.
    • Anthocyanidins: In blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and raspberries.
    • Vitamin C: In oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli.
    • Copper: In shellfish, nuts, and some drinking water.
    • Vitamin A: Occurring in animal-derived foods and in plant foods as beta-carotene.
    • Water: like you needed another reason to stay hydrated? But seriously, water is needed to make collagen!

    Banish That Old Tattoo Look

    My first experience seeing tattoos when I was a kid were the ones on old WWII veterans. I remember thinking how gross they were, all fuzzy and monochromatic. I have a clear image of an old one on a gentleman's arm that was a big green blob. What a pleasant surprise it was when "Tattoo Culture" took off and beautiful, crisp multi-color tattoos became in vogue!

    Topical Skincare Management and Tattoos

    If your tattoo artist used inferior ink and/or injected it too deep or too shallow, migration of the ink may be inevitable. Also, if your tat is in a place that receives a lot of friction, such as your shoulder and you carry a shoulder-bag, the image may fade and/or blur. However, if your faded tattoo is simply the victim of normal ink degradation, there are ways to rejuvenate that beloved tat!

    Exfoliating: Exfoliation lifts off the outermost layer of your skin. Even for non-tattooed skin, dead skin cells dull the overall complexion. Removing them makes the skin look clearer and healthier. Don't worry about removing the ink when exfoliating. An old tattoo is well beyond the healing process and your tattoo ink is deposited way too deeply in the middle layer of skin, the dermis, to be affected by removing dead skin cells on the surface. Getting rid of all the grimy dead skin cells will uncover the supple, new skin under it and increase the vibrancy of the image.

    Physical exfoliants include exfoliating mitts/gloves, loofahs, microfiber or terry cloths, cleansing brushes, and scrubs. Exfoliating scrubs for tattooed skin are available, such as Stories and Ink available on Amazon. Chemical exfoliants use chemicals or acids to gently dissolve or dislodge stubborn 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 and vibrancy.

    Tattoo Balms, Lotions, and Ointments: Balms, lotions, and healing ointments are usually associated strictly with tattoo aftercare. However, they can be just as important for keeping old tattoos looking bright and colorful. Specialty tattoo lotions will keep your old tattoos looking bright, healthy, and fresh. They will also help slow down the fading process.

    For example, Ed Hardy INK Tattoo and Color Fade Moisturizer Tan Extender, uses shea butter, essential oils, vitamin E, and vitamin C to help bring back faded tattoos. And Tattoo Goo, mentioned earlier, is another paraben-free moisturizer specifically formulated for tattoo aftercare and long-term care. It uses cocoa butter instead of shea butter, is petroleum-free, and won't clog pores. For more details on these and other tattoo care products, see Best Lotions for Old Tattoos in 2021 – Revive Your Faded Tattoos!

    Touch Ups: It may seem like the shotgun approach, but most reputable tattoo artists offer free touch ups. As long as the ink hasn't migrated due to improper injection, friction, or poor aftercare, touch ups offer a way to rejuvenate old tattoos. A touch up essentially means tattooing over your existing tattoo to fix any problems with it. Unlike getting a new tattoo, a touch up usually involves adding small details or a bit of color to the existing ink. They're typically quick jobs that don't require you to spend much time under the tattoo gun. They still require proper tattoo aftercare, but are a way to bring back the vibrancy of an older tattoo.

    Cover Ups

    If a tattoo is too badly faded, stretched, or blurred from repeated tanning, it may require a complete re-do or cover-up. A cover-up tattoo is done over an existing tattoo. Although virtually any size, design, or color can be covered up, certain designs and colors are more amenable to being covered. A skilled tattoo artist can cover-up almost any tattoo and leave you with new ink that you’ll want to show off, not hide.

    Cover up tattoo treatments & skincare

    Cover-up tats are really a reworking of the original tattoo. The ink of a tattoo does not function like paint on a canvas, where successive layers can hide the original. Instead, a tattoo artist uses specialized skills including color blending, shading, and detailing to create a new image.Any tattoo can be covered up, although it may need to be faded with laser tattoo removal first. This usually only requires two or three sessions. Even if you have a large, solid black tattoo, a good cover-up tattoo artist will work with you to create a strategy for covering it with a new, exciting design.

    Consider these following factors when deciding on covering up an old tattoo:
    • Color of the original tattoo. Darker tattoos with heavy use of ink are harder to cover up than lighter-colored tattoos with less ink. In cases where stronger colors are used, your artist may recommend a fading first.
    • Age of the tattoo. Old tattoos are generally more faded and are easier to cover-up. Dimmer tattoos won’t require as many, if any, laser tattoo removal sessions before getting covered up.
    • The original design. Tattoos with less coloration, no outlines, graduated color changes, and less surface area are the easiest to cover up. More complex designs will limit the options for new designs.
    • Complexity of the new design. A more complicated new design may require the tattoo artist to stretch his/her skills! The price and number of laser sessions will naturally increase if the new design is complex and totally incompatible with the old one.
    • Reusing parts of the original image. Sometimes a cover-up tattoo only partially covers an existing tattoo. Embellishing and/or adding to parts of an existing tattoo may be an option. Reusing parts of the old one can create a new look that requires less new work and might not require a single laser tattoo removal session.
    • Higher initial maintenance. Sometimes the original design may peek through after some time goes by and the ink has settled. Depending on various factors, up to three touch-up sessions may be required before your new tattoo is complete.

    Laser Tattoo Removal

    As opposed to invasive techniques such as excision, dermabrasion, or salabrasion, lasers remove tattoos by breaking up the pigment colors with a high-intensity light beam. This allows your body's white blood cells to run off with the smaller particles. There is some discomfort but most people don’t need anesthesia. It's common to apply a topical anesthesia cream beforehand and an ice pack immediately afterwards to soothe the treated area. Similar to a new tattoo, aftercare is important and requires the application of an antibiotic cream and bandaging.

    Laser tattoo removal and skincare

    Black tattoo pigment absorbs all laser wavelengths, making it the easiest color to treat. Other colors can only be treated by selected lasers based upon the pigment color. Removing every trace of a tattoo is time-consuming and expensive. It is also impossible to say with any certainty whether or not any residual pigmentation will remain. Top-of-the-line laser tattoo removal, currently the most effective option, costs thousands of dollars, requires between twelve and fifteen sessions, and can take up to two and a half years!

    A WebMD article, Laser Tattoo Removal: What to Know, lists these possible side effects:
    • Risk of infection.

    • Slight chance of leaving a permanent scar.

    • Some colors may remain slightly, permanently discoloring the skin.

    • Hypopigmentation: when treated skin is paler than the surrounding skin.

    • Hyperpigmentation: which leaves the treated skin darker than the surrounding skin.

    • Cosmetic tattoos like lip liner, eyeliner, and eyebrows may actually get darker after treatment, although they do tend to fade over time.

    Summary Points

    • Always use a reputable and licensed tattoo artist. Properly inked skin will not fade for years and they usually offer touch ups.

    • Follow aftercare instructions religiously. Remember, you're injuring your skin and ensuring a healthy healing process will prolong the longevity of the image.

    • Avoid friction.

    • Stay well hydrated.

    • Quit smoking!

    • Use sunscreen.

    • Use a moisturizer even after the tattoo has healed.

    • Exfoliate.

    • Practice proper skincare.

    • Include collagen in your diet, perhaps utilizing bone broth as a beverage or in soups and stews.

    • Consider taking a collagen peptides supplement to keep your skin elastic and healthy. Amandean carries a wide variety of collagen supplements to meet your specific needs.

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