20 eye-opening photos that show what happens to tattoos over time

All tattoos fade and change eventually.

But dehydration, chafing, and especially sunlight can all wreak havoc on body art, making touch-ups necessary years earlier than one might expect. And most tattoos simply lose their nice, straight edges as they heal – that’s just something your artist should explain to you.

We love tattoos, but it’s worth knowing what you’re getting into when you let someone ink you for life.

Here are 20 tattoos that look different from months to years after the original deed was done.

1. Just a myth

Bright colors just don’t last and “watercolor tattoos” are notorious for fading.

Of course, that’s a spot that’s hard to hit with the sunscreen, so that would explain why SO much of the color faded relatively quickly.

Then again, if it’s a tattoo you love, you can always get a touch-up!

2. May the force be with you next time

It’s all about placement here. If you want a tattoo to last more than a few weeks or months, don’t get it on your finger.

Not only do fingers rub against things literally all day, but they’re just not protected from sun or chemicals.

And as you can see, these tattoos fade pretty unevenly too.

Reddit - tiramisu_motor Source: Reddit - tiramisu_motor

3. The key is

It still looks pretty great even if the coloring is gone.

Just remember that the photo you see in the book at the studio is not what you’re going to end up with a few years later, so make sure you’re happy with the potential future tattoo as well.

Reddit - ghoooooooooost Source: Reddit - ghoooooooooost

4. The day the music died

Here’s another watercolor tattoo in the same place that clearly didn’t get enough sunscreen.

These are so pretty, but they do end up looking like a bruise if you don’t care for them well.

Reddit - can-i-pet-ur-dog Source: Reddit - can-i-pet-ur-dog

5. Catch a wave

Even the OP said he needed to use better sunscreen.

It’s still pretty cool, but it looks more worn than it needs to after just 4 years.


6. Should have seen this coming

If you could gaze into a crystal ball and see what your tattoo would look like years later, would you still get one?

To be fair, this was taken 17 years later and posted by the tattoo artist to not only show how much his skills have improved over the years but to warn artists and customers that they really need to be honest with themselves about how colors and lines hold up (or don’t!) over time.

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A post shared by Rodney Raines (@rodneyraines) on

7. Faded fingers

So just don’t get finger tattoos, ok?

Not only are they going to need constant touch-ups, but they don’t look so great as they get rubbed off.

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A post shared by ° 🔮☠️ 𝐸𝓇𝒾𝒸𝒶 ☠️🔮 ° (@witchytattoobitch) on

8. Eternal flame

We’re not gonna lie, that still looks amazing.

You can always get the color re-touched later, but this is the kind of tattoo that was done deep and very well to begin with so it would stand the test of time.

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A post shared by Jon Elliott (@jetat2) on

9. From badass to blurry

Hey, it happens.

But 14 years later, this $25 tattoo is still recognizable, even if it’s not exactly as cool as it once was.

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A post shared by Casey O’Byrne (@casey_oh_burn) on

10. Stubborn like a bull

That’s definitely a lack of sunscreen at play.

The lines still look good, but the fading is significant.

Sometimes this can be the result of the ink not being deep enough, but that’s also a part of the body that sees the sun and tends to be rubbed a lot under shirts.

Reddit/ghoooooooooost Source: Reddit/ghoooooooooost

11. Still flying high

5 years later the color has changed but this bird is still true to form.

It looks beautiful and well taken care of. But it’s still important to note just how these things change as they heal to be sure you still want the permanent ink.

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A post shared by Kay D (@ochruros) on

12. Rough around the edges

When tattoos are tiny and the ink spreads, you can end up with a lot more color bleeding than you had hoped for.

If a tattoo artist doesn’t explain this to you upfront, find a new one!

Imgur - ghoooooooooost Source: Imgur - ghoooooooooost

13. Say what?

Sorry, but the same thing goes for script.

The daintier the lines, the more it’ll all blend together over time. This is going to require a cover-up rather than a touch-up.

Imgur - ghoooooooooost Source: Imgur - ghoooooooooost

14. A peek inside

That was once supposed to look like a peek inside the body to see his spine.

But there’s no way we’d guess that 13 years later. Between the fading and whatever the OP used to treat the acne on his back, it’s now just an old tattoo in need of a cover-up job.

Thought I’d show you what 13 years of tattoo fading and bacne damage looks like. It was 3 holes in my back showing my spine. Due to have the line-work for a cover-up done in a few hours! :D from r/tattoo

15. Fading in 5

This is a great example of what you can expect once a black tattoo with lots of shading is healed.

It still looks really cool, but even 5 months later it doesn’t look as clean as the original.

Just be prepared for your ink to change like this and you’ll be fine.

Is this too much fading for a 5 months old tattoo? from r/tattoo

16. The healing process

Yep, even color is going to look dull once a tattoo heals.

But if you keep it out of the sun, it might brighten up again within a few months – just don’t expect to get any detail back.

Hello i want your opinions guys to tell if my tattoo is really more than normal faded after peeling or is that normal to fade like this im really worried(Tattoo done by Invictus Tattoo ) from r/tattoo

17. Shipwreck

If you get an inexperienced artist that doesn’t go deep enough with the ink, you can get this kind of fading and wear within weeks.

But the good news is that they’ll pretty much owe you a free touch-up (as long as you did your aftercare properly) and it’s better to err on the side of less than more for your first tattoo.

I got this tattoo a week ago – does anyone know why half of it seems to have faded away so quickly? from r/tattoo

18. Don’t tan the tattoos!

Tattoos can look pretty dreadful when you tan them.

While the tan will fade over time, her ink is going to go right along with it and that cat will lose its color really fast.

I tanned A LOT this summer and the color in all of my tattoos have darkened. Is there a way to lighten the colors in the tattoos again? from r/tattoo

19. Goodbye, Kitty

After nearly two decades, we have to say this doesn’t look bad at all!

But it definitely needs a touch-up, otherwise people are going to think they need a new glasses prescription when they look at it.

Can this be fixed? Looked great 20 years ago… from r/shittytattoos

20. Don’t be shocked

If you don’t take care of your tattoo, you can’t be surprised when it turns into this later on.


If you want a tattoo, go for it!

But do your research about how it’s going to look later on!

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Source: H/t Bored Panda, Reddit – ghoooooooooost