Thomas Hardy once said, "Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change." It's an appropriate comment when you're thinking about what will happen to your tattoos as you age, because time will inevitably change our bodies, and subsequently our tattoos, and we're sure to be surprised by that change whether we know it's coming or not.
As we age, we develop wrinkles, we gain and lose weight, we get curvier or harder and thinner, and throughout it all, we shed skin cells. Tattoos are inked just below the surface of the skin, in the lower, secondary layer of skin called the dermis. That protects the ink to some degree, at least from the constant shedding of skin cells that occurs on the topmost layer of skin, called the epidermis. However, since our bodies are constantly replacing cells as old ones die off, the cells in the dermis that contain ink are slowly but continuously replaced by plain new cells. Over time, the gaps between ink-filled cells grow, giving a tattoo the overall appearance of having faded.
There's an easy solution to the issue of tattoos fading with time. Periodically, you just need to have your tattoos touched up to fill in the gaps that nature's created and make your tattoo bold, crisp and beautiful again. But what can you do to combat wrinkling and stretching? Those are harder, but not impossible, obstacles to overcome--or at least to come to terms with, as you'll learn below.
There's an old story that goes like this: A little girl asked her mom, "Mommy, why do you have a tiger tattooed on your bottom?" The mother replied, "Well honey, when I got that tattoo, it was of a kitten!" That little story perfectly illustrates how changes in our body weight and shape can affect our tattoos. When a woman gets pregnant, tattoos on her abdomen, breasts, buttocks, and even arms and legs can change dramatically. If you're able to tone back up after having kids, your tattoos may bounce back, too--or they might not. The same goes for men, who tend to bulk up and slim down in cycles throughout their lives. What do you do if changes in your body distort your tattoos over time? You have several options:
Live With & Love Your Tattoos at Every Age
Many older people with tattoos will tell you that they feel just as bad-ass at 60, 70, or even 80 as they did when they got their tattoos in their youth... or more recently, in some cases! Sure, they're wrinkled and some parts of their bodies are sagging a little more than they'd like, but so what? Their bodies would be like that in their elder years with or without tattoos, so why not rock some awesome ink?
Older people love to share stories, and tattoos provide an almost infinite number of awesome stories to share--how old they were when they got their first tattoos, where they had their tattoos done, what life events triggered them to get their tattoos, and on and on. There's no reason you shouldn't love your tattooed flesh as much as a senior citizen as you did as a wild and crazy youth, no matter how the canvas of your body has changed with time. Love your tattoos for the stories entwined in them, savor the memories they trigger, and enjoy the way they enhance your body. Just think of ink on an older person like patina on an antique; shiny and new is nice, but patina adds value.
Maintain Your Tattoos as You Age
There's no rule saying that you have to suck it up and live with your old, faded tattoos as you age. If you maintain your ink every few years, your tattoos can look as vibrant and fresh at 70 as they did at 20. If you love your tattoos, keep up with them. Moisturize your skin regularly, and when you start to see signs of fading, make an appointment to get your ink touched up. Look how bright and bold the tattoos are on the older woman shown to the right. She spent a lifetime collecting her tattoos, and she isn't about to let them fade away to a distant memory! It takes time, patience and money to properly maintain your tattoos as you age, but if you love them, then it'll be a worthwhile investment.
Cover up an Old Tattoo That Isn't Aging Well
If one or more of your tattoos just isn't aging well--maybe it's stretched beyond recognition or is now so faded that you can barely tell what the original design was--there's no reason you have to live with it looking like that. Get a cover-up tattoo! Research tattoo artists in your area who specialize in cover-up tattoos, check out the artists' portfolios, and setup an appointment with one or two of your top picks to discuss your cover-up tattoo ideas. Keep in mind that a cover-up tattoo has to be larger than the original for adequate coverage. It's also best to go with complex designs with lots of fine details that will help hide the original design. Bold, deep colors, like dark greens, purples, and blues are ideal cover-up tattoo colors. If you pick the right design, placement, size, and color scheme, and you find yourself a talented tattoo artist to do your cover-up tattoo for you, you can kiss your old, stretched, faded, or otherwise deteriorated tattoo goodbye and say hello to a brilliant new design that you'll cherish for years to come.
If you've fallen out of love with your tattoo as you've aged or were never crazy about it to begin with and you don't want to cover it up with yet another tattoo, then laser tattoo removal may be the best option for you. Laser technology has come a long way in recent years, making laser tattoo removal more effective than ever before. If you're ready to say goodbye to your old tattoo for good, find a tattoo shop or med spa that offers laser tattoo removal services and get a quote to see what it will cost to remove your tattoo and roughly how many sessions they think you'll need to completely eliminate it.
The number of sessions needed to completely remove a tattoo varies from person to person due to a variety of factors. For instance, tattoos closer to the heart tend to break up and be absorbed by the body more quickly than tattoos on the extremities. The older a tattoo is and the more faded it is, the fewer sessions it takes to remove it typically. There are other factors that will determine how quickly your tattoo can be removed, too, so the best thing you can do is make an appointment for a consultation to have your particular tattoo evaluated. If you want to learn more about laser tattoo removal first, read our Laser Tattoo Removal FAQs and our blog post, Does Laser Tattoo Removal Really Work?
Love Your Tattoos Until the End of Time
Tattoos are a celebration of life and all the many wonderful, hard, fun, scary, unusual, and down-right crazy things that happen during it. They mean so many things to so many people. If you have a tattoo--or a body full of tattoos--savor your ink and remember why you got each and every tattoo you have. Don't let a few wrinkles, sagging skin or the fear of being "age appropriate" make you regret the bold choice you made when you commemorated some important moment in your life by getting a tattoo. Your tattoo may not look as perfect at 65 as it did at 25, but if it's meaningful to you, then ROCK YOUR INK!
"Accept everything about yourself--I mean everything.
You are you and that is the beginning and the end--no apologies, no regrets."
~ Henry A. Kissinger ~