Tattoos, as every other work of art, need ongoing maintenance to preserve their integrity. If you just go get one and then neglect it thinking it will always look studio fresh you are sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, a lot of inked folk have this attitude and it shows with their dull, faded and weathered tattoos.
The fact of the matter is that all tattoos will break down and fade over time. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about that. The body treats ink as a foreign invader and is continuously attempting to dispose of it. Fortunately for us the ink particles are too large to be engulfed by our white blood cells and so it stays. Over time, however, these ink particles break down into little pieces that are able to be carried away to the liver which breaks it down into a form that can be removed from the body. Also during this process even the larger ink particles tend to migrate further into the dermis, further contributing to fading.
That said, there are in fact things you can do to slow down the aging process and keep your tattoos looking bright and vibrant for years to come. Some of them are common sense but some of them might not be. Here are my suggestions for maintaining the integrity of your tattoos.
1) Proper aftercare is key. The healing process has a big impact on the final look of the tattoo. Make sure you observe proper aftercare procedures. I heal my tattoos with Saniderm (usually two pieces – one for the first day while it seeps, then a second piece to wear for a week) followed by the old method of lotioning several times per day during the peeling process. The hybrid method I find works best for me, but we all heal differently and you’ll have to find what works for you. Whatever you do, no swimming, extended bathing/showering, etc. during the initial process as you will increase your risk of infection (which will spoil the look of your tattoo without question).
2) After the tattoo is healed, continue lotioning your tattoos daily. This will keep a sheen on them and keep them looking studio fresh for longer. It will also keep your skin from drying out, which could also accelerate the aging process.
3) Sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen! Nothing will fade your tattoos faster than over-exposure to sun. The UV rays break down ink as described earlier. If you are going to be in the sun for any longer than a very short period, please for the love of everything good put sunscreen over your tattoos and reapply often. This even applies to people with dark skin – your skin might be resistant to the sun but the ink is not!
4) Stay hydrated. Dehydration will lead to dry skin which although might not fade your tattoos, it will cause them to look weathered.
5) Get touchups every now and then. I don’t mean like every few months, more like every 5-10 years or whenever the tattoo has faded to a point you find it unacceptable. As mentioned, even if you are super protective and mindful of maintenance, your tattoos will fade and the outlines will lose their crispness. In these cases, a touchup will breathe new life into a weathered tattoo.
It seems like a lot, but once you integrate these into your daily life it will become habit. A few minutes of attention every day will pay dividends years down the road. You paid good money and endured a fair amount of pain for your artwork, so what’s 5 or 10 minutes of your day to protect your investment? Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?
Don’t be the guy/girl with the dull, faded 1-year-old tattoo. Be the guy/girl with decades old tattoos that still look bright and vibrant. Take care of your tattoos and they will take care of you.