Can A Skin-Colored Tattoo Cover Up A Bad, Older Tattoo?

Permanent tattoos are made by penetrating the skin by almost half a millimeter. What this means is that those tattoos are actually ‘inside’ the skin, so they can’t be covered by adding a skin-colored tattoo. This technique might also lead to discoloration of that particular region of skin. Furthermore, tattoos are generally darker than the skin, so using a skin-colored tattoo won’t hide an old, dark-colored tattoo.

Tattoos are seen by some as a visual expression of their personality and mindset, or a mark of religious and spiritual devotion and bravery. That’s probably why the trend of getting inked has been on the rise for the last decade or so.

Unfortunately, sometimes you get a tattoo that you later begin to despise. The question is: can you do something about it?

Yes, you can get a laser treatment to get rid of it, but could you try anything else? Why not cover the old, bad tattoo with a new tattoo whose color matches exactly with your skin tone?

Before we discuss this in more detail, let’s first take a quick look at how tattoos are created in the first place.

How are tattoos made?

Temporary tattoos

First off, you might already know that tattoos basically come in two kinds: temporary and permanent. Temporary tattoos can be made through various methods, including painting, drawing or using stickers. The thing about these tattoos is that, as their name signifies, they are only temporary, i.e., they fade away on their own in a matter of a few days or weeks.

Mehendi on girl's palms

Henna (referred to as mehendi in Hindi) is also a type of temporary tattoo. (Photo Credit : Pixabay)

Permanent tattoos

As their name signifies, permanent tattoos are permanent, meaning that they remain on the subject’s skin for more or less their entire life.

The human skin consists of three layers: the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer, which is waterproof and imparts a color tone to the skin.

The Layers of human skin

Photo Credit :

The second layer, i.e., the layer beneath the topmost layer, is the dermis. This is a relatively stable level of skin beneath the outermost layer, and this is also where the tattoo’s ink sits. Finally, there is the innermost layer, which is called the hypodermis.

To make a permanent tattoo, an electrically-powered needle – whose tip contains the ink (a pigment dissolved in a carrier: an organic solvent, like alcohol or sterilized water) – is used.

Tattoo designer making tattoo

An ink-soaked needle jabs the skin repeatedly to create an image on the skin. (Photo Credit : Pixabay)

This is no regular needle; it jabs the skin rapidly and injects the ink nearly half a millimeter below the skin’s surface. Needless to say, getting a tattoo is a fairly painful process.

Can a bad, old tattoo be covered using a skin-colored tattoo?

Suppose a guy named Dirk got himself a tattoo of a roaring lion on his chest. However, as Dirk aged, he observed that the skin on his chest wasn’t as taut as it used to be. Decades later, the roaring lion looks more like an ailing fox. Since he doesn’t want the image of a sad fox on his chest, what could he possibly do about it?

Crude logic dictates that he could get a new skin-colored tattoo to cover the old tattoo. In other words, Dirk could get a tattoo with a color that matches exactly with his own skin tone ‘on top’ of the old lion tattoo so that the latter could be completely hidden.

There are a few problems with this approach. First, a tattoo is not like paint, wherein you can simply put another layer on top of the first to cover it completely. Instead, think of tattoos as water colors on paper. When you use a dark color, say, black, the paper absorbs it into itself. However, when you use another color (with a lighter tone) on top of it, it won’t make much of a difference to the black color that is already present on the paper.

water colors

This is what happens when you apply a light color on top a dark one.w

This is similar to the case with tattoos. Tattoos are generally dark (darker than the skin tone, at least) so that they remain visible against the skin. Therefore, if you get a lighter toned, skin-colored tattoo on top of a dark tattoo, the latter will still be visible. And it won’t look that good either!

Skin tone doesn’t remain exactly the same throughout your life

Even if you got a new tattoo whose color matched exactly with that of your own skin, it’s bound to look less appealing if and when your skin tone changes. You see, your skin changes its tone following even moderate sun exposure (in other words, it gets tanned).

After suntan before suntan girl

(Photo Credit : Daxiao Productions / Shutterstock)

This means that changes in your overall skin color might lead to the formation of a small discolored patch, yet another nasty side effect of getting a skin-colored tattoo to cover an old one.

Is there any way to get rid of permanent tattoos?

Yes, laser treatment can erase permanent tattoos, but if you are bent on covering a tattoo up by getting a new one, you need a particularly skilled tattoo artist who can cover the old tattoo with a dark-colored patch and then use colors and shades to disguise the old tattoo. Some people actually choose this method and achieve fairly satisfactory results.

Here is an example:


  1. Wikipedia
  2. Health Information and Medical Information (Harvard University)
  3. University of Massachusetts Amherst
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About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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