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Ask Guy Aitchison

Ask Guy 12

Q) I'd like to lighten my tattoo before doing a coverup... but instead of using the laser, I want to do this by putting in a few layers of white pigment over the old tattoo before starting the coverup. Will this work?

A) When you tattoo light pigments over dark ones, they will eventually all settle into the same layer of skin, so what you get is a pigment mix. You aren't actually putting a layer on top of an older, deeper layer, but mixing new pigments with the existing ones. White will lighten black by about 8-12% on the first pass, an additional 6-8% the second time, and 5-8% the third time, with diminishing returns with each additional pass. It may look impressive when it first heals and peels, but the actual amount of lightening you effectively get is far less than that when you take settling into account. Then, when the time comes to add a new tattoo over this, it needs to be mixed with all that milky pigmentation and usually results in a milky, muted overall look. I will always recommend laser sessions first- I hate to say it, but there are no other alternatives that are even close to as effective. I've been extensively lasered myself, and although I didn't enjoy it, it gave me a second chance that would simply not be available otherwise. The only time I will pump in light pigment over older inks is if I am creating a coverup and have already done my darker lining, shading and detailing, allowing me to see exactly where the old piece needs lighter pigments pumped in. Usually this will be a final stage in the process, rather than a preparatory one.