Tattoo Sunburn - Everything You Need To Know About Sunburnt Ink

Every time the hot weather arrives, people flock outside for trips to the beach, and to various outdoor events, with many of these people bearing tattoos new and old.

What many of these people don’t know is that the sun is incredibly dangerous to a tattoo, and not only can sunburn cause pain and unsightly short-term damage, but frequent sunburn over a period of years can completely destroy the look of your ink.


Sunburn On Tattoo

Sunburn On A New Tattoo

When your tattoo is brand new, it's extremely vulnerable due to it essentially just being a large open wound with some ink in it. As wounds are open to the elements and don’t have as much protection over them when compared to healthy skin, they are much easier to damage even further if they’re not cared for suitably.

Exposing a fresh tattoo to strong, direct sunlight is an incredibly bad idea, as the sun will burn and damage an open wound very quickly. Below are a few things that could happen if your tattoo gets sunburnt:

Delayed Healing - If your tattoo gets damaged in any way while it’s still trying to heal, healing times are only going to increase even further.

Blistering - If the sunburn is especially severe, it could cause the tattoo to swell and blister, potentially causing permanent damage to the area (not to mention an increased risk of skin cancer further down the line).

Appearance Issues - Sunburn on a tattoo can cause the ink to fade and become patchy in areas, meaning you'll likely need to go back to your artist for a touch-up.

On top of this, if your artist believes your carelessness was a contributing factor to the damage sustained to your tattoo, they may even decide to charge you a fee for the touch-up.

Extremely light tattoos, such as ones created primarily using white ink are particularly vulnerable to strong, intense sunlight.​

Irritation - Sunburn can irritate the delicate, healing skin cells which surround the area, potentially causing them to itch, burn, and rash.

Infection - Sunburn can cause your wound to open up and decrease its ability to fight bacteria, in-turn increasing the chances of contracted an infection. If left untreated, these infections can cause lasting damage to your tattoo.

Sunburn On An Old Tattoo

While getting sunburn on a new tattoo will be much more damaging than getting sunburn on an older tattoo, it doesn’t mean that lasting damage can’t potentially still be done.

Naturally, your skin cells die and shed every day all over your body, but when exposed to intense sunlight and harsh UV rays, your skin cells will break down much faster, which is why people with sunburn usually peel a lot more than normal.

As sunburn causes your skin to peel much quicker and more vigorously, there is a higher chance of your tattoo fading at a faster rate due to small ink particles being peeled away each time this process occurs.

Not only this, but because sunlight is absorbed better by darker colors, the ink in your tattoo (especially if it’s black/gray) will attract the sunlight more, causing your tattoo to burn at a faster rate than other areas of non-tattooed skin.

What To Do If You Get Sunburn On A Tattoo

If you realize you’ve been burnt around your tattoo, you'll want to make sure you get out of the sun as quickly as possible.

Once out of the sun, attempt to cool your skin down by having a cold bath or shower, or by compressing the area with a cold, wet towel.

If your tattoo is new, have a quick shower instead of a bath to prevent the risk of the bath water infecting the wound. If you decide to compress your new tattoo with a cloth, make sure it’s completely clean and free from bacteria, and don’t leave it on the tattoo for longer than a couple of minutes to ensure the water doesn’t saturate and disrupt the settling ink.

Once the tattooed skin has cooled down, try to soothe and moisturize the area by using products containing aloe vera. If your tattoo is new, be sure to use a moisturizing lotion that doesn’t contain any artificial colors or scents, as these ingredients can cause further irritation around the area.

Try to rehydrate your skin further by drinking plenty of fluids (plain water is best).

To reduce any pain or inflammation, take ibuprofen or other suitable painkillers (not all will reduce inflammation, though).

If your sunburn is severe and has caused large blisters, or any systemic symptoms such as dizziness or a fever, contact a medical professional as soon as possible.

How To Avoid Getting Sunburn On Your New Tattoo

If you have a new tattoo, you should stay out of direct sunlight until the area has completely healed, which is when your skin has finished scabbing and peeling (which usually takes 2-3 weeks).

While your tattoo is still healing, you should refrain from using any sun tanning products on the area as these usually contain chemicals/ingredients that can be harsh to a new tattoo and can cause them to become irritated, and can even cause fading of the ink.

If your tattoo has already healed and you wish to go outside without risking sunburn, you should apply a generous layer of (at least) SPF 30 sunscreen to the area, and reapply whenever you feel the effects wearing off.

My favorite and most recommended sunscreen for using on tattoos is Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch. This lotion 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 30, it's water resistant, and it has great hydrating properties.

If you're looking for even more protection, there are also dedicated tattoo sunblock sticks available (like the Coppertone Tattoo Guard) that you can use to top up tattooed areas of skin conveniently whenever you feel that your ink may be in need of slightly more protection.

Remember, UV rays from the sun can penetrate even thick cloud cover, and therefore remain vigilant, and apply sunscreen in the summer even when you can’t see the sun directly.

If you go outside in strong sunlight and forget to put sunscreen on, try your best to stay in the shade as much as possible.

Finally, it’s worth noting that being in the water can increase your chances of getting burnt due to the sun’s rays reflecting off the surface and back onto your skin, doubling the amount of exposure you’ll potentially be receiving. Make sure you apply tanning lotion very frequently if you’re going in and out of water often.

Sunbeds & New Tattoos

Be aware than sunbeds are just as harmful to your skin (and tattoos) as the sun is. Tanning beds still use high doses of UV light to damage your skin in order to tan it, and therefore you should think carefully before getting a sunbed if you want your tattoo to remain looking fresh and healthy for as long as possible.


Sunburn on a tattoo should be avoided as much as humanly possible. If your tattoo gets burnt, react as quickly as you can to try to cool down the area.

By following the advice in this article, you should now know what to do in order to actively protect your tattoo from being burnt, which in-turn should ensure your tattoo remains looking great for decades to come.

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