Why would petroleum jelly cause a new tattoo to fade?
September 19, 2022 11:06 AM   Subscribe

THIS IS NOT A TATTOO AFTERCARE QUESTION. I got a new tattoo a couple weeks ago and the artist warned me not to use vaseline or aquaphor or similar because petroleum jelly "fades tattoos." I have been getting tattoos for 24 years and am heavily covered and have never heard such a thing. So I googled and I found statements saying similar things (no sources referenced of course), but not saying WHY vaseline would fade a tattoo. Does anyone know the mechanism of action on that?
posted by misanthropicsarah to Grab Bag (9 answers total)
Yeah, this site claims that the vaseline can "interact with the ink and possibly draw it out of the dermis." But it looks overall like the biggest issue is that a solid layer of Vaseline is non-porous enough that it can trap bacteria and/or slow healing.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:23 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

I initially thought there must be something in the oil that drew out something in the tattoo, but after poking around online, I think the following:

Because then the tattoo can't heal as well, and if it can't heal as well, your body will be more likely to reject it.
posted by aniola at 11:23 AM on September 19

I've heard the fading thing from people off and on since I first starting getting tattoos. As far as I know it's an urban myth based on no known mechanism--but it's still not the best idea to start with any petroleum-based product, because dirt can stick to it, and it's also too good of a barrier--it doesn't allow air to circulate to your tattoo. It's safer to use a water based moisturizer during healing for that reason.

If you don't heal properly, that's going to affect the way your tattoo looks, of course--which I think is where the fading myth comes in.

Vaseline and tattoos
Vaseline and healing wounds
posted by assenav at 11:24 AM on September 19

I think it’s more a problem of putting anything on too thick and not allowing it to breathe. I’ve been told to dab any aquaphor with a paper towel so it’s just a thin layer. I’ve healed just fine with aquaphor and unscented lotion. I also think that there’s a lot of … debate and argument and nonsense around the “right” way to heal a tattoo. There are universal rules of course, but the rest is preference. But it’s a heated debate sometimes which I find silly.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:33 AM on September 19

Oh and also, I was told to use aquaphor from medical professionals on my tattoo removal. (It was done in a clinic setting.) Of course the goal there is to fade the tattoo, but they also want you to heal properly. So the ointment protocol was about healing well. Laser removal is a similar healing process.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:35 AM on September 19

I think a lot of those rules of thumb travel through the tattoo artist community like urban legend more than scientific/medical understanding.

I've used unscented moisturizer, Aquaphor (THIN layers only), and Tegaderm/Saniderm, and there is no noticeable difference in how faded my tattoos are that doesn't better correlate to age, location, and/or style of tattoo. My oldest (botanical illustration-style) tattoo is the most faded, for which I used unscented moisturizer during healing. Some tattoos on my thigh that I used Aquaphor to heal are still nice and dark, but they are several years newer, traditional style, done by an artist with a heavy hand, and on a limb that doesn't see as much sun.
posted by misskaz at 12:55 PM on September 19

This seems like a pretty reliable source that concurs with the "urban legend" that petroleum jelly will fade tattoos. It provides no evidence or other sources or explanation WHY, though, so not entirely satisfying.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:30 PM on September 19

This is a very informative article about the layers of the skin, where the tattoo ink goes, and what ink fading looks like at the tissue level.
posted by dum spiro spero at 6:32 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]

I gave my producer an actual tattoo. - YouTube. It's 15 minutes or so in before he starts tattooing his producer.

They used petroleum jelly during the actual tattoo process, sorta makes the pen slide across the skin nicely. So I doubt it has that much of an ink fading problem that directly. Probably is the whole wounds need air to heal. They were poking the ink into the skin through a thin layer of petroleum jelly.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:39 AM on September 21

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