Every year, 45 million Americans go on a diet, many hoping to lose a large amount of weight. For those that succeed, it can mean that their tattoos become distorted, stretched, faded or saggy. Likewise, those that gain weight, intentionally or not, such as bodybuilders, face similar issues when it comes to their tattoos due to how the skin stretches. If weight loss or gain is intentional it’s best to do it slowly and moisturize the skin to improve its elasticity and appearance.

Problematic areas and tattoos

Some body parts are more prone to weight changes as they’re fattier areas, such as the belly, upper arms, hips, and thighs. If you have a tattoo in one of these areas it’s likely that it may distort, move and stretch with the skin when weight is lost or gained. Smaller tattoos, especially in these areas, are more likely to be affected and they’re also more difficult to fix afterwards. Unlike larger tattoos, small tattoos can’t easily be touched up to replace any faded ink or join lines up where stretch marks have separated the ink. Symmetrical and highly detailed, intricate designs are likely to look distorted as they depend on precise linework that can easily change with weight loss or gain.

How to minimize distortion

If you’ve decided to start losing or gaining weight, but you have tattoos in problematic areas, there are some things you can do to reduce how much the tattoo may change. Weight changes should be gradual so that the skin maintains as much elasticity as possible and can stretch and shrink as needed, without overworking it. This can reduce the chance and severity of stretch marks, as well as how much your tattoo will change.

Your skin will benefit from good hydration, so drinking plenty of water will also result in fewer changes to your tattoo. A good moisturizer can also help to keep skin hydrated, as well as reduce irritation and itchiness that can occur with the skin stretching or shrinking. A tattoo-specific moisturizer isn’t necessary, but it can help to care for the ink and they’re often designed to relieve itchiness.

Getting a tattoo ‘fixed’

So, you’ve reached your weight goal and your tattoo is left looking a bit sorry for yourself. Depending on the tattoo and how much it’s been affected, it’s possible to get it rectified to improve its appearance. Large tattoos can often be filled in where stretch marks have separated the ink, but it’s a good idea to wait for the stretch marks to settle. Ideally, a few months at the same weight should give your skin chance to adjust and tattooing over stretch marks will hurt less this way. It also reduces the chance of the new ink distorting if your weight changes again.

Smaller tattoos may become too distorted to fix, but they’ll often fade or become smaller in the process, so they can be easily covered up with a bigger design. Where possible, return to the original tattoo artist. Some artists refuse to work on or go over others’ tattoos, especially if they’re still in business and are nearby, but this is down to artist discretion.

Just because tattoos have the potential to change when you lose or gain weight, it doesn’t mean that they will. Genetics play a part, as well as your overall health, how well you look after your skin and how quickly your body weight changes. Try to avoid getting tattoos on areas prone to fat and wait several months to get tattoos fixed to give the skin time to heal and to stabilize your weight.