How To Protect New Tattoos In The Sun

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 9, 2020
    Last Updated: November 9, 2020

You got a brand-new tattoo, and you’re excited to show it off. Unfortunately, exposing new and long-time tattoos to the sun can be problematic. Tattoos fade over time. There is nothing that you can do to completely stop this natural process. 

Unfortunately, sun exposure accelerates this fading. Repeated exposure to the sun, without protection, can ruin new tattoos and rapidly age existing ones. Learning how to protect tattoos in the sun is vital. 

Understanding the different effects too much sun can have on your tattoos, as well as your skin, allows you to take the appropriate steps to protect them both and minimize any potential damage.


How Does the Sun Damage Tattoos?

Sun damage happens in two primary ways.

  • First, the UV rays from the sun break down the pigments in the tattoo ink. This breaking down can cause the colors to fade faster than they otherwise would naturally.
  • Second, overexposure to the sun can lead to sunburn, which causes the skin to peel off. This peeling process can draw the tattoo ink out from your skin, thereby accelerating the fading of your tattoo.

Fortunately, if you have a tattoo, you don’t have to avoid sunlight entirely. 

How to Protect Your Tattoo in the Sun

Protecting your tattoos from the sun isn’t an expensive and complicated endeavor, but it does require you to remember to do a few small things. Here are the fundamental steps that you can take to protect your tattoo in the sun. 

Keep Brand-New Tattoos Out of the Sun

The very first rule is to go out into the sun as little as possible, especially if you have a new tattoo. A new tattoo is, strictly speaking, an open wound. Exposing it to the sun may cause it to take much longer to heal than it otherwise would. 

Even with existing tattoos, cumulative exposure to the sun can cause the skin to peel off or burn, both of which accelerate fading.

Be Careful When Using Sunscreen On New Tattoos

Sunscreen is especially vital with new tattoos, though you should consider avoiding any significant sun exposure altogether during the first month of recovery. If you apply sunblock or any skin product containing unnatural ingredients to a fresh tattoo, it will hinder the healing process by clogging the pores and causing irritation.

Some lotions or sunscreens might even draw out the ink and make the colors less vibrant. Ideally, you should wait at least one month after getting a tattoo before applying sunscreen. (Of course, during that time you’ll want to avoid sun exposure entirely by keeping the tattoo covered up with clothing.)

Cover Your Tattoo with Clothing or Remain in the Shade

Covering your tattoo is especially crucial if it is less than a month old. At this stage, you should do your best to keep it away from the sun. 

It may feel restrictive and somewhat counter-intuitive to hide your ink, but you’ll be happy about the choice in the long term. A prematurely faded tattoo is not only unattractive, but it is also a waste of your money to get a vibrantly-colored design that fades too quickly.

You can opt for light clothing that won’t make you hot. If you’d rather not cover up, you can potentially still show off your tattoo if you ensure that you remain in shaded areas.

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

Use Sunscreen When The Tattoo Has Fully Healed

Sunscreen is a great way to protect your tattoos without having to conceal them. Sunscreen also protects your skin from harmful rays that could cause blemishes or, worse, skin cancer. 

Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater for the best results. Apply it liberally, in several layers, over any tattoos you have on your body whenever you go out into the sun.

My favorite and most recommended sunscreen for using on tattoos is EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion.

This broad-spectrum sunscreen has all of the attributes required for not only protecting your tattoo amazingly well, but also for helping to keep it bright and vibrant. It’s suitably strong at SPF 50 and is water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Most importantly, EltaMD is extremely tattoo-friendly and doesn’t contain any fragrances, oils, or parabens.

Layering sunscreen is especially crucial if you expect to spend extended periods in the sun or water. Make sure to reapply the sunblock every two or three hours, especially if you sweat or your skin gets wet.

Of course, when you use sunblock, you’re not only protecting your tattoo. You’re also protecting yourself from sunburn, wrinkles, and future cancers. 

What to Do If You Get Sunburned

Despite our best efforts, we all make mistakes sometimes. If you get sunburned, there are a few things you can do. However, the steps that you need to take can vary depending on how bad the sunburn is. 

If the tattoo is still fresh and in the aftercare stage, you should reach out to your tattoo artist. They will advise you on how to handle sunburn. If the burn is severe and involves itching, a rash, or blisters, reach out to your doctor instead. Keep the tattoo hydrated with a quality tattoo healing lotion.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.

If it’s an existing tattoo that has already healed, there are some basic things you can do to help nurse your skin back to normal: 

  • First, cool the skin down with a cold, wet cloth or a cool shower. 
  • Once completely dry, moisturize the tattoo to mitigate skin peeling and prevent ink loss. Aloe vera works well for sunburnt skin.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of water to encourage your skin to rehydrate. 

Finally, shield your tattoo by not repeating your mistakes. Sunburn is a much bigger problem if it occurs frequently. The effects on your tattoo and your overall skin health can be cumulative, so remember to protect your tattoo consistently if you want it to endure.

Do You Need to Protect Your Tattoo in a Tanning Bed?

There is a common misconception that, just because the UV radiation in a tanning bed doesn’t come directly from the sun, it’s less harmful. 

This idea isn’t accurate when it comes to your tattoos. Not only are these UV rays just as capable of damaging your tattoo, but they are also more concentrated than the ones from the sun. Besides, most people tend to over-expose themselves in tanning beds, which means the damage can be even more significant than the kind you would get from a gradual tanning process in natural sunlight. 

To protect your tattoos while in a tanning salon, apply sunscreen generously over your tattoos before you get into the tanning bed. You can alternatively cover your tattoos with a cloth that matches their shape. 

Whatever method you choose, remember that the same tattoo-protection rules applied in natural sunlight also apply in a tanning bed. 

Why Do Some Ink Colors Fade Quicker in the Sun?

It’s not so much that some ink colors fade faster than others. Instead, the fading is more evident with brighter colors. Vibrant colors tend to show more visible signs of fading and color changes. 

Vibrant yellows can quickly turn into browns, for example. The danger of color changes is why some people opt for black and gray ink. The fading is less evident with these hues, and there is no color change to worry about with these darker shades.

All Tattoos Fade Eventually

All tattoos, whether full of vibrant colors or blacks and grays, will fade over time, especially with regular sun exposure. 

Even black ink will gradually lose its depth. Sun damage is cumulative, so every little trip outside counts. That’s why it’s so important to take all the necessary measures to protect your tattoos from the sun consistently.

Conclusion

As you can see, the sun is the biggest threat to your tattoos. By keeping your ink protected from the sun, you can keep it looking newer for longer before you need to return to a tattoo artist for a touchup

Proper sun care is especially vital with new tattoos and tattoos that contain brightly-colored inks. Fortunately, following the tips above lets you enjoy time outdoors without damaging your skin or new work of art.