How to ensure your tattoo won't look awful when you're old

28 August 2018 - 13:21 By Thango Ntwasa
Consider the placement of your tattoo carefully if you want to ensure it'll age well.
Consider the placement of your tattoo carefully if you want to ensure it'll age well.
Image: 123RF/zdyma4

So, you’re thinking of getting a tattoo but you’re concerned because so many people have told you it won’t look good when you get older? This might not be entirely true - provided you don’t get an amateur tatt that makes you look like a prison escapee, there are ways to ensure your ink stays in tiptop shape over time.

According to SA tattoo artist Ethel Laka (pictured below), a number of factors about your skin and the tattooist you choose can determine whether your tattoo will deteriorate over the years.

One of the most important is picking the spot where you'll get inked. Areas of the body where the skin creases, such as the bend in your elbow, should be avoided at all costs. Areas where you have stretch marks are also out of the question.

However, there are some spots on your body that are good when it comes to concerns about ageing. “You can get one on the lower arm, the sides of the leg are a good area, the back is brilliant and the shoulder blade is fine,” Laka says.

Finger tattoos are a big trend, but can lead to disappointment later on due to the high incidence of dead skin cells on your hands. “How a tattoo happens is that you need live skin cells - they swell up and take on the pigment. If you have dead skin cells, like on the fingers or under the foot or on the side of the foot, they don’t have room to take up the pigment, which is why the lines blur.”

If you have a darker skin tone, it's also worth noting that choosing a bolder design may help you to avoid keloids (raised scars).


Moisturise the scabs

Laka says, in her experience, the skin is often overworked during the process of inking, resulting in scabs. She advises against picking off the scabs. You should rather opt for applying a moisturiser and choose one which allows the skin to breathe.

“Mild antiseptic creams like Savlon work really well but you should definitely stay away from things like Vaseline or Zambuk. Things like that are not endorsed for tattoo healing. They’re very occlusive - that means the skin doesn’t breathe.”

Laka also notes that some creams might draw out the colour.

Avoid the beach

Thinking of showing off your fresh tattoo at the beach? Think again. Seawater is not good for new tattoos. “It draws the pigment out of the skin," explains Laka.

She adds that you should only expose your tattoo to the sun after two to three weeks, when it has healed.

No touching

If you invite others admire your new tattoo, you will need to set some boundaries. Laka says hands are exposed to many germs which you don’t want near your newly inked tattoo because, technically, it is an open wound. “You only touch it when you have clean, washed hands.”

Say no to plastic wrap

To tattoo newbies, the protective sheet used to cover new ink might appear to be regular plastic wrap you buy in supermarkets, but it isn’t. It's a medical-grade plaster, usually used for burn victims.

Some artists do use store-bought plastic wrap, which Laka warns against. “It’s bad – it promotes sweat. You don’t want sweat because it's an open wound and sweat (might contain) bacteria."

• This article is adapted from one originally published on SowetanLIVE; visit the SMag section for more great lifestyle reads.