My Tattoos Are More Than A Decade Old, But I Don't Think You Can Tell

I haven't done a great job protecting my permanent investments, but here are the steps I'm taking to make sure my ink looks fresh now and when I shoot my tattooed arms in the air and yell "BINGO!" in the retirement home.
Publish date:
April 12, 2013
moisturizers, body oils, neutrogena, cerave, spf, vaseline, sunscreens, tattoos, body gels, Tattoo Goo

If you’re like me and have tattoos, you’ve probably heard all the usual questions.

“Why did you do that?”

“Does it mean something?”

“Did it hurt?”

“Are you trying to prove something?” (OK, that last one was my dad.)

The one I've been hearing a lot lately: “What are you going to do when you’re 80 years old?” Well, I’m going to be 80 years old aaaaaaand still have no regrets, so thanks for asking, person I’ve never met before in my life. Je ne regrette rien.

I imagine I’ll be a little less taut, of course, but I hope to be sassy and confident and wearing caftans and winking at the pool boy like Blanche Devereaux AND rocking the tattoos.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, I haven’t been as vigilant in the treatment of my tattoos as I could have been. While I did originally intend them to feature lighter grays and subtle colors, I do not desire them to get progressively blurred and ashy-looking.

If these babies are gong to make it to the retirement home with me (and my dogs--they’d better take my dogs), I need to lavish them with a little TLC. So, damage control, literally.


Your flawless, ageless tattoo starts before you even show up at the parlor. I hope you’ve thought long and hard about your design and researched your artist thoroughly.

He or she has instructed you how to properly heal your tattoo, and you have loyally followed each recommendation. You wear sunscreen or protective clothing every day. You moisturize. Your tattoos are pretty and bright.

Well, unlike you and your perfect tattoos, I live in the REAL WORLD. (I am projecting here. I love you, really.)


My tattoos look better when I’m not made of fine Corinthian leather, and as we all know, skin in general is healthier that way. But when the weather gets warmer, I am outside as much as possible. I garden. I run for an hour or more in one go. Most of the time, I wear sunscreen, but I admit, I’m bad about reapplying.

I just started using CeraVe Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Body Lotion. It’s lightweight, fragrance-free, and appears to sink into the skin rather than just sitting on the surface. It isn’t one of those sunscreens that leaves a whitish aura on your skin, so your tattoo can still shine through.

I also like to apply Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Stick SPF 60+ directly to the tattoos themselves. The stick formulation is a bit thicker, so it leaves a little sheen behind, and the mineral filters are gentle on my skin. The packaging makes it easy to carry along on an outing, too, so I can’t make excuses about not being able to reapply.


Basically, when the top layer of your skin is moisturized, it becomes more transparent and your ink becomes more vibrant. Science by Beth.

There are tattoo-specific products that offer protective and moisturizing ingredients to enhance the colors of tattoos. I've tried the original, SPF-free Tattoo Goo, which moisturizes without clogging pores. It does not contain petroleum or lanolin, and it prevents scabbing during the healing process. However, I am hesitant to buy tattoo-specific products when I can get the same results with cheaper, more universally agreeable products.

Here are some of the super-secret main ingredients in a lot of tattoo-boosting liniments: hemp oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, beeswax, olive oil, sunflower oil, shea butter, aloe vera, vitamin E.

So really, you could just pick your favorite moisturizer some of that stuff and go for it.

I find that my tattoos look best when I use a product with a thick, almost gelée-type texture--something very emollient that leaves a sheen on the skin. I bought a bottle of Vaseline Cocoa Butter Vitalizing Gel Body Oil (say that three times fast) when I was pregnant because I was very paranoid about stretch marks and bought into the cocoa butter hype.

I found out there wasn’t actually any cocoa butter in this product, but I fell in love with the way it made my skin look supple and glowy. It made my tattoos look fresher, too.

This is an oil-based product, so a little goes a long way, and it sinks in better if it’s applied to damp skin after a shower. Straight coconut oil would do the trick, too.

So, I think I’ve been spared the touch-up needle, for now. What works for you? Have you tattoos faded a lot since you've gotten them?