What Happens To Tattoos When You Gain Muscle?

People carry their tattoos as a sense of personal touch and style. It is meant to be a way to express themselves.

These days, more people have tattoos than ever. And it’s not uncommon to see professional bodybuilders or athletes having a full sleeve of tattoos.

A common question associated with tattoos is what happens to them when the skin stretches or shrinks. In the case of bodybuilding specifically, what happens to tattoos when you gain muscle?

Well, thankfully- your tattoos won’t become distorted or change when you gain muscle. Your tattoo may just look ‘bigger’- but it won’t actually look bad or really change shape. So you’re good to get tattoos no matter what phase of your bodybuilding career you’re in!

A lot many are afraid their tattoos would distort and stretch and hence are staying away from bulking up. In this piece, we investigate what exactly happens to tattoos when you gain muscle. 

What Happens To Tattoos When You Gain Muscle? Pictured is bodybuilder, professional rugby player Trey.
What Happens To Tattoos When You Gain Muscle? Pictured is bodybuilder, professional rugby player Trey.

How Tattoos Work

Before we can answer our original question, it is important to understand how tattoos work. A solid background will help us answer our question easily. 

  • Even though our question is related to muscle gain, it is important to realize that tattoos are not done on the muscles. Instead, tattoos are done on the skin.
  • The ink and the tool itself never actually reaches the muscles. It always stays at the level of the skin. Some people might be confused that the ink percolates to the muscles, but that is not the case. 
  • Next, it is also important to know that our skin has a stretchability factor. The skin can stretch and change its overall formation to adjust for muscular changes. This means that as your muscles increase or decrease in size, the skin on top mostly stays unchanged. 

Layers Of The Skin

Unless you go for a laser treatment, a tattoo once done is usually for a lifetime. (And generally speaking, tattoo removal is incredibly painful and never guaranteed)

It is therefore important for you to know what will happen to your tattoos as you gain or lose muscle. We already learned that the tattoo is not made on the muscle itself. Instead, it is made on the skin. Let us do a small brief on the layers of the skin.

  • Epidermis: It is the topmost layer of the skin. It acts as a protective barrier between the outside world and our body. It is also considered a part of the immune system and thus helps in protecting the body internally too. It makes new skin cells in case of scratches and wounds. Last but not the least, this layer also imparts the skin’s color.
  • Dermis: This is the middle and second-most layer of the skin. It has many functions. It is responsible for making collagen and elastin, two proteins which are important in the body. It also grows hair as the roots of hair are attached to this layer. It makes oil that keeps the skin soft and supple. Speaking of tattoos, this layer is of ultimate importance. It is in this layer that the tattoo artist inserts the tattoo ink. This is practically where your tattoo lives. It appears on top because of the damage to the epidermis and the scarring after that.
  • Subcutaneous tissue: Lastly we have the subcutaneous tissue. It has connective tissue, supports the bones and helps with neural connectivity because of the presence of nerves. 

Tattoos With Bodybuilding

Now that we understand how tattoos work and where exactly they are present, it is time to address the question.

If you do not have any tattoos and are planning to get some, especially on your arms, the back, or the torso, you might be wondering how they will be affected by all the stretching and bulking when you hit the gym.

Or if you already have tattoos, you might be worried that they will get stretched and look ugly when you gain mass. 

The good news is that for most cases, bulking up or gaining muscle will not affect your tattoos. The reasons for it are quite simple. First, we learned that the tattoos don’t directly go onto the muscle. Instead, they live on the second layer of the skin, the dermis. That is around 0.5 to 1.5 mm of depth from the surface of the skin, which is quite little depth considering the entirety of the body.

Second, we know that the skin has a ‘stretching factor’. What this basically means is that the skin will accommodate and adjust as you gain muscle.

This essentially means that your tattoos will look bigger, but not necessarily distorted or ugly. 

What Happens to Tattoos When You Bulk Up?

For areas such as the arms, the back, shoulders, or the torso, there should be no distortion of the tattoo of any kind.

Note however that as the size of the muscle grows, the size of the tattoo will also be visibly bigger. Basically means the skin will adjust to the new muscle size and so will the tattoo, making it look a bit bigger. But rest assured, there will not be any distortions or design changes of any kind. 

Time Your Tattoos Right

We have already mentioned that gaining muscles or even losing it, does not change how your tattoos look.

The only major change is in the size of it; the other ratios and designs stay the same.

If you are still skeptical despite that, the best word of caution is to time your tattoos right. If you are planning to gain weight, or bulk up the muscles then wait before getting the tattoos. 


Tattoos are one of the most popular ways of personal expression. Tattoos and a strong, well-built body go very well together.

However concerns about distortion and design changes upon bulking up often deter people from either getting the tattoo or bulking up entirely.

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up on either of those two things. As we learned, gaining muscle, in fact, does not distort or change the way your tattoo is going to look.

On the other hand, tattoos look even better on a built body.        

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