Best Tattoo Sunscreen

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 21, 2019
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

There’s something about being out in the sunshine that brightens even the darkest of moods. Unfortunately, this star in the sky can also be incredibly harmful, especially if you uncover your beautifully-tattooed skin under its intense beams.

Exposing your ink to the sun’s rays for several hours during the heat of the day may not seem too damaging, but do this on a regular basis without adequate protection, and your tattoo will be looking dull and lifeless before you know it.

The best sunscreens for tattoos are:

Jump straight to our reviews here.

How Important Is Sunscreen for Your Tattoo?

A tattoo is something that will be with you for life. You’re also enormously proud of it, so you want to show it off. Unfortunately, the sun is not gentle on a tattoo. Expose it to the sun too often and the colors will almost-definitely begin to fade. For a tattoo, the sun is its worst enemy. 

The sun can do a lot of damage to a tattoo over the years

When it comes to getting a tattoo, timing is everything. If you’re planning a summer vacation, for example, you’d best get yourself inked at least a few weeks before you travel. The key to caring for your freshly-inked body art is keeping it covered and out of the sun. Not the best scenario if you’re in the middle of a vacation. 

Once your ink has healed, usually after four to six weeks, spending time in the sun isn’t a problem. Having said that, you do need to take certain precautions. One of these is to apply a high quality and sufficiently SPF-rated sun lotion. The FDA explains how these sun lotions work in this (slightly outdated-looking) video.

Why is it so important? When you get inked, your skin’s protecting outer-layer is damaged. What this means is that it can no longer protect itself, particularly against the harmful UV rays of the sun. 

Exposure to the sun in the first few weeks, without any form of protection, can cause several issues:

  • Fading or uneven ink
  • Odd pigmentation
  • Risk of the tattoo not healing correctly

As soon as the tattoo has healed, you can expose it to the sun as long as you apply sunscreen to the area regularly. If you want your tattoo to look great for decades to come, religiously-applied sun lotion essential, especially in warmer climates.

Correct application stops the sun from causing damage to your skin, preventing your tattoo from losing color and clarity.

What to Look for in a Sun Lotion

Finding the best sunscreen for your tattoo isn’t easy. There are so many to choose from it’s difficult to know where to start. 

Some of you may wonder whether a specialized lotion is the perfect answer. There are hundreds of different generic lotions and almost just as many specialized ones. The simple answer is that there’s little difference between the two. Generic products work just as well, and are generally lower in price.

Whether you shop online or head to your local store for your sun protection, there are going to be lots to choose from. You’ll find it much easier if you know what you’re looking for in terms of options. The key aspects to look for are:

  • SPF
  • UVB and UVA protection
  • Water resistance
  • Moisturizing properties
  • Application method

Sun Protection Factor — SPF

The SPF is the most important factor to focus on. The numbers typically range from 15–50.

For optimum protection, you’re better choosing an SPF of 30 or above. SPF50 is about as high as you need to go. Higher numbers are available, but they offer little additional protection.

Both UVB and UVA Protection

There are two types of rays that the sun emits, and both are harmful to the skin and your tattoo. Choose a product that offers protection from both UVB and UVA rays. On the label, check for “broad-spectrum protection.”

Water Resistance

Water-resistance is something else a sun cream should demonstrate. Examine the label and pick one that resists water for between 30 and 80 minutes. You’re exposed to the sun the most when you’re on the beach or by the side of a pool. Make sure you’re tattoo is suitably protected.

Moisturizing Sunscreen

When you expose your skin to the sun, it can dry out. For this reason, you should choose a sun care product that moisturizes and hydrates your skin. Keeping your skin healthy and hydrated ensures your body art stays vibrant for longer.

Application Method

One last thing to consider is the method of application. Would you rather use a stick, spray, or cream? It’s all down to personal preference on this one — go for whichever is the most practical for your situation.

Best Tattoo Sunscreens

To help you choose between the myriad of sunblocks available, we’ve narrowed the list down to our top four. We took into account customer reviews, industry expert advice, and our own personal insights.

3. EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Broad Spectrum (SPF50)

EltaMD Skincare offers a sunblock for all skin types that’s perfect for people who like to be outdoors. UV Sport Sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it great if you’re swimming, skiing, running, golfing or taking part in any other sports. 

The benefits of this product include:

  • Can be applied to wet or dry skin
  • Fragrance, oil and paraben-free
  • Contains 9.0% transparent zinc oxide
  • Antioxidant protection
  • Protects against UVB and UVA rays
  • Applied using an airless pump container
  • Recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation

2. Sun Bum Original Moisturizing Sunscreen (SPF50)

We’ve already mentioned you should aim for a product with protection and moisturizing effect. The Sun Bum Original Moisturizing Sunscreen offers this and more. It’s a generic product, but don’t let that put you off. It provides everything you need from a tattoo sunscreen.

The key features of this sunscreen for tattoos are:

  • Free from harmful chemicals
  • 100% environmentally friendly
  • Broad-spectrum protection against UVB and UVA rays
  • Enriched with vitamin E for extra moisturizing
  • Suitable for sensitive skin as there are no chemically active ingredients
  • Water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes
  • Tested, approved and recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation

3. Tattoo Care Sunscreen (SPF30)

We generally advise waiting until your tattoo has completely healed before applying sunscreen to your tattoos. However, if you do not wish to wait, then this is the product for you.

As well as protecting your skin from the sun, this sunscreen from Tattoo Care also acts as a healing ointment to help your body art heal. This is all due to the natural ingredients it contains — calendula, vitamin E and A, and bisabolol. 

Apart from helping your tattoo to heal, this sun protection choice offers:

  • SPF30 skin protection
  • Water resistance up to 80 minutes
  • Broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays
  • Light coconut and cocoa fragrance 
  • Contains natural ingredients 
  • Developed by professional tattoo artists and pharmacists
  • Contains no parabens
  • Not tested on animals

No matter the sunscreen you choose, you should apply it at least 15 minutes before you go out in the sun, and reapply at regular intervals – especially if going in and out of water. No products provide complete protection from the sun’s harmful rays. For that level of protection, you’d need to stay out of the sun altogether.

How Often Should You Apply Sunscreen to a Tattoo?

Once your tattoo has healed, typically after four weeks, it’s safe to go out in the sun. Applying sunscreen is crucial if you’re in the mood for topping up your tan. Sunburn is not good for tattoos

Ideally, you should do it at least 15 minutes before heading outside. After that, you must reapply every couple of hours. If you’re planning to swim or are sweating rather more than usual, apply the lotion more often.

Be Aware of Tattoo Fading

Tattoo fading is something you need to consider. Over time, all tattoos fade, and if you go out in the sun a lot, it’s going to happen at a much quicker rate. Tattoos cost a lot of money and involve a certain amount of pain, so of course, you want them to last as long as possible. 

Fading is a gradual process. You might not notice any changes if you spend time lounging around in the sun without using lotion. Unfortunately, if you keep doing it for several years, the condition of your tattoo is going to degrade.

If you’re not happy with your faded ink, an experienced tattoo artist should be able to redo your body art and bring it back to a like-new condition.

Tips for Prolonging the Life of Your Tattoo in the Sun

If you want your tattoo to stay looking its best for many years to come, there are several things you can do:

  • Limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm
  • Avoid using sunlamps and tanning beds
  • When outdoors, wear loose and lightweight clothing to cover your tattoos

Should you be unfortunate enough to get a sunburned tattoo, there are steps you must take:

  1. Relocate: First of all, get out of the sun
  2. Cool: Apply a cool compress to the sunburned area
  3. Moisturize: The next step is to apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer. This will soothe the skin, help to cool it down and keep it hydrated. 

If you start overheating and it feels like you’ve got a fever, seek medical attention immediately. This also applies if the area around your tattoo becomes inflamed. Feeling hot and cold is another symptom to check for. Sunburn can sometimes lead to an infection if it’s bad enough to cause burns/skin wounds. 

Once the sunburn has healed, you can take a closer look at your tattoo and decide whether you need to pay a visit to your tattoo artist for a touchup. 

Can You Apply Sunscreen to a New Tattoo?

If your ink is new, don’t apply suntan lotion. This is because a sun blocker usually contains fairly strong chemicals or minerals that can irritate your skin. The only way to protect your tattoo from the sun when it’s fresh and new is to stay out of the sun. 

A new tattoo is, in effect, an open wound, and you should avoid exposing it to direct sunlight. If this is unavoidable, ensure you cover your ink with loose clothing. Sunblocks are not advisable for new tattoos because:

  • They may contain artificial colors and fragrances
  • They often contain harsh chemicals
  • Your tattoo requires fresh air to help the healing process
  • They can often be sticky 

Understand the Healing Process

If you ever have a tattoo, there are stages that this type of body art has to go through to heal. The tattooed area of skin has to regenerate itself back to full health.

The healing process generally takes place over three to four weeks. During the first few days, up to one week, the area will be red, swollen, and oozing. For the first 24 hours, a bandage will cover the tattooed area. When you remove this covering, the tattoo will weep and ooze blood, plasma, lymphatic fluid and ink. 

This is nothing to worry about, and each day it’ll improve, and scabbing will form over the area. It’s simply your body’s way of trying to repair itself. 

During the next 7 days, the area is likely going to be itchy and flaking. This occurs because all the layers of dead skin and scabs are falling off. 

Over the next couple of weeks, the final healing steps takes place. It might look like it’s healed completely, but the picture or design is still going to appear a little dull and cloudy for a while. It can take up to a few months until your tattoo finally ends up looking how it will for the rest of its life.

Always Protect Your Skin With Sunscreen

If you’ve just had a tattoo or are planning on getting one in the future, you should now be well-equipped to know how to protect your new ink from the sun’s unrelenting rays.

Taking good care of your body art is vital if you want to proudly show it off for decades to come, and a big part of this ongoing care is choosing a sunscreen that works great at protecting your tattoo.

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