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How long after a tattoo can you get a cover up?

Getting a tattoo covered up is a common occurrence for many people who regret their original tattoo or just want something new. However, there are important factors to consider regarding timing before getting cover up work done. Rushing into a cover up can lead to poor results, so it’s essential to wait until the original tattoo has fully healed. Generally, the recommended waiting period is around 6 months to a year before attempting to cover up an existing tattoo.

The Healing Process

When you first get a new tattoo, it goes through several stages of healing:

Initial Inflammation

– The skin around the tattoo will be red, swollen, and tender for the first few days. This is the body’s natural response to the tattoo needle penetrating the skin.

Scabbing & Peeling

– Around 3-4 weeks after getting inked, the tattoo will start to scab over and peel. This is part of the normal healing process as the top layers of skin shed.

Complete Healing

– It takes approximately 6 weeks for a tattoo to fully heal. At this point, the skin has regenerated and the color will appear bright and crisp.

However, the healing isn’t completely finished. Over the next several months, the outer layer of healed skin will continue to regenerate and push out excess pigment. This can cause fading, especially in areas of fine detail.

Why You Should Wait to Get a Cover Up

Getting a cover up too soon can lead to poor results for several reasons:

Fading of Original Tattoo

As mentioned above, a new tattoo will experience fading over the first year as the skin regenerates. If you get a cover up within the first 6 months, it’s highly likely that the original tattoo will continue to fade underneath, causing the new design to look dull.

Difficulty Adhering to Scar Tissue

When a tattoo is still fresh, the skin is thick with scar tissue. This can make it difficult for new ink to take hold, causing poor adhesion of the cover up tattoo. Waiting allows the scar tissue to soften and become more receptive to new ink.

Infection Risk

Getting tattooed over open wounds or scabs increases the risk of infection. Wait until the original tattoo has fully closed up before attempting a cover up.

Inability to Evaluate Fading

It’s impossible to predict how much fading a new tattoo will experience. Waiting at least 6 months allows the original tattoo to stabilize, making it easier for your artist to assess the remaining ink and create an effective cover up.

How Long Should You Wait?

Most tattoo artists recommend waiting a minimum of 6 months to a year before getting a cover up tattoo. However, longer wait times are ideal.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • 6 months – The minimum time to wait for small simple tattoos with minimal detail.
  • 9-12 months – Wait this long for medium sized tattoos with some detail.
  • 1-2 years – Hold off this long for large, intricate tattoos with heavy lines and detailing.

The longer you can wait, the better your cover up results will be. At one year, swelling and scarring will be minimized but some settling may still occur up to 18 months later. Waiting 18-24 months allows the old tattoo to fully stabilize and fade before you attempt to cover it up.

What Factors Affect Fading?

Certain tattoos are more likely to fade quickly and require longer wait times. These include:

  • Tattoos with vibrant colors – The brighter the colors, the more they tend to fade.
  • Fine line tattoos – Thin intricate lines blur more easily.
  • Tattoos on the hands, feet, or fingers – These fade faster due to frequent friction and regeneration of skin cells.
  • Tattoos on the stomach or other areas that stretch – Stretching leads to fading.

Tattoos with bold outlines, minimal color, and on areas less prone to fading (such as shoulders or upper arms) may only need to heal for 6 months before being ready for a cover up. Discuss your specific tattoo with the artist.

Preparing for a Cover Up

To ensure you get the best cover up results, prepare your skin in advance:

  • Moisturize daily – Keep the skin hydrated to improve elasticity and receptiveness to ink.
  • Exfoliate gently – Use an exfoliating scrub or brush 2-3 times a week avoid forming thick layers of skin.
  • Avoid sun exposure – Sun exposure causes fading. Keep the area covered or use sunblock.

Don’t try to remove or lighten your existing tattoo at home. Laser removal weakens the skin and at-home lightening carries risks. Leave it to the tattoo artist to assess and prepare the original tattoo.

Choosing a Cover Up Design

Work closely with your tattoo artist to select a cover up design that will hide the old tattoo. Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Pick a larger, bolder piece – This masks the original lines better than small details.
  • Incorporate colors that contrast the old tattoo – Dark colors cover light ones better.
  • Bring reference images so the artists understands your vision.
  • Avoid cover ups that are too similar to the original tattoo.
  • Be flexible and let the artist suggest the best options to hide your old tattoo.

Tattoo Cover Up Methods

There are several techniques tattoo artists use to disguise unwanted ink:

overlay with new design

Simply tattooing a new larger, bolder design on top is commonly all that’s needed to hide a faded original tattoo. Dark colors and thick bold lines work best.

Incorporating old lines

Some artists may strategically integrate parts of the old tattoo into the new design. Using existing lines to shade or complement the new tat can help camouflage the old one.

Skin camouflage

If tattoo scarring is visible, the artist may use flesh tones in the cover up design to disguise scarring and make the skin appear smoother.


Covering unwanted tattoos with solid black is an option if you plan to later get a large tattoo incorporating the blacked out area.

Laser removal

Partial laser removal may be used by the artist if fading some areas of the old tattoo will allow for a better cover up. This is usually only done 4-6 weeks before the cover up.

Aftercare for Cover Ups

It’s crucial to properly care for your new cover up tattoo during the healing period:

– Gently wash with mild antibacterial soap 2-3 times per day.
– Apply a thin layer of moisturizing ointment.
– Avoid soaking the tattoo and don’t pick scabs.
– Wear loose, breathable clothing over the site.
– Apply sunscreen daily if outdoors.
– Follow your artist’s specific aftercare instructions.

With proper aftercare and waiting at least 6 months, you can successfully hide an unwanted tattoo with a cover up design. Be patient, take care of your skin, and collaborate with a talented artist to get the results you want.


Getting a cover up tattoo requires careful timing and patience for the best results. Allow your unwanted tattoo to fully heal before attempting to cover it up – this means waiting a minimum of 6 months. For large or intricate tattoos, it’s best to wait at least one year before getting a cover up. Properly caring for your skin, working with your artist, and following proper aftercare will lead to a beautiful new tattoo that disguises your old ink. Don’t rush the process and take the necessary time to let your old tattoo stabilize in order for your cover up to be a success.