New Tattoos In The Sun: When Can You Start Tanning?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: November 26, 2020

No matter how new or old your tattoo is, the sun will always be your tattoo’s worst enemy.

How long after getting a new tattoo before you can tan in the sun or on tanning beds is dependent on a few different factors. However, what you must understand is that your tattoo is always going to look much better throughout its life if you attempt to keep it shielded from strong UV rays as best as possible. Tanning with tattoos is highly discouraged without the right protection.


How Long After Getting a Tattoo Can You Tan?

After getting a brand new tattoo, the area of skin is essentially a raw open wound with no protection over the recently inserted ink. Therefore, any sun exposure to the area is going to be detrimental to the healing process.

Your tattooed skin is going to be classed as an open wound until the scabbing process is complete. This can take up to two-to-three weeks, and sometimes a longer amount of time depending on the size and placement of the tattoo.

Over the first month or so, your skin is going to be extremely sensitive to sunlight and UV rays, and you will notice that if you expose your tattoo to the sun for any amount of time while it is still healing, it will start to sting and feel like it’s burning very quickly. This is a sign that you must remove the area away from sunlight as quickly as possible before sunburn damage begins to set in. Tanning with tattoos is not recommended full stop; let alone when the tattoo is still healing.

Ouch!

Sunburn on top of a new tattoo is not pretty. Your newly inked area will burn much quicker than other less-sensitive areas of skin, and any sunburn on top of your tattoo during this period of time could cause it to blister, peel, crack, fade and ultimately heal much less optimally for quite a long time. As your burned skin peels, it can pull some of the ink from your artwork and you’ll need a touch-up.

Can You Put Sunscreen on a New Tattoo?

Although you may assume that you can just rub sunscreen over the area while the tattoo is healing, this is ultimately a bad idea. A fresh tattoo that is not yet healed will be sensitive to even the most delicate of cream.

The ingredients included within most sunscreens and creams will be too harsh for the sensitive area during the healing process, and could cause irritation and other unwanted side-effects, such as itching and prolonged healing times.

It is therefore advised to just keep your tattoo out of the sun altogether until it has completely healed. After the tattoo has finished scabbing and peeling, you should then be able to start applying sunscreen to the area and expose the tattoo to the sun. You’ll want to reach for chemical-free zinc oxide sunscreen.

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.

What you need to remember is that you must always apply sunscreen to your tattoo whenever it’s going to be exposed to the sun. The sunscreen should be at least factor 30 in order to keep as many UV rays from penetrating the lotion (and your skin) as possible. In our opinion, these are some of the best sunscreens for tattoos currently on the market.

Also, remember that UV rays easily penetrate clouds, so even if the sun isn’t beaming directly onto your tattoo, it could still be at risk of harm.

If you find yourself outside and forget to apply sunscreen to your tattoo, wear clothing or stay in the shade as much as possible.

Finally, being in water can greatly increase the detrimental effects of UV rays on your skin due to the reflection from the water (meaning that the rays are coming from a greater amount of angles). It is therefore recommended to pick a good waterproof sunscreen or wear a rashguard to ensure you’re protected at all times.

Tattoos and Fading in the Sun

Tattoo fading is a gradual process. You will probably find that if you go out in the sun a lot with a relatively new tattoo, your ink won’t look as though it’s fading at all in the sun, even without sunscreen.

You must remember, though, that a tattoo is for life. You may be able to get away with tanning and lounging around in the sun with no protection for a few years with no visible sign of fading, but keep doing it over the years and you will definitely see the condition of your tattoo degrading. Tattoos in the sun constantly will not last well.

Of course, if your ink has already considerably faded from tanning many times after originally getting it, an experienced tattoo artist may be able to redo the area and bring it back to life.

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

Different colors of tattoo ink also fade at different rates over their lifetimes, with black/grey tattoos being able to hold up against the sun the best while light tattoos and white highlighting don’t hold up very well at all against UV rays. Colors in-between vary when it comes to the rate of fading.

Sun Tanning Beds

Remember – tanning beds are just as dangerous for your tattoos as the sun. The UV rays distributed by a tanning bed are very similar to the rays beaming from the sun, and can fade your tattoo just as much as the sun can, sometimes in a faster amount of time. Keep this in mind if you’re a regular tanning bed user.

Tanning With Tattoos As Safely As Possible

While it’s never a great idea to sit out in the sun all day with your ink being pounded with UV rays, there are a few extra steps you can take to prolong your tattoo’s life as much as possible.

Limit Your Exposure

While hiding your tattoo away from damaging UV rays for the rest of your life would be the best thing for your ink, this is clearly an unreasonable target. However, what you can do to minimize damage over time is to limit of sun exposure by keeping your tattoo out of the rays as much as you can. This means keeping the area covered if possible, and if not, then using a suitable sunscreen at all other times.

Always Moisturize

The sun is great at pulling all of the moisture out of your skin, and this is bad news for your ink. Unhealthy, dry skin will cause your tattoo to look flat and dull. Whenever you’ve been out in the sun for prolonged periods of time, always be sure to restore the moisture by using a gentle, natural moisturizing lotion over your tattoo (but don’t apply too thick).

Deal With Sunburn Promptly

The only thing worse than getting a sunburn with a new tattoo is getting a sunburn and doing nothing about it. If you realize you’ve gone a little hard on the tanning and your tattoo is looking red or feels sore, make sure to moisturize and drink lots of water, and keep the tattoo out of the sun completely until the area is fully healed

Don’t Risk It

You likely paid a lot of money for your tattoo and will have probably gone through a fair bit of pain to get it. Don’t gamble and risk your investment by frying it in the sun for hours on end. Looking after a tattoo properly and keeping it safe can ensure it looks amazing for decades to come.