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Do color tattoos fade quickly?

Tattoos have become increasingly popular over the past few decades. Today, it’s estimated that 30% of people aged 18-50 have at least one tattoo. When getting inked, one of the biggest considerations is how quickly the tattoo will fade. This is especially true for color tattoos, which tend to fade faster than black ink. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the factors that cause color tattoo fading, and provide tips on how to slow the process.

How Long Do Color Tattoos Last?

The lifespan of a color tattoo depends on several factors:

  • Ink quality – Higher quality inks tend to last longer.
  • Ink color – Brighter colors like red, orange, pink, and yellow tend to fade fastest.
  • Sun exposure – UV rays accelerate fading.
  • Skin type – Paler skin shows fading sooner.
  • Body placement – Areas like hands, feet, and joints fade faster.
  • Age – Older skin doesn’t hold ink as well.

With optimal conditions, a color tattoo can remain vibrant for up to 10 years or more. However, some fading is inevitable over time. On average, you can expect the following lifespan for color tattoos:

Color Average Lifespan
Black 10-15 years
Dark blue, dark green 8-12 years
Bright colors (red, pink, orange, yellow) 5-8 years

Note that even “permanent” makeup like eyeliner or lip color will need periodic touch-ups over time.

What Causes Color Tattoos to Fade?

There are several factors that contribute to color tattoo fading:

Sun Exposure

Ultraviolet light from the sun causes tattoos to fade faster. UV exposure breaks down the ink particles under your skin over time. This causes the colors to lighten and look washed out. Areas of the body that get more sun exposure, like arms, shoulders, and backs, will fade quicker than less exposed areas.

Ink Quality

Not all tattoo inks are created equal. Lower quality and amateur inks tend to fade and blur faster. Stick with reputable professional tattoo ink brands for longer lasting results. Black ink is the most stable, while lighter colors made with organic pigments break down more quickly.

Location on Body

Certain parts of the body are more prone to fading:

  • Hands and feet – The skin here regenerates quickly and tattoo ink breaks down faster.
  • Joints – Bending and friction fades ink over time.
  • Fingers – Frequent washing causes fading.

Placing a tattoo over any boney prominences will lead to faster fading too.

Skin Type

Paler skin shows fading sooner than darker skin types. The higher melanin content in darker skin helps stabilize tattoo ink. Fair and freckled skin provides less protection against UV rays as well, speeding up fading.


As skin ages, it loses its ability to hold ink particles in place. Tattoos tend to blur and fade more noticeably after middle age. The regeneration of skin cells slows down, so the crisp lines and colors of a tattoo become less defined over time.

Bathing and Cleansing

Frequent baths, showers, and cleaning the tattooed area speeds up fading. The water, soap, and friction from washing removes ink particles over time.

Medical Procedures

Laser removal, radiation, chemotherapy, and other medical procedures can cause color tattoos to fade prematurely. The treatments break down ink pigments and scatter the particles.

Do Certain Colors Fade Faster Than Others?

Yes, tattoo artists admit some colors fade faster than others. In general, brighter “vibrant” colors are more prone to fading compared to darker shades. Here’s the breakdown:

Fastest Fading Colors

  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Pink
  • Purple
  • Green
  • Aqua
  • Bright red

These vibrant shades are created with organic pigments that destabilize and break down quicker in UV light. They also happen to be the most eye-catching colors for tattoos.

Slower Fading Colors

  • Black
  • Dark blue
  • Dark green
  • Brown
  • Navy

These classic tattoo colors are carbon-based inks that retain their hue longer before fading to a lighter version of the shade. Black ink lasts the longest of any color.

How to Make Color Tattoos Last Longer

To extend the lifespan of your color ink, here are some preventive tips:

Avoid Sun Exposure

Keep the tattoo covered or use broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen to minimize sun exposure. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours if outdoors. The sun is the #1 cause of premature tattoo fading.

Moisturize Daily

Use an unscented moisturizer to keep the tattooed area hydrated. Dry skin retains less ink over time. Apply a thin layer 2-3 times per day.

Avoid Long Baths

Don’t soak the tattoo in water for more than 10 minutes at a time. The water content can draw out and wash away pigment over time. Take quick showers instead of long baths.

Avoid Abrasive Scrubbing

When washing, use a mild cleanser and gently clean the tattoo. Don’t use any loofahs or scrubs that can scrape off pigment.

Use Touch Up Ink

Some brands like Skin Candy offer touch up ink pens to help refresh fading tattoos between professional touch ups. Use sparingly and only on very light spots.

See Your Artist Annually

Schedule annual tune up visits with your tattoo artist to restore any fading. A single color session can get your tattoos looking vibrant again.

Consider a Tattoo Darkening Product

Products like Tattoo Goo can help bind pigment particles closer to the skin to temporarily darken and refresh faded tattoos. Use these occasionally between touch ups.

Avoid Fading Creams

Removal creams that claim to lighten or erase tattoos can cause premature fading. Avoid these products unless you want to fully remove your ink.

Protect During Medical Treatments

Ask your doctor about covering tattoos to minimize ink breakdown during laser procedures, radiation, etc. Some fading is unavoidable, but protection can help.

How to Tell if Your Tattoo is Fading

Here are signs your color tattoo is starting to fade:

  • Vibrant colors become muted and lighter
  • Blacks turn to gray
  • Fine lines and details look blurred
  • Shading looks spotty
  • Borders appear faded
  • Colors look chalky or ashy

Some slight initial fading in the first year is normal as the skin heals. But if you notice the density, sharpness and saturation of color dropping off quickly, your ink may be fading prematurely.

Should You Avoid Color Tattoos if They Fade Fast?

Color tattoos require more maintenance, but don’t let faster fading deter you. If you love the look of vibrant colors, go for it! Just be prepared to get annual touch ups. Treat the colors gently, avoid sun exposure, and moisturize to make the intervals between touch ups longer.

Black ink lasts the longest if you want a lower maintenance option. But you can still get years of enjoyment from color tattoos before a refresh is needed. Plus, the color can often be restored close to its original brightness at your touch up visits. If you want an eye-catching design, color is worth it!


Color tattoos fade quicker than black ink, but can still last years with proper care. Protect your tats from sun exposure, moisturize frequently, and avoid abrasive scrubbing during washing. Schedule annual tune ups to have your artist restore any faded spots. Vibrant yellows, oranges, pinks, and reds tend to fade fastest, while darker shades like blue, green and brown last a bit longer. But even the brightest colors can be touched up and refreshed when needed. So if you love how color ink looks, don’t let the maintenance deter you! Follow these fading prevention tips and work with your tattoo artist to keep your colors looking their best.