The pain is momentary, but the art lasts a lifetime. Whether it’s your first tattoo or just one special piece of your permanent collection, we’re sure you know the feeling. But do tattoos really last forever? Yes, and no. Just as our bodies change over time, it’s completely natural for our tattoos to do the same. So, what exactly makes our ink fade?
The secret behind your favorite tattoo is your immune system
Buckle up for a little science lesson. To understand how tattoos fade, let’s first tackle how they really work. Most people will answer that the ink is injected so deep into the skin that it stays put permanently. Well, sort of. Your tattoo artist actually applies ink to the middle layer of your skin, called the dermis. From there, you can thank your immune system for keeping your fresh design in place. Each time the needle pierces your skin, your body sends a fleet of immune cells called macrophages to the dermis. To you, you’re creating art; to these white blood cells, you’re being wounded. In order to clean the area up, they gobble up the tattoo ink and settle into the dermis permanently, causing the ink to stay visible for a lifetime.
Eat, release, and repeat
Why, then, do our tattoos fade? Like all of our cells, macrophages will eventually die. When they do, the tattoo ink is released back into the dermis. Just like before, the suspended ink sounds an alarm within your body, calling a new fleet of macrophages to the site. Like the troopers they are, the new macrophages chow down the tattoo ink and replace their fallen brethren. Of course, no processes are perfect. Each time a macrophage withers and is succeeded by a new white blood cell, some tattoo ink is lost and drained away from the skin. This causes tattoos to fade over time. So, the next time you admire your body art, give it a little extra love for the constant battle your immune system takes on to keep your ink locked in.
Protect it, don’t sweat it
Although the battlefield is down below the surface of your skin, you can still protect the vibrancy and longevity of your tattoos from the outside. One of the biggest culprits that cause fading is UV light. Whether you’re trying to soak up all the vitamin D you can, or prefer cloudier afternoons, those UV rays can sneak up on you faster than you realize! Once your skin absorbs the UV light, the rays begin breaking down your tattoo ink and passing those pigments into your bloodstream. The solution is easy: make SPF your best friend. Apply and reapply to keep your designs protected from UV rays. At the end of the day, proper moisturization, sun protection, our brighteners and extra appreciation for your immune system will keep your ink fresh, hydrated, and vibrant for the long haul.