We love nothing more in this world than soaking up some vitamin D outside on a warm, sunny day.
Unfortunately, our tattoos do not.
That’s why using the right sunscreen and taking proper measures to protect your ink from the sun is so important.
So, we researched all there is to know about the sun, SPF (or sun protections factor), and tattoos.
What we found will likely break your sun-loving heart, but in the end, it just means that you will have to take a little extra care of your skin when going outside.
Today, we are going to share everything there is to know about tattoos and how to protect your ink from the sun.
Let’s jump right in!
Tattoos and Sun Exposure
Sunlight and tattoos don’t usually make a good combo. Left unprotected, your tattoos can fade, and your skin will end up damaged.
We all love spending time outdoors with the sun shining on our skin, but we have to take proper steps to educate ourselves and protect our tattoos while doing so.
Read also: Faded tattoos: 5 main causes and how to prevent it
New Tattoos & Sunlight
Leaving your tattoos unprotected in the sun is a bad idea; especially if we talk about fresh tattoos.
So, what can we do to protect our new tattoos in the sun? The short answer is to invest in a quality SPF to keep your tattoos safe in the sun and vibrant for years to come.
Remember to wait until your tattoo is totally healed to start using sunscreen.
Learn more about the topic in this article: Can You Put Sunscreen on a New Tattoo?
It’s absolutely essential to apply sunscreen to your healed tattoos when going outdoors.
Even if you’ve spent lots of time in the sun in the past and have never noticed any fading before, that doesn’t mean the damage isn’t already being done. You’ll rarely see the damaging effects overnight; they often take years to become noticeable.
How Should You Protect Your Tattoos From the Sun?
The good news is, you don’t have to live your whole life with damaged, faded tattoos. In fact, there’s plenty of things you can do to protect your tattooed skin to preserve your ink to last a lifetime.
That’s the goal, isn’t it?
#1. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen.
Perhaps the best way -except for hiding away indoors forever- to protect your ink is to wear a good sunscreen.
A quality SPF is the key to protecting your tattoos (and the rest of your skin, to be honest) from the sun.
Not only will it protect your tattoo from damage and fading, but it also protects you from skin cancer and premature aging. The sun can do so much damage to our largest organ, so we have to defend it.
Read also: Tattoo aging: what you should know
Be aware that most many options contain fragrance, colors or harmful chemicals. Use sunscreens specifically designed for tattoos or generic fragrance-free or "tattoo friendly" options.
Aiming for SPF 30 or higher is ideal, and the more natural the ingredients, the better.
Remember: when using sunscreen, make sure your tattoo has completely healed first.
During the first three to four weeks, it’s important to keep your new tattoo out of the sun if at all possible.
Apply about 15 minutes before you’re ready to go outside, preferably while you’re still indoors where it’s cool. And be sure to apply every hour and a half to two hours during sun exposure.
If you’re partaking in wetter activities, such as swimming or sweating, you will want to apply more often.
#2. Find some shade.
Don’t get me wrong; sunscreen is still essential.
But spending time in the shade and taking breaks from the sun can also help your tattoo stay intact. Find an umbrella, a tree, a cabana, and hang out there for a bit to give your skin a break.
#3. Wear loose-fitting clothing
It’s also helpful to wear loose-fitting clothing that will cover your tattoo if you’re planning on spending a substantial amount of time outdoors.
This is especially helpful with new, still-healing tattoos that can’t be covered in sunscreen just yet.
Clothes won’t protect you 100%, so like we said before: SPF is still essential. But, they can certainly help reduce your risk of sunburn or tattoo fading.
#4. Be aware of peak times.
The sun’s rays are at their worst from 10 am until 4 pm. If you don’t have to be outside during this time, then don’t.
But if you do, or you insist, make sure to apply your sunscreen.
#5. Avoid tanning beds.
We’re one more group of people warning you about the dangers of tanning beds.
Tanning beds increase your risk of skin cancer, speed up the appearance of skin aging, and, you guessed it, harm your tattoos.
It’s like fast-forwarding your time in the sun, with all of the exposure and harm and only a fraction of the time.
The rays are much more concentrated and people tend to over-expose themselves when using a tanning bed.
Sure, we all love the healthy “glow” a tanning bed gives us, but that glow isn’t exactly good for you. Spray tans are a much better option for your skin and your tattoos, and will leave you with a glow that is actually healthy and skin that isn’t damaged.
Plus the results are instant, so it’s a win-win situation.
Sunburns and Tattoos
As we touched on above, sunburns are quite terrible for tattoos old and new.
They typically cause peeling, which leads to shedding skin cells faster and a quicker breakdown of the pigments.
Tattoos with lighter colors are especially susceptible to fading, more so than darker inks like black and grey.
The sun can even cause your tattoo to change colors completely. Nope, we don’t like the sound of that.
Dark colored tattoos, however, can absorb more light and leave that area of skin with a worse burn. So, while you may not notice a change in the pigment as much, the sun’s rays could be doing more damage to your skin surrounding your darker tattoos.
What if my tattoo gets sunburned?
If your tattoo does end up getting sunburned, apply a cold pack to it, keep it moisturized, and monitor it for any signs of infection. If you think it may be getting infected, head to your doctor immediately.
Often, they can give you some antibiotics to kill the bacteria and keep it from becoming a bigger problem.
In severe cases where your tattoo is damaged, you may need to return to your artist for a touchup. It’s our personal version of a walk of shame. Wait until the burn or scab is completely healed and make an appointment to get it fixed.
Sun’s UVA and UVB Rays Are Detrimental for Tattoos
The sun’s harmful UV rays will break down the ink in your tattoo over time, much like leaving a picture or painting in the sun.
This isn’t an effect you’ll see right away but will instead creep up on you as the years go by.
The three different types of UV rays affect your skin and your tattoos in different ways.
UVA rays (Ultraviolet A) penetrate deeper into the second layer of skin.
They’re responsible for causing the wrinkly, prematurely aged skin, and it’s effects are long-lasting.
UVA rays can penetrate glass and cloud cover, so even on overcast days or long car rides, it’s important to wear sunscreen.
These rays are also really good at breaking down and fading ink even in completely healed tattoos.
2. UVB rays
UVB rays (Ultraviolet B) affect the top layer of the skin and are responsible for those pesky sunburns.
These are also the rays that are most often linked to skin cancer.
It only takes about 15 minutes for UVB rays to burn and damage the skin.
In fact, they go as far as to actually change your skin’s DNA.
UVB rays and new tattoos especially don’t go together, as they can majorly disrupt the healing process and do some permanent damage like ink loss and color changes.
3. UVC rays
UVC rays (Ultraviolet C) are a bit different. From the sun, they never actually reach us here on earth. But we can be exposed to them through man-made devices like welding and traditional tanning beds.
If you find yourself exposed to these types of rays, it’s equally important to protect your tattoos and your skin, as they can also cause burns.
The sun and your tattoos don’t mix, obviously. None of us want our tattoos that we invested time and money into to look faded and old before they should. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life like a vampire indoors.
With the right protection and a good, quality SPF, and awareness, you can enjoy your D vitamin while keeping your tattoos looking good as new for years to come.