As fun and expressive as tattoos can be, sometimes they get messed up. You can be so careful during the healing process, but sometimes things happen that are out of your control. You accidentally bump into something or someone right on the location of the tattoo. Maybe you scratch it without thinking – they do get itchy after all! Or maybe your skin simply reacted badly and rejected some of the ink. This is where the touch-up comes in. Touch-ups are offered by most tattoo artists within a few months of first getting the tattoo. They will go back into the piece and fix anything that has been ruined or rejected.
So, do all tattoos need to be touched up? The simple answer is no. While most tattoos will require at least a little bit of touching up, there are times where the tattoo heals perfectly.
There are several factors that go into deciding whether or not your tattoo needs a touch-up. Some of them may even be personal preference – you don’t want to go through the pain again, for example. There is also aging to consider. A tattoo may heal perfectly, but need some touching up ten years later as the ink has traveled or blurred a little bit over the years.
Knowing When to Get a Touch-up
If your tattoo is going to need a touch-up, you should wait until it is fully healed. Your tattoo will look healed on the surface after a few weeks. However, full healing of all the layers of skin can take up to several months.
Most tattoos receive their initial touch-up within six months. Many shops even offer one touch-up within this time frame for free if they did the tattoo. That being said, you should wait at least 1-2 months before getting the touch-up done.
If you’re unsure, simply ask your artist! They will have a look at the tattoo and will be able to tell you if it’s ready for a touch-up or not, and if it even needs one.
Sometimes, it’s obvious that your tattoo will need touching up. Some of these signs include:
- Missing patches of color.
- There are gaps in the linework.
- Color is not as solid immediately after healing is completed.
- Color has begun to look faded.
Other times, the need for a touch-up will be less obvious. Always ask your tattoo artist within a few months of getting the tattoo. They will be able to see small flaws or issues that may not be obvious to an untrained eye such as yours.
It’s important to inquire about the touch-up even if you’re pretty sure it doesn’t need one. Getting the necessary touch-up work done in a timely manner is paramount to the long-term quality of the tattoo.
Some Body Parts Require More Frequent Touch Ups
Different parts of the body will take care of tattoos better than others. If your tattoo is on a smooth, flat surface that is always, or at least almost always, protected from sun exposure, you likely won’t need too much touching-up as the tattoo ages.
On the other hand, there are certain body parts that will naturally require more touching up than others as time passes:
These areas of the body have two things against them. First, they are in constant motion throughout the day as you move and walk around. Second, they are exposed to constant rubbing and friction from clothing. Keep this in mind if you have a fresh tattoo in any of these locations. Wear soft, loose-fitting clothing in these areas whenever possible.
Also, with the exception of the feet, these parts of the body are exposed to a lot of sun in addition to the constant motion and friction. It is absolutely still possible to get a tattoo in one or all of these areas. You just need to be prepared for a lifetime of occasional touch-ups if you want the tattoo to always be looking its best.
Touching Up After Injury
It’s unfortunate, but it does happen. You get a serious cut, scrape, or puncture on one of your tattoos. In general, a well-applied tattoo can be pretty resilient. However, if the skin is cut deep enough, it can affect the ink and cause damage to the tattoo.
You won’t be poisoned or affected by the ink, and your skin and body itself will heal, but the tattoo may be damaged. It can result in ink being pulled out, leaving gaps. Or, you may find it smudges, blurs, or warps part of the design.
If you cut or scratch a fresh tattoo, bring it into your artist immediately and see what they say. They may recommend a touch-up. Regardless, you will want to keep this extremely clean and protected. It is essentially a wound on top of a wound.
If you’ve been cut or injured over an older, fully healed tattoo, you’ll have a few options that will depend on the severity of the injury. It’s also important to keep in mind that everyone’s body will handle injury differently.
Best case scenario, the injury is minor and it will heal up without an issue. Or, maybe it pulls a small amount of ink that can be easily replaced in a simple touch-up.
However, if you’ve sustained a more serious injury that has removed ink or damaged the design, your artist will recommend one of a few things:
- If they can, they will touch it up.
- If the design is severely misaligned, they may be able to recommend a surgeon to help realign it. This may sound like an extreme option, but it can be worth it for a tattoo that was very expensive and/or one you love very much or is in an extremely visible location.
- If nothing else can be done, they may suggest a coverup be done. This will depend on the original design and if it is a good candidate for a coverup or not.
- Lastly, removal is also an option if nothing can be done to restore or cover the damage.
Whatever you decide to do with your damaged tattoo, remember to let the injury heal completely before you take any action. You’ll be anxious to get things fixed, but healing is crucial. Attempting to do anything before it is healed will only lead to more problems and higher chances of permanent damage.
Should You Go to the Same Artist For a Touch-up?
In a perfect world, you’d always go to the same artist for the tattoo and the touch-up. They already know you, and they know the tattoo. They are familiar with any areas that may have caused a problem or been sensitive. They created the design and know it well.
Unless something extraordinary happens, chances are, you’ll be able to see your original artist for the initial six-month touch-up. It’s when time passes and you need maintenance touch-ups later in life that this can become difficult.
There are a few reasons you may need to use a different artist:
- The artist quits or retires from tattooing.
- The artist moves away.
- You move away.
In cases like these, you’ll have to find another artist. Be careful who you use, and always do your research. Also, be sure you’re clear right away what you’re looking for. Some artists have reservations about working on other artists’ tattoos. This is not everyone and you will be able to find someone, but try not to waste anyone’s time.
Can All Tattoos Be Touched-up?
In general, yes. While not every single tattoo may need a touch-up right away, they all can be. If you were able to tattoo the skin in the first place, a touch-up will always be physically possible, barring any severe injury.
As discussed earlier, severe injuries may cause damage to the tattoo itself. It may also cause scarring on the skin. While tattooing over scars is usually possible, it can cause the pain to be exponentially worse. This is something you’ll have to think about if you’re considering tattooing over a scar.
A scar can also make it difficult for the ink to be deposited on your skin. An artist can always try, but success may be difficult.
It is also possible for a tattoo to get to the so-called “point of no return.” After many, many years, some tattoos may start changing quite a bit. Lines can blur together and colors can blend under your skin. If too much of this has happened without proper maintenance over the years, it may get to the point where it’s too late for the tattoo to be fully restored.
If you’re not terribly attached to the design, this may mean it’s time for a cover-up. Or, you can choose to live with it if the piece has sentimental value. Many do this. It’s not always about impeccable quality and a sharp image. Sometimes a tattoo it just as much about the memory and meaning as it is about how it looks.