Building muscle is sometimes about more than keeping healthy. For some people, it’s all about sculpting the body into something spectacular. While I’m not personally a body builder, I do have a lot of experience in keeping tattoos healthy and have met plenty of gym nuts with tattoos. I even took their advice while writing my workout article! They are always asking what happens to tattoos when you gain muscle, so I thought I would make an official post for everyone to read online! Muscle affects the skin—sometimes stretching it, but other times in subtle ways. Tattoos are intrinsically (and literally) tied to the skin, so how does muscle growth factor into this?
I talk about all of this and more in today’s article. I go over the reason why tattoos work so well for body builders, how to heal your tattoo and work out at the same time, how to prevent tattoo stretching, and even what types of tattoos help enhance your muscles! Tattoos are an art, while working out is a requirement. However, there’s no reason you can’t have both! Let’s go over how the two can coexist. As long as you follow these rules, your tattoo should look excellent in both the short term and long term!
Do Tattoos Look Good on Muscles?
Without a doubt, tattoos look excellent on muscle. In some cases, they even enhance muscle. There’s no reason not to get a tattoo on your muscles. Everyone loves to show off their guns. If you’re working out enough to Google this page, then without a doubt, I’m sure that ‘everyone’ encompasses you. But what makes them look so great? And why does society seem intent on portraying strong characters with tattoos? Is there even a reason?
The answers to this run deep into history. In Western culture, tattoos were popularized as the American Navy gained a presence in Oceania. The Philippines in particular held a huge tattoo community that really rubbed off on the visiting sailors. They would receive tribal tattoos as souvenirs and return to Hawaii with tails of their journeys. To this day, tribal tattoos are one of the best ways to enhance the look of tattoos, so it’s no coincidence that the style drew in a bunch of burly sailors. However, the history doesn’t end there.
In Hawaii, a certain famous tattoo artist inspected both the tribal styles, the traditional Japanese tattooing techniques, and the typical American tattoo styles. He experimented with style and even developed his own colors. He was happy and proud to provide a unique service to the Navy when they dropped in. When word got around that his tattoos were excellent, more sailors went to get their inked medals of honor. Jerry’s designs started to gain their own meaning. Only sailors that had travelled a certain number of miles earned the double swallow tattoo. When these sailors returned to their homes—all scattered throughout the nation—they took their tattoos back with them. The association of burly men with tattoos continues to this day. If tattoos didn’t look good on muscles, this never would have happened!
Do Tattoos Stretch When You Gain Muscle?
What happens to tattoos when you gain muscle? Do tattoos change if you gain muscle? Do forearm tattoos stretch? If you’ve looked at stretched tattoos before and after, then you probably know the reason you should worry about this. Stretched tattoos permanently affect their appearance, and the only way to save them is to add either remove them or cover them up. Those are two things that no tattoo lover ever wants to deal with. Even tattoo haters wouldn’t like the idea of that! So, do tattoos stretch when you gain muscle?
The short answer is yes. Any time your skin stretches, your tattoo will stretch with it. How much this affects your tattoo depends on the location of your tattoo and how quickly you’re gaining muscle. Some locations—the armpits and sides, especially—stretch easily and don’t exactly relax back into place. Places like your biceps are less likely to see effects. Even more than location, the rate at which you gain and lose muscle mass drastically affects the appearance of your tattoo. When your skin stretches dramatically, it doesn’t do so evenly. A tattoo on top of your skin might end up unevenly stretched—or, worse, your tattoo might end up lopsided as you size up and down in quick succession!
Please note that I’m not talking about little changes in skin brought about by flexing. These have a negligible effect on your tattoo, unless you also happen to have a healing tattoo. A very short burst of flexing will never be enough to affect your tattoo. Even if you flexed continuously for a long time, your skin will just snap back to its original state. The only type of muscle movement that really bothers your tattoo is dramatic muscle gain or loss.
Tattoo Healing and Muscle Gain
Anyways, now that we know about what happens to tattoos when you gain muscle, let’s talk about how to keep your tattoo safe from your workouts. If you work out frequently—either recreationally or for work—then this is a part you should not skip out on. Tattoo aftercare is a critical part of both your workout routine and the appearance of your tattoo, and you can learn all about it in my post here. If you work out during your tattoo, you’ll end up damaging it in more way than one. The first way is reopening the wound. Tattoos are a series of needle pricks, after all—movement in the area would rip them open. Second, it increases blood flow in a negative way. You want your blood to absorb as many nutrients as possible before dropping off the ‘goods’ next to your new tattoo.
Preventing Tattoo Stretching from Muscle Gain
If you need both a tattoo and weightlifting in your life, then you’ll need to set up some preventative measures. There are plenty of ways to keep your tattoo from stretching while working out. These methods involve the timing of your tattoo, how well you work around the attributes of your tattoo, and how you take care of your tattoo over time. Each one is critical to ensuring the health and appearance of your tattoo. As someone who is already taking good care of your body, it should make perfect sense to take care of your tattoo as well!
Picking a location for your tattoo can save you a lot of hassle. If you look at the stretch marks of most people, they typically stick to the sides, thighs, and armpits. Skin stretches much more easily in these areas and the effect on your tattoo will appear fairly quick. Even if you aren’t gaining and losing repeatedly, the tattoo’s size and shape will be affected. If you get your tattoo in any of these places, you’re basically asking for trouble.
Before going in to get your tattoo, consider the best location for it. From my experience, biceps appear to be the safest place for tattoos. This works out great for people who enjoy lifting, though it does have some disadvantages. Particularly, when it comes to the timing of your tattoo and how you handle workouts. And on that subject…
The first and best way to care for your tattoo is to time your session right. If you participate in sports or other long-term types of exercise, you’ll want to do this during an off season. This is particularly tricky for military, but I believe in you! At the very least, figure out a time where you can take off one week from working out. Your tattoo takes time to heal, and any amount of working out you do will prolong that healing process. Purchase some aftercare products ahead of time (I recommend a few on this page) so that you can care for your tattoo immediately.
However, it’s not all about speeding up the healing process. While your tattoo is still healing, the ink hasn’t fully become permanent. It takes time for your ink to be devoured by something called macrophages. Macrophages are little cells (though relatively large) that contain particles too big for other cells to carry away. They stay in the same place for years at a time, and this is what makes tattoos permanent. If you work out while your tattoo is still healing, the ink particles will move around even before your tattoo heals. This enhances the distortion effect on your tattoo—plus, it’s permanent! It’s worth reading up on the science of the aftercare process.
As tattoos age, they naturally degrade. And, honestly, you’ll see a tiny bit of stretching after a decade if you change muscle mass frequently. However, those little changes can be fixed with a touch up. Ruining a fresh tattoo is not something that can be touched up. A cover up would be the much more likely solution.
Time your tattoo so that you don’t work out for an entire week after your session. For the next two weeks after that, focus on routines that involve other areas of the body. If two weeks pass and your tattoo is still peeling, itchy, or scabby, then hold off for longer. No matter what, avoid swimming while your tattoo is healing. Find out why that’s so important on this page. Finally, step back into your routine slowly. Your muscle mass probably changed a bit while abstaining from your usual routine, and rapid changes could have disastrous effects on the shape of your tattoo.
Short Term Care
You probably know all about dieting smart to keep your body in shape, but you need to give your tattoos some special attention while they heal. Eat a ton of potatoes, carrots, spinach, mangoes, oranges, and high-protein foods. You want to make sure you ACED your nutrition—in other words, you absorbed a lot of Vitamin A, C, E, and D. K also contributes a lot to a healthy tattoo and healthy skin, but ACEDK doesn’t sound as cool. Even once your tattoo finished healing, continue to eat a healthy diet. Just like you would load up on protein before bulking up, you’ll want to cram a bunch of spinach into your diet to keep your tattoo from stretching. It’s not detrimental to your workout routine to set aside some calories to grab this nutrition! When all else fails, at least take a multi-vitamin for some short term care the day before, during, and after your workout.
Even after your tattoo heals, there are a few things you should do any time you want to work out. Apply moisturizer to your skin—preferably one that uses Vitamin E and natural oils—and make sure it doesn’t sweat off. Keep it on throughout the day. This makes your skin malleable. Even if it does stretch while you work or even buff up, it will hold its form better. Its elasticity keeps your tattoo from stretching in the long term. Putting on sunscreen throughout the day keeps the ink from getting sensitive to sunlight. Learn more about the long-term aftercare process in my article here.
As an aside, it’s been shown that people with tattoos sweat differently than people without. The sweat seems to be saltier and have less water content. While the mechanisms behind this aren’t known, one thing is sure—you sweat for a reason. It keeps you cool as you work out. If you find yourself becoming hot, take special care to cool off your tattooed skin. A little bit of lotion is enough to simulate the sweat you would normally have from working out, plus, it moisturizes your skin. You can find a few tattoo-safe lotions on my article here. On top of that, be mindful of your sodium levels. Does a tattoo sap out more salt than normal sweat? Or is it simply so dry that it appears to be salty on average? Either way, something could be going on with your salt levels. It’s probably negligible, but it never hurts to consider during your short term tattoo care. That’s applies doubly so when you’re sweating all the time at the gym.
Long Term Care
What happens to tattoos when you gain muscle in the long term? Ideally, nothing. Slow and gradual changes are less likely to change the shape of your tattoo. It’s natural for tattoos to become a bit faded and blurry over time, which calls for a touch up every now and then. Color tattoos are particularly notorious for their ability to fade with time.
How does muscle mass factor into this in the long-term? If you gain or lose muscle mass quickly, you will see immediate effects on the shape of your tattoo. This doesn’t ‘heal’ over time. The stretching is, in its own way, a type of healing. It’s difficult to touch up a tattoo that has actually distorted. With faded colors, you can just go over it. With blurry lines, you can trace over the original lines and maybe even use color to hide the blur. As for that circle that looks like a circle? After so long, the only thing you can do is cover it up.
Anyways, it’s not all doom and gloom. The best way to prevent this is to stay away from rapid muscle gains and focus on steady improvement. Once you’re at a muscle level you’re content with, go ahead and maintain it. That means you might have to work out for the rest of your life if you want that tattoo to stay looking sharp. Honestly? That’s not the worst fate imaginable, and probably contributes to a long lifespan.
On top of that, you’ll want to go through all the motions you normally would for your tattoo. Keep your skin nicely moisturized with a scentless lotion. Go ahead and use suntan lotion wherever possible. Light is the main killer of tattoo ink. More than anything else, keep your diet in shape. Diet does more than stimulate muscle growth. It keeps your skin healthy and your body happy. Stronger skin means that your skin does less stretching and protects the color of your ink better. Behind protecting your tattoo from the sun, a healthy diet is the key long-term strategy to protecting a tattoo from stretching.
As I mentioned before, biceps are an excellent place to get a tattoo to avoid stretching. However, this location also serves as an excellent place to display a tattoo. It’s an area that can grow and shrink whenever you flex, allowing you to bring attention to your tattoo whenever you want. At the same time, people can catch sight of your tattoo and then see the muscles underneath. Tattoos and muscles are quite complementary, and bicep tattoos are both stretch-resistant and easily displayed, making them excellent muscle-enhancing tattoos.
Beyond location, there are a few other ways to enhance the appearance of your tattoos. Some types of tattoos naturally give off an aura that attracts the eyes. Finding one of these designs is an excellent way to enhance your muscles. So, which designs are you looking for? First of all, sleeves. Any sort of sleeve is going to get people staring. Large back tattoos, chest tattoos, and leg tattoos also draw the eye.
You can take this a bit further by going with geometric tattoo designs. When a tattoo uses straight lines, it shows off the curve of the skin perfectly. If you want a complement to your muscles, then that’s the best way to do it! Small lines won’t accent the shape—you’ll want larger geometric tattoos or even tribal tattoos. Sure, tribal tattoos are cliché, but they’re also popular because they look great. Just do your research ahead of time and learn the meaning behind tribal tattoos.
If you only want to get a small tattoo, more power to you. Anything on your bicep will work as a muscle-enhancing tattoo, but for other places, you’ll need to get a little trickier. Avoid simple or cartoony designs. Focus once more on geometric or go for a 3D appearance. Find an experienced artist for the 3D tattoo trick, or it could go awry. Those tattoos are expensive because they take a lot of skill. As long as you follow these guidelines, you’ll manage to find some perfect muscle-enhancing tattoos for your gallery!
So, What Happens to Tattoos When you Gain Muscle?
In the end, you don’t have to worry about what happens to tattoos when you gain muscle. What you do need to watch out for is what happens to your tattoo when your skin stretches! It’s only the skin stretching that affects your tattoo. Tattoo ink is suspended by macrophages in the bottom layer of your skin, rather than your muscle. Proper care of your skin will prevent anything from happening to tattoos when you gain muscle.
Preventing tattoo stretching is about both short-term and long-term care. You need to be aware of the health of your skin just as much as what lays underneath it. Taking your skin has all kinds of benefits that go with it—proper nutrition for working out and building a strong immune system being the best of them—so there’s no excuse not to do it. At the same time, there’s no excuse to skip the gym. You can easily work around any potential effects of a workout on your tattoo, especially now that you know what happens to tattoos when you gain muscle! So, good luck on your muscle-building endeavors, and remember to care for your body to the fullest!