I basically called my mom for help. Except when I say mom, I mean an esthetician.
When I wrote about getting my first tattoo, Colleen mentioned in the comments that she’d like her first tattoo to be the phrase “mean reds” (a Breakfast at Tiffany’s reference) on her upper arm. Another commenter responded to her, “Keep in mind that part tends to stretch out as you age,” to which Colleen responded, “Uh... so what? I hope I get to an age where everything stretches and sags.”
That attitude is one of the reasons I love Colleen. However, the commenter’s advice, although unsolicited, wasn’t inaccurate. It's true that Colleen couldn’t give a flying squirrel about the possibility of a wilting tattoo, but lots of people (myself included) would prefer to keep their ink looking as close to its original form for as long as possible.
One of the best shots you can give a tattoo at staying the same is by getting it done on one of the body parts that changes the least with age, so I talked to a couple of board-certified dermatologists about exactly that.
“The parts of the body that receive the least amount of sun exposure and sun damage are best for people looking to get a tattoo that will change less over time,” Dr. Michael Lin, founder of Dr. Lin Skincare, told me. “However, the areas that show the least amount of sun damage aren’t always the areas that show the least amount of sagging. For instance, the buttocks and the underarms tend to see less sun exposure, but can still show sagging.”
Some of that sagging comes naturally with the way the body changes as it ages, and sometimes it comes from weight fluctuation--stretching with weight gain and contracting with weight loss.
In fact, “Losing weight causes more skin change [than gaining weight] because of sagging skin and volume loss,” Dr. Lin says.
I asked Dr. Craig Kraffert, president of Amarté Skin Care, for his expert opinion on exactly which body parts are ideal for those who want an age-resistant tattoo. Here are the four areas he said are least likely to show significant changes.
Your Inner Forearms
The inner forearm, also known as “the next place Marci wants a tattoo,” is more or less the only area on the arm that can effectively avoid signs of aging.
“The proximal [upper] arms can stretch and contract significantly with changes in both muscle and fat,” Dr. Kraffert explains. But that doesn’t mean your entire forearm is immune. “The outer surfaces of the arms are very prone to sun damage.”
That leaves the inner forearm as the perfect place to get a seemingly ageless tattoo.
The Upper, Outer Areas Of Your Chest
Although your décolletage is a target for sun damage--perhaps you get freckles there or have started to see little wrinkles branching out from your cleavage--not all of your chest is an ever-changing canvas.
The uppermost, outer parts of the chest are usually covered by clothing and don’t really see the effects of weight fluctuation. If you can tolerate the pain of getting a tattoo near your collarbone, enjoy how little it’ll change over time.
The Back Of Your Neck
If there’s any part of my body giving away the fact that I’m not in my 20s anymore, it’s my neck. Sometimes I feel like it’s on a completely different aging schedule than my face.
“Most of the neck has movement-related development of wrinkles and contour changes and can become thicker with weight gain,” Dr. Kraffert says. “Most of the neck also is prone to sun damage.” Emphasis on most.
The aging exception? “The occipital scalp at the top of neck.”
A tattoo right below your back hairline will stay pretty youthful, especially if you usually wear your hair down over it. A really bulbous occipital bone might even provide some shade. (Dr. Kraffert didn’t tell me that, but I like to think it’s true.)
The Center Of Your Lower Back
I hate the term “tramp stamp.” Are we really supposed to assume that every woman with a tattoo on her lower back is promiscuous and/or a wandering vagrant? The only thing we should assume is that she wanted a tattoo--one that would look great with age.
“The body is very subject to stretching and contracting from pregnancy and weight gain or loss,” Dr. Kraffert says. “One sweet spot on the body is the lower-most back in the very center.”
Looks like you won’t need Turlington's Lower Back Tattoo Remover after all!
Does the way a tattoo ages matter to you? Are you thinking of getting one on any of these body parts? Already have ones there? Must I send you a formal invitation to post pictures of them in the comments?