Plenty of memes and social media posts show photos of tattoos stretched to a state of comic distortion. If you’re thinking of getting a tattoo or already have one, you might be worried about that tattoo eventually stretching.
But do all tattoos stretch? And how much?
No, tattoos don’t always stretch, but they can.
If the skin the tattoo is on stretches, the tattoo will stretch along with it. How much and how fast the skin stretches, plus factors like the design of the tattoo, can affect its appearance.
Your skin (and the tattoo along with it) can stretch for a few reasons, including:
Pregnancy can make a tattoo on your midsection stretch. Of all the things that can stretch a tattoo, pregnancy is the one that’s most likely to impact the look of a tattoo.
The weight gain, or “baby bump,” happens quickly and so does the skin stretching that happens during that time.
The rapid stretching — and later shrinking — of the skin can lead to stretch marks and loose skin. Both of these can drastically alter the appearance of a tattoo.
Around 8 out of 10 pregnant people develop stretch marks during pregnancy. They develop when fast stretching tears the supportive structures in the deeper layers of the tissues of the skin. The number, size, and color of these stretch marks depend on skin type and skin elasticity, traits that depend on factors like genetics and age.
Your skin type and elasticity can also play a role in how long loose skin, er, *hangs* around after giving birth. Loose, sagging skin can change the composition and position of a tattoo, like causing lines to appear closer together or the tattoo to sit lower on the body than it did before.
Minor weight fluctuations throughout your lifetime are normal and not likely to stretch a tattoo to the point of altering its appearance.
The chance of stretching a tattoo might increase if you gain a significant amount of weight quickly. Even then, any changes to the appearance should be minimal.
If the rapid weight gain leads to stretch marks, though, you may notice a more obvious impact on the tattoo’s design.
Gaining some serious muscle (as in Hulk-like proportions) will definitely stretch your skin, but it usually won’t stretch a tattoo enough to warp its appearance.
Even if you lift heavy and often, the bulking up typically won’t happen fast enough to impact the appearance of a tattoo.
All that said, some parts of the body are more prone to stretching with muscle gain. (More on those in a minute!)
The tattoo moves with your skin, so in most cases, the tattoo’s design will remain proportionate. That means it should look essentially the same, even if you gain weight.
Any stretch marks that develop are more likely to affect the look of your ink than your new body size or shape.
One caveat: graphic designs. These could look “off” after weight gain, depending on the tattoo’s location on your body. For example, when an image with straight, rigid lines stretches out over newly formed curves and bumps, the lines may no longer appear quite so straight.
If you’re worried about tattoo stretching, keep in mind that some parts of the body are more prone to stretching and stretch marks than others.
During pregnancy, for instance, most of the weight gain and stretch marks will occur in the belly, hips and buttocks, breasts, and thighs.
While weight gain and stretch marks caused by other factors can affect pretty much any part of the body, you’ll tend to notice skin stretching in the same places, along with the upper arms and armpits.
What’s left? According to Adrenaline Studios, the upper back and chest, forearms, and lower legs are more resilient to stretching. Tattoos on these places likely won’t stretch noticeably.
Some factors that cause the skin to stretch or make it more prone to stretch marks and sagging are out of your control. These include rapid weight gain caused by certain medications or conditions, weight gain during pregnancy, and genetics.
Still, you can take a few steps to help prevent or minimize tattoo stretching:
- Avoid getting a tattoo on areas most likely to stretch, like your midriff.
- Put off getting a tattoo if you’re about to start a journey that will alter your body size or shape, like pregnancy or weight loss.
- Keep your skin, along with any tattoos you have or may get, moisturized.
- Drink plenty of water to
improve skin elasticity.
- Eat a diet rich in antioxidants to promote healthier skin (and good health overall).
- Limit your exposure to UV rays, which can reduce elasticity.
- Avoid smoking, which can
damage collagen fibers and elastin.
- When trying to bulk up, aim to keep your gains slow and steady.
Don’t fret! An experienced tattoo artist can help.
A professional may be able to fix a stretched tattoo with a bit of touching up. If not, a cover-up job might be an option worth considering.
A cover-up tattoo involves getting a new tattoo over an existing tattoo. Your artist can help you choose a design that’ll give you the best results.
Keeping your skin moisturized and using other prevention tips mentioned above can help protect against further stretching.
Rapid weight gain can stretch a tattoo, but unless you’ve gained a significant amount of weight, you generally won’t see any dramatic changes in your tattoo’s appearance. Stretch marks and loose skin are more likely to affect the look of your tattoo.
If you have concerns, connect with a reputable and experienced tattoo artist before you schedule your tattoo.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.