The tattoo pigment remains stored in the macrophages of the skin dermis, the process of tattoo fading mainly depends on the modifiable, lifestyle factors which quicken or delay the loss of compactness of the skin.
Thus, no definite answer to this question can be given since there are too many variables that impact the longevity of a tattoo.
In fact, no study has been conducted so far that would provide us with one, a reliable period of time that applies to any of the tattoo fading processes.
The only natural process that contributes to tattoo fading and we have no control over, is skin aging.
Here is a list of factors which influence your tattoo’s durability:
Exposure to sun rays
UV radiation undoubtedly poses one of the biggest threats to skin compactness. No wonder that dermatologists from all around the world call for an unquestionable daily use of sunscreen.
Also when it comes to tattoos, UV rays damage the structure of the skin, which results in their premature fading.
Both UVA and UVB radiation ultimately cause mutations in the skin cell DNA what destroys skin cell density and allows the ink to be filtered down into the deeper dermis.
Moreover, the pigment itself may be prone to the so-called photodegradation, or in other words degradation due to sunlight.
For these reasons, it is crucial that high SPF sunscreen, ideally SPF50+, which protects both against UVA and UVB radiation, is used daily over the tattoo.
Simultaneously, it is also imperative to remember that, in order for sunblock to be effective, it needs to be reapplied every two to three hours. Stick to this regimen and your tattoo will last a lifetime.
At the same time, limit the exposition to the sun as well as tanning beds. Both are great sources of UV rays, particularly the tanning beds since the radiation is especially concentrated there.
Use of wrong cosmetic products
Using wrong products that contain ingredients that are irritant to the skin, may cause contact dermatitis. Over a longer period of time that might cause the premature fading of the tattoo.
When looking for appropriate cosmetics, avoid scented, artificial skincare, and go for plain alternatives with a shorter ingredient list.
Your skin moisture level
If your skin’s protective barrier and moisture level are not in good condition, it makes the skin much more susceptible to an irritant, detrimental agents like UV radiation.
Ask your tattoo artist for optimal care for your tattoo. Use soothing, hydrating products to ensure great skin’s elasticity and firmness.
Furthermore, seek antioxidants that will scavenge free radicals that destabilize the compact structure of the skin.
For additional protection, drink plenty of water, especially after physical exercise which causes you to sweat more excessively than normal.
For the same reason, smoking can also extremely worsen the vivid appearance of your tattoo. It is one of the known factors which drastically strips the skin from its moisture and protective substances.
Body parts more open to friction
Mechanical factors like friction, touch, or injury all affect the brightness of a tattoo.
They too, yet in a completely different manner than the mentioned factors, disrupt the integrity and compactness of the skin. Especially if it is the thinner skin of certain body parts like fingers, toes, or face.
Be very gentle with your tattoos as friction even in daily activities such as dressing up, or friction against the bed, etc may cause tattoos to fade fast.
Ink quality happens to be of extreme importance when it comes to the tattoo’s longevity. Make sure that your artist uses the most stable and the least irritating ink so that tattoos last longer.
The tattooing technique
Tattooing technique of an artist counts as well.
As mentioned previously, the ink that is injected into the skin gets stored in the macrophages of the dermis, the second from the above skin layer.
If an inexperienced artist makes the mistake of inserting the needle a bit too high, into the epidermis, then the tattoo is doomed to fade quickly!
How exactly does the tattoo fading happen?
It is already known that long-term tattoo persistence largely relies on macrophage renewal in the dermis.
Typically the lifespan of such a macrophage is of months to years. At the end of the lifespan. the cell dies and releases the so far stored ink into its close surroundings.
Because the size of the ink particles is too big for them to leave their location, they remain at the site of tattooing where they are later recaptured by the newly incoming macrophages from the blood.
Yet, if the skin loses its compactness and integrity, it may not be a great barrier for the large ink molecules anymore. That then forces the ink to sink deeper into the so-called reticular dermis.
Such a process gives the tattoo the unwanted faded and blurred appearance.
Does our body’s immune system detect and remove the ink?
Technically, yes and no! Let me elaborate on what our immune system exactly do with tattoo ink.
Generally, macrophages are the immune cells, medically speaking, they are capable of phagocytosis, or “devouring” pathogens like bacteria. Our immune system only does so once they recognize foreign elements in our system.
Similarly, the skin macrophages treat the injected ink as such, nonetheless, contrarily to the bacteria, they are not able to process and remove it.
Thus, yes, our body’s immune system does recognize the ink as something foreign and acts as if it wanted to remove it. Nevertheless, it has a totally opposite effect without the macrophages in the dermis.
How does laser tattoo removal work?
Once you had decided that your tattoo no longer suits you, you can always remove it. In such a case, laser removal is one of the most common and effective techniques.
Briefly, specially adjusted laser beams lead to the destruction of ink-storing dermis macrophages, the fragmentation of the released ink, and its subsequent transportation via the lymphatic vasculature.
The laser energy which disrupts the ink-storing macrophages generates heat in the local tissue. This process, on the other hand, creates the gas vapor and steam, resulting in epidermal and dermal vacuoles or whitening.
As much as the formation of the vacuoles eventually leads to the successful removal of a tattoo.
How long does it take for a tattoo to fade completely after laser removal?
During the long laser treatment session, at one point the formed vacuoles start to scatter the laser light. That makes the tattoo removal process neither sufficient nor effective.
For this reason, multiple removal sessions are needed, each spaced approximately 6 to 8 weeks apart from another. At the same time, many people start to see their ink fading after 3 – 4 subsequent appointments.
Accordingly, you can expect the fading to start after a few months into the laser removal treatment and complete fading about a year of continuous sitting.
Simultaneously, proper after removal care is crucial in the fading of your tattoo.
For the first few days after treatment, keep reapplying antibiotic ointment recommended by your laser technician every time you change your protective gauze.
After a couple of days, you can remove the bandage and start applying healing ointments containing vitamin E, Corticosteroids, or other recommended ingredients.
Meanwhile, do not forget about wearing a high SPF sunscreen every day. It is indeed imperative during the regeneration period for effective healing and effect.