Tattoo Care: The Long-Haul Strategy to Lasting Ink for Life

It’s the first thing people think about when they hear the word “tattoo” – how permanent it is.

But what if it doesn’t last? When they’re not well cared for, a tattoo can go from looking fantastic to looking like a hot mess in a matter of years.

When you first get a tattoo and it looks so perfect and exactly how you wanted it, it’s only natural to want to find out how to make your new tattoo last as long as possible. After all, nobody wants to pay hundreds of dollars for a temporary tattoo.

Looked after properly, a good tattoo should last a lifetime. That’s not to say it’ll stay looking exactly how it did on the day it was first done, but with the right care you can expect your tattoos to still look fantastic, clear and relatively bright decades and decades from now.

Your body needs skin care as much as your face does – especially when you have tattoos to take care of. Whether you’re just considering getting your first tattoo, or wanting to learn how to care better for the dozens you already have, you can apply skin care techniques to anywhere on your body to set your tattoos up for success.

Find out how to choose a tattoo and placement that will look its best for as long as possible, and how to take care of it from when you walk out of the shop to a decade down the line.

The 8 key things that make a tattoo last longer

Pre-tattoo checklist

Much of your tattoo’s fate rests on the decisions you make before you’re even in the chair.

1. Research your chosen tattoo artist

Quality pays. And when it’s permanent body art, don’t cheap out. High quality ink wielded by a skilled hand will not only look better, but will stay looking good for longer, and this often means paying more in price. The consequences of poor tattooing technique include blowout (a blurry ink shadow below the skin), shaky lines, or at worst a terrible design or execution of ideas.

Also, check out the artist’s best work – see if you can find a web gallery or their Instagram page and consider that what you’re seeing will be the best quality they produce. Nobody puts their bad art online, only what they’re most proud of. So ensure you’re extremely happy with what they’re putting out there.

2. Consider your choice of tattoo

Depending on your motivations for getting a tattoo, you may want to adjust your expectations or ideas of your design to maximise longevity. If you’re serious about having a long-lasting tattoo, experts recommend staying away from watercolour and fine line tattoo styles, as the lack of thick dark borders means fading will be more prominent and the tattoo may become illegible over time. Black and white is also thought to last better and age more gracefully than colour.

3. Double check the placement

Try to avoid choosing areas prone to changes in size such as your midsection. Also steer clear of roughly used or high-friction areas such as the feet, ankles, hands, inner lip. Friction will not only make the healing process more uncomfortable, but lead to more blurring and fading over time. Contrary to popular belief, tattoos in these areas aren’t semi-permanent, and likely will never fade entirely, but they will wear out faster and you should consider this when making a realistic expectation of how long your artwork will last.

Post-tattoo care

Now that you’ve paid probably a lot of money to have it put in there, and hopefully its as perfect as you’ve imagined, it’s up to you to keep that tattoo looking its best.

4. Keep the fresh tattoo clean, moist and covered

Listen to their directions as to how long you should leave the tattoo before taking off the protective wrap. When it comes time to start washing your tattoo, treat it like you would an open wound. While you can’t see it, there are thousands of tiny wounds on the skin and they can easily become infected. Wash with a fragrance-free, antibacterial soap and only touch it after washing your hands thoroughly first.

Your tattoo artist should provide you with an aftercare cream or ointment to apply after washing it for the first time. Keeping a new tattoo moist prevents major scabbing and promotes faster healing.

5. Don’t pick scabs

When scabbing inevitably occurs though, leave it alone! Picking scabs can remove the colour and leave dull or even blank patches from the artwork. Don’t use any strong scrubs, exfoliating actives (like AHA and BHAs), or wear tight clothes that will irritate or pull at the healing skin. Let the healing scabs clear up naturally and in their own time.

6. Protect your ink from the sun

UV rays bleach the ink in your tattoos just like they bleach colours from fabric. Wearing sunscreen and covering with clothes whenever possible will prolong the vibrancy of your tattoo. You should be sun safe generally for so many reasons, but be especially careful with tattooed areas. This rule includes those with dark skin, because though you’re not as prone to sunburn and skin cancers, the melanin in your skin isn’t strong enough to protect tattoo inks that sit millimetres below the surface – they’ll still fade on you!

7. Hydrate to make your tattoo seem fresher

Moisture keeps your tattoos looking vibrant. Especially on darker skin, dryness shows up as ashy skin that dulls the colour of a tattoo. Like how varnish on a painting deepens the colours, hydrated skin allows the true look of the tattoo to shine through which will make it look fresher than it is.

8. Get touch ups when the time comes

It sounds like cheating, but few tattoos will last perfectly forever. It’s better to get small touch ups while your tattoo still looks good than to put it off until the tattoo is too far gone and needs to be completely reworked.

Experts recommend touch ups a few weeks to months after the initial session if any colour came out during the healing process or your skin responded poorly to the ink. This is usually offered free of charge. After that, keep an eye on your designs and when they start to lose their clarity, consider visiting a tattoo parlour and consult a professional to see whether a touch up is right for you.