The art of tattooing has been around almost as long as mankind itself. Archaeologists have found tattoos on bodies dating back as far as the Iceman of 5,200 years ago (via Smithsonian). Over the millennia, inking has been used for different purposes: As a sign of status or tribe, as an identifying mark for slaves and criminals, as a protective charm for expectant mothers, and as a rite of passage. In more recent years, tattoos have been used for both good purposes (memorializing loved ones) and evil ones (labeling concentration camp prisoners). The Navy even has its own traditional tattoo symbols that sailors can claim, depending on their rank, position, and where they’ve traveled. For instance, a sailor who has crossed the International Date Line can rightfully have a Golden Dragon symbol tattooed on their body (via Military).

Just as certain tattoo designs have trended in recent years, so have techniques. One of the biggest inking trends today is watercolor tattoos. Though it’s a very new form — only about five years old — it has enjoyed huge popularity among clients looking for unique body art (via RebelsMarket). As the name implies, the technique involves using vivid colors that blend and blur in much the same way watercolor paintings do. Because the designs use little to no outlining, the effect is softer than a traditional tattoo. As gorgeous as watercolor tattoos can be, there’s a big caveat to keep in mind before you schedule your tat appointment.

There are ways to keep a watercolor tattoo from fading too fast

Because the watercolor trend is so new, it’s hard to tell at this point how well the art will stand the test of time. As Business Insider explains, even the best tattoos tend to fade and blur over time as the skin ages and is exposed to sun. Since watercolor tats get their distinct look from their lack of black outlining, there’s a risk that the colors could eventually become so muddied that the original design gets lost.

But if you have your heart set on getting a watercolor tattoo, there are ways to help make sure it stays looking good. Authority Tattoo explains on its website that the key is laying a good foundation. “While … lighter colors do tend to fade quicker than darker colors, an experienced artist will be able to greatly reduce the chance of watercolor tattoos becoming unrecognizable as they age by applying a good black base layer to create more depth in contrast,” they explain. Before committing to a tattoo artist, ask how long they’ve been doing the watercolor technique, and what method they use for the base.

Authority Tattoo also offers suggestions for preserving tattoos. Avoid getting inked on body parts that get a lot of contact with clothes and surfaces, such as the buttocks — constant rubbing can make a tattoo fade faster. Use tattoo lotion on the area during healing, and a good daily moisturizer from then on. Finally, use sunscreen whenever you’re outdoors for any length of time. Sun exposure will fade any tattoo, but watercolor tats will be especially affected because of the lighter gradient shades.

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