What happens to tattoos when you lose or gain weight?

If you ever want to change your lifestyle or expect to experience weight change in the future, then it makes sense to learn how that affects your tattoo. So, what happens to tattoos when you lose or gain weight? Looking at the experience of others, we discover how tattoos change with your skin, how you can avoid affecting your tattoo as you go through weight loss or gain, and how to deal with tattoos that have been stretched or warped by weight change.

Sounds good, right? Well, it doesn’t stop there. By following the preventative measures I detail in this article, you end up with a healthier lifestyle and outlook. This goes way further than your tattoo and has to do with way more than your weight. Nutrition, muscle building, pregnancy—I cover it all here. Of course, your doctor knows a little bit more on these matters, but the experience of other tattoo artists and enthusiasts has to be worth something to you. Let’s begin!

Do tattoos change with weight gain?

Do tattoos grow with your body? Do they shrink as well? Your tattoo is innately bound to your skin, so whenever your skin changes shape, your tattoo changes with it. Tattoos change with weight gain when your skin starts to stretch, warp, or otherwise distort. It’s not the best outcome for someone who has to gain weight for health reasons or just hit pregnancy with a stomach tattoo. If you gained a lot of weight due to overeating, you’ll go through the very same issue—perhaps even more dramatically.

The larger your tattoos are, the more the changes will be apparent. Symmetrical tattoos and geometric tattoos take a particularly big hit, since their straight lines will become warped and no longer look like a mirror image. With careful planning, a good lifestyle, attention to your tattoo, and a healthy rate of weight gain, you can prevent the worst from happening. You can read more on that below.

Do tattoos get bigger when you lose weight?

If you’re comparing your tattoo to the rest of your body, then it will appear that your tattoo gets bigger. Once your skin starts to catch up with your new body shape, your tattoo could become distorted, bent, or blurry as it shrinks. No matter what, it will still look a little bigger compared to your body than when you first got it. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but other times you don’t want it taking up your whole thigh. For info on how to deal with tattoos that have changed sizes, keep on reading.

Despite the changes to your tattoo that occur when you lose weight, it’s well worth it to keep in shape. The health benefits outweigh the visual benefits of a tattoo. This is coming from a huge tattoo lover. And—although I say warped, distorted, and bent—it’s quite possible that your tattoo becomes sharper and bolder if you care for it during the weight change process. On top of that, it may not change at all if you take steps to prevent it. I also want to note that regions without fat (on top of your ribcage, ankles, collar bone, behind the ear, and around your wrist) are less likely to change than fleshy areas.

The biggest factor in avoiding tattoo change is to lose weight at a healthy pace—about one or two pounds per week and no more. While not an option for a lot of people, this does prevent tattoo stretching. Plus, losing at this pace helps you learn and maintain a healthy lifestyle better.

Will weight loss affect my tattoo?

Just like weight gain, weight loss will affect your tattoos. However, the changes have the potential to be much less drastic. When you rapidly lose weight, your skin doesn’t have time to form properly around your weight, and you end up with sagging skin and stretch marks. If your tattoo is located on an area that lost a lot of weight—and fast—then it will end up distorted. It will still have the same curve of your original tattoo…but on a smaller scale, and not in line with its new location.

For tattoos that are small to begin with, this is devastating. Some of it will shrink, while other bits appear warped. Tattoos that are large and symmetrical become misaligned. The main factor of how badly your tattoo is affected is the time it takes for you to lose the weight. If you do this over a natural span of time, your tattoo will come out looking unscathed. If you go on a starvation diet, you’ll end up with a sad-looking tattoo on top of a brand new body. Rapid weight loss is necessary in some cases and a side effect in others, so I talk about ways to mitigate the damage from weight loss or prevent it entirely in a section down below!

How does weight change affect my tattoo?

Do tattoos get bigger when you lose weight? Do tattoos stretch when you gain weight? The answer differs, but in general, yes to both. When you rapidly lose weight, your skin shrinks a little bit and the design becomes distorted. If you’re a bit slow to lose weight, you might see no change whatsoever. You have the same amount of ink overall, so as your tattoo changes shape it might blur a little bit or fade as the ink particles get pushed around.

When moving up in weight, your skin stretches along with your body. Underneath that skin, your ink will stretch just as much. Since we gain weight at different ratios depending on the location, it’s very rare that your tattoo will grow or shrink evenly. As your tattoo grows, the ink will become dispersed and fade. Losing weight doesn’t necessarily fix the problem—if you lose at a different weight than you gained, it will not undo the distortion. It might even add some on top of it. The ink will get bolder as you go down, but it also loses clarity. In both the case of weight gain and weight loss, you’ll want an artist to give your tattoo a once-over to see what can be fixed.

With that said, your tattoo should not be a barrier to healthy living. If you are trying to lose weight, gain weight, gain muscle, work through a pregnancy, or weather a physical condition, there are ways to mitigate any damage to your tattoo. Let’s start by identifying the different types of stretching and how they affect your tattoo!

Credit: VinnyGuadagnino (Instagram)

What Causes Tattoo Stretching?

I suppose the easiest way to avoid tattoo stretching is to prevent skin stretching entirely! Knowing your enemy is half the battle, after all. Here are the major reasons you may find yourself dealing with stretched skin (and, therefore, stretched tattoos).

Pregnancy

If you are pregnant, the area around your belly and midriff will expand and give you stretch marks. I’ve seen many ladies go through pregnancy without stretch marks or blemishes. Sometimes it’s pure chance, other times it’s because they care for their skin throughout the pregnancy. A moisturizer applied liberally throughout the area of your growing womb helps keep your skin nice and healthy. As with everything during your pregnancy, you want to use stuff with natural materials that have a reasonable-looking list of ingredients. Tattoo moisturizers generally fit the bill, but baby eczema cream and cocoa butter lotions also help in a pinch. Always do a spot test ahead of time—even if you haven’t responded to lotions before, who knows what your baby likes!

Gaining Fat

This one is the most dramatic tattoo stretcher, and generally the most avoidable! I don’t care if you have a health condition. Dieting is the main cause of weight gain and you can get more than enough nutrients with small meals and a multivitamin pill. Even if you can’t get up and walk around, you can adjust your diet accordingly. Not everyone needs 2000 calories per day (and, let’s be honest, I count myself among them. Blogging and digital art doesn’t burn too many calories!).

As with all types of skin stretching, a bit of moisturizer mitigates the stretching. A healthy diet and gradual weight gain goes a long way towards preserving your tattoo. As much as I steered away from weight gain in the previous paragraph, you should always stay a healthy weight and try to gain if you are underweight! Your doctor will be able to help you set up a diet that works best for you.

Muscle Gain

Yes, even muscle gain causes changes in the shape of your tattoo. This affects your tattoo two-fold: first, any tattoos on fleshy areas that contain fat will become smaller and warp your tattoo. Second, any tattooed areas with building muscle become larger over time. Some people actually like this effect, especially when they flex. There’s a reason Popeye had tattoos and loved to show them off—sailors, Marines, and the Navy in particular love the effect of flexing muscles on tattoos.

If you’re not into the look or have a tattoo on an area that you can’t exactly flex, do your best to gain muscle at a reasonable pace. Binge eating followed by aggressive workouts are certainly a fast way to gain muscle, but are the most disastrous to the state of your tattoos. In fact, I would say you could see more dramatic changes in that sort of workout plan than you would in someone gaining weight at a rapid pace. And, speaking of which…

Rapid Weight Loss or Gain

Rapid weight gain and loss usually occurs when you make dramatic lifestyle changes. And, granted, sometimes you need to do that. However, I recommend against taking such drastic measures to achieve your ideal weight! By eating so much or so little, you basically guarantee stretched skin or loose skin. Loose skin is particularly troublesome, since it takes a while to become flush with the body again. In order to achieve these changes in a healthy manner, stick to one or two pounds of change per week. I go into more detail on this in the next section!

 

How do I Prevent Tattoo Stretching and Stretch Marks?

No matter what stage of weight gain, weight loss, or tattoo possession you’re in, there are many ways to prevent skin and tattoo stretching. These tips also help you lead a healthy life, so I’d advise you to take them to heart!

Preventing Stretching Before Your Tattoo

The simplest way to prevent tattoo stretching is to get all your weight gain and loss out of the way before you get your tattoo. Heck, you can even use your tattoo to cover up stretch marks you get along the way! Find out the healthy weight for your heigh. Genetics play a tiny hand in it, so if you have anyone over 70 in your family that seems nice and healthy, check out what sort of diet and weight they maintain. You can’t really extrapolate the health of someone younger than that—just rely on averages if there’s no reference for you to use. Make sure your body matches this ideal before you get your ink and maintain it!

However, not everyone wants to wait. I’ve seen many people interested in bulking up or losing weight go under the needle, despite their body not meeting their ‘ideal.’ Then there are a lot of people who gain a different image of the ideal body after they get their ink, so they have to deal with the prospect of tattoo stretching when they want to change for the better. If you’re one of those people who can’t wait—or someone who wants to plan for the future—then your best bet is to plan your tattoo strategically.

Get your tattoo in areas that are unlikely to gain or lose weight quickly. These areas include your collarbone, wrist, ankles, and ribcage. The disadvantage of these areas are the same reason they work so well for today’s topic—without a lot of fat between the needle and the bone, these areas are very sensitive.

Preventing Stretching During the Weight Change
Of course, there are still ways to reduce stretching after you receive your tattoo! Once again, timing is a key component—but this time, it’s all about the timing of your weight loss and gain. As you already know, rapid weight loss and gain is the main factor in skin stretching or hanging. Instead of going on a crazy diet where you drastically change your calorie intake, make things a little more moderate.

Figure out how many calories you expend per day and set your diet a little bit lower or higher than that. Weigh yourself daily to see if any foods drastically affect your diet and eat those sparingly. Weigh yourself weekly to track your progress over time. To prevent stretching, your weight should only change by one or two pounds per week. This isn’t an option for people who need to do this for health reasons, are accommodating a child,  or are affected by illness, but you can certainly try!

Treating Stretching During Rapid Weight Change

For those that do need to deal with rapid weight gain or loss, there are still options for you. Eat a healthy diet with lots of healthy protein (chicken, fish, and beans are best). Fruits and veggies are a must, but multivitamins help fill in the gaps. If you don’t have full control over your diet because of ethical or monetary reasons, a bowl of cereal is better than nothing. Most cereals are fortified and combined with the dairy give you a nice nutrition boost. The vitamins that work best are K, B of all varieties, D (get some of that sun), and E.

Moisturize the fatty areas twice per day at least. Fatty areas include your hips, chest, thighs, and stomach. Tattoo-specific moisturizer is recommended for your tattooed area, but not necessary if your tattoo is fully healed and not sore from stretching. Massage the stretched area to make the skin flexible throughout your weight change. This also helps you apply your moisturizer and promotes blood circulation (I.E. nutrient supply) to your changing skin.

What do I do with a Stretched Tattoo?

Unfortunately, mitigating a stretched tattoo does not work the same as mitigating stretch marks. Stretch marks are similar to scars in that they fade and change with time. Tattoos are permanent and—at “best”—might become bleached and blurred. No amount of vitamins, massages, or moisturizing will get your body to put your tattoo back together. We don’t produce ink and the body can’t dispose of it. Even if your skin becomes nice, smooth, and unblemished again—the tattoo will remain a little bit warped! What to do?

The best course of action is usually a touch up. For minor injuries or well-healed major injuries, only a small amount of the tattoo is changed. Simple misalignments and blurring is part of the natural aging of tattoos and artists are well prepared to deal with it. Wait until skin is in the shape you want it to be and then request a touch up from an artist—preferably your original artist! Once again, before going under the needle, you want your body to match your ideal size.

When the distortion is very noticeable, a cover up tattoo is worth it. For symmetrical patterns that have a small misalignment (which show up dramatically on warped skin), you can add another pattern on top of them. This isn’t so much a cover up as an evolution of your tattoo. Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘mistakes into miracles?’ Think of it like that. For larger distortions that completely destroyed your tattoo, seek out an experienced cover-up artist. They’ll get the job done and you’ll walk out with a brand new piece of art to show for your troubles. A new tattoo is quite a fine reward for a bit of healthy living, don’t you think?

The final option is the most drastic course of action to take, but necessary in some cases. When you rapidly lose weight and have several square feet of skin flopping around (yes, I’ve seen it happen)…it’s only natural to have that skin removed. And if your tattoo is on that skin? There’s no saving it. The other situation where removing your tattoo becomes necessary is when it no longer resembles your original design or looks like something else completely. I’ll take an example from someone in my family. He started out with a grim reaper tattoo and after a ton of weight gain it ended up looking like Santa Claus. So, yeah, in that sort of situation a tattoo removal would be worth looking into. Ask a doctor about it.

So, what happens to tattoos when you lose or gain weight?

Ultimately, your tattoo changes with your body. Your tattoo doesn’t distinguish between gaining weight from a sloppy lifestyle, building muscle, shedding some pounds, or going through a dramatic pregnancy. All it cares about is the health and elasticity of your skin. If you followed a good aftercare regimen when you first got your tattoo, follow through with continued care, and make sure to take preventative measures, then your tattoo will come out no worse for wear.

If you go about your lifestyle change dramatically? Well, let’s just say you know what happens now! Remember that your health matters way more than your tattoo as you go through your body changes. A changed tattoo can even stand as a testament to your changed lifestyle. You never know until you try, so get out there and change your life for the better!

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