Why Your Tattoo Won’t Look The Same After A Few Years

If you’re considering getting a tattoo, you might want to wait at least three months before going through with it. This time will give your body enough time to heal and adjust before the ink becomes part of your permanent skin. If you do decide to get inked immediately, though, don’t be surprised if your tattoo doesn’t look the same after three months—or even years down the road. Here are some of the ways that tattoos change over time.

Why your skin will alter the look of your tattoo

When it comes to body art, some tattoos are meant to last a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean your ink will look exactly as you want for all of eternity. Many factors can change how a tattoo looks over time—especially your skin and its natural aging process. For instance, since tattoos rely on oil-producing pores in your skin for color and contrast, they can become less vibrant as you age. But it’s not just age that causes changes in tattoos—sun exposure is another common culprit. As anyone who has acquired some noticeable sun damage knows, UV rays break down collagen and elastin, causing sagging and wrinkling over time. This same process can cause wrinkles around tattooed areas of your body.

How long it takes to heal

When you get a tattoo, you know what it looks like at that moment. But how will it look in five years? Ten years? Twenty? As tattoos heal and age, they change. And not just because you have them touched up—tattoos naturally fade as time goes on, no matter what you do. It’s just one of those things about having ink permanently applied to your body; there is no way around it. So knowing exactly how much your tattoo will change is something worth considering when deciding whether or not to go under the needle in the first place.

How you’ll feel about it

New tattoos hurt—they’re meant to. As your skin heals, it creates scabs, and those are sensitive to touch. But tattoo pain diminishes with time: For some people, it’s bearable enough in a few days that they don’t need any more painkillers than an over-the-counter antihistamine, according to Jody J. Schoger, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. (Others can take prescription meds as needed.) It’s hard to say [how long it will take] because every person is different and everyone heals differently too, Dr. Schoger says.

What will others think?

Body art is an incredibly personal choice and once you get inked, your decision is made—there’s no going back. While having a tattoo may seem permanent at first, many people have reported that their tattoos have faded significantly or turned completely different colors over time. Even if you go for something more temporary, like henna or some other decorative body paint, there are still things that can alter its look over time. This happens for a number of reasons and understanding them can help keep you from being surprised by changes in your own ink.