How to Protect Tattoos From The Sun Year-Round
Your ink can't shine if it's faded and burnt.
Summer is the ultimate season for self-expression. It's the time when we shed off all our extra layers of clothing and inhibitions to refocus on getting creative and showing off our style. In other words, summer is the perfect time to express yourself with tattoos. There's just one problem: How do you protect them from the sun?
When it comes to tattoo sun protection, Miryam Lumpini, a celebrity tattoo artist and creative director of BodyMark by BIC, says that "protecting your skin is very important." Tattoos are made by injecting ink into the dermis, the tissue just underneath the outermost layer of the skin, and the process basically involves creating thousands of tiny wounds in the skin. So, tattoos require extra care to heal and maintain them both in and out of the sun.
Keep reading to learn more about how the sun can be damaging to tattoos and how you can protect your body ink whether it's brand new or years old.
How the sun affects tattoos:
As much as we love the sun, it can cause a lot of damage. In addition to the risk of skin cancer, the accelerated signs of skin aging, and hyperpigmentation, the sun can also affect the appearance and health of tattoos.
The same ultraviolet rays that can cause skin hyperpigmentation can also impact the pigmentation in tattoos, accelerating fading if exposed to too much direct sunlight. In the sun, UV rays are absorbed into the skin and can break up pigment particles in your skin over time. As a frame of reference, laser tattoo removal essentially uses the same process, only with higher intensity and within a shorter period. Sun exposure and UV radiation can also cause the skin around tattoos to heal and crack, which can hinder the healing process.
On a more cosmetic level, Lumpini also notes that the appearance of tattoos can change when the skin tans and darkens in the sun. Even if the tattoo itself doesn't fade, the contrast of the ink on the skin will lessen as the skin darkens. So, if you want your tattoos to really pop and stay healthy, it's important to protect them from the sun as much as possible.
How to protect new tattoos from the sun:
It's important to remember that new tattoos are fresh wounds and need to be treated as such. This means carefully following all of the standard tattoo aftercare steps, which includes protecting your new ink from the sun. Since fresh tattoos are especially vulnerable to external factors such as products or the sun, you don't want to slather on sunscreen and risk infection. Instead, keep them out of the sun entirely. (Most tattoo artists recommend keeping new tattoos away from direct sunlight exposure for up to one month after getting inked.) Of course, you don't have to close all the shutters and stay inside for a whole month—just make sure to cover up your tattoo with clothing, preferably some with built-in UV protection.
However, even after that initial month of healing, Lumpini says you should still limit your tattoo's sun exposure for several months. "Even when the scabs have fallen off your tattoo, your skin is still very sensitive," she explains. She suggests to wait six months before going into the sun as "your skin is still rebuilding itself to normal, even though it's healed." For coverage in that time frame, Lumpini recommends wearing light, flowy clothing that's breathable.
How to protect old tattoos from the sun:
Just as we're never done protecting our skin from the sun, you should never stop trying to protect your tattoos, either. Old tattoos can still fade from UV radiation, and the skin around it needs protection all the same. So, sunscreen is the top priority for protecting all tattoos that have surpassed that freshly inked period. Opt for cream sunscreens over sprays (which are harder to see on the skin) since it's important to make sure that you get full-coverage protection. Also, look for broad-spectrum SPF, which block both UVA and UVB rays, to ensure that the pigment in your tattoo is protected.
This Eucerin Daily Hydration Body Cream with SPF 30 is a pick from the Environmental Working Group's 2021 sunscreen guide. It provides both UVA and UVB protection and works as a moisturizer to keep skin hydrated and shielded from the sun all at once. Make sure to reapply sunscreen to your tattoos every two hours, as you would for the rest of your face and body.
What to do if your tattoo gets sunburnt:
While you should do your best to avoid sunburns at all costs, mistakes happen. If you do end up with a sunburnt tattoo, make sure to hydrate from the inside and out—applying gentle moisturizer to the affected area and drinking plenty of fluids to combat the burn. Then, monitor your burn and tattoo closely, and consult with your tattoo artist for further advice to see if you need touchups.
Remember, you don't have to keep your tattoos hidden away from the sun forever. If you take proper care of your tattoos in the initial healing process and are diligent about applying sunscreen, your body art will be able to shine for a long, long time.