How To Tan With Tattoos

Colorful Cat Paws Tattoo @meikofukimoto

Got ink, but still love the feel of the sun beating down on you? The UVA and UVB rays that hit our skin when we’re walking around or sunbathing do have negative consequences on our skin and tattoos, but there are ways to mitigate the damage. 

What Does The Sun Do To Tattoos?

First thing’s first, it’s important to know exactly how the rays of the sun affect tattoos. 

After you get inked, your body begins breaking down your tattoo – it is a foreign substance after all, so your body wants to expel it. This, obviously, takes time. This is why after a few years a fine line tattoo looks more blurred and less clean. 

Sticker Sleeve Mini Tattoos @oatmilktattoo

The rays of the sun speed this process up. 

“UV rays from the sun are absorbed and break up the pigment particles in your tattoo. These are passed into your bloodstream. Laser tattoo removal is basically a hyper strong/fast version of this,”


The sun’s rays can also impact the colors in your tattoo design. Tattoo ink is inserted under two layers of your skin, so when your skin is darkened by the sun, this can affect the vibrancy of your tattoo. 

Part of taking care of your ink needs to include sun protection. 

Pink And Purple Flower Tattoo

How To Protect A New Tattoo From The Sun

When you walk out of the tattoo studio, your new inking is basically an open wound that needs to go through the healing process. It takes a number of weeks for your tattoo to fully heal – you can tell it’s completely healed when you run your finger over your design and the design isn’t raised.

During the scabbing part of the healing process, your skin is raw and your open skin is extra vulnerable to the negative effects of the sun. Any sun exposure during this phase can prolong the healing process.

Fine Line Dragonfly 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,”

Authority Tattoo

Therefore, it’s recommended that you hold off on the sun exposure until your tattoo has finished scabbing and peeling. Sunscreen isn’t recommended on new ink as the chemicals can irritate the wound. Cover up your new ink with clothing and stay out of the sun. 

Bustle points out,

“You don’t need to necessarily lay out on a beach or worship at the altar of a tanning bed to ruin your ink with the sun. Things like walking around a cloudy day without having your tattoo covered or sunblocked could do just as much damage.”

So, even if you’re just walking down the street on an overcast day, cover up your healing tattoo.

Croatian / Bosnian Traditional Tattoo Symbols @melpzvc

How To Protect A Healed Tattoo From The Sun

Once your tattoo is done with the scabbing and peeling processes, and your tattoo is 100% healed, you can uncover your ink and go back to your sun worshiping ways – however, with a few caveats…

Wear Sunscreen

Always lather on the sunscreen (SPF 30 and above) – it’s the number one thing you can do to help your tattoo and the rest of your skin. Being consistent with your sunscreen application will help prevent skin cancer, wrinkles, blotchy complexions, and other damage. 

Flower Hip Tattoo @violka_tattoo

“The most important thing when choosing a sunscreen is to make sure it is broad-spectrum, meaning it protects against both UVA, which penetrates deeper than UVB rays, causing free radical damage, and UVB rays, which damage the cell’s DNA and burn the skin,”


Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize 

Maintain your skin’s natural moisture barrier by staying internally hydrated by drinking water, and staying externally hydrated by moisturizing your skin. 

Take this advice leading up to your tattoo appointment, too. Hydrated skin is an easier canvas to create a tattoo upon.  

Butterfly Chest Tattoo @mauritziantetattoos

What To Do If You Get A Sunburn On Your Tattoo

Life happens! You forgot your sunscreen while out for brunch, and you have a sunburn on your tattoo… Now what? 

The first thing you’ll notice is that your skin will be red and swell up. Then, as with any other area you get a sunburn, your skin will blister and layers will shed. This will impact the clarity of your ink. 

Butterfly Shoulder Tattoo @tattooist_aba

Minimize the damage by:

  • Running cool water over the burn, or apply a cool, wet compress for a few minutes to reduce the pain. 
  • Removing anything (like jewelry or clothing) that might graze the sunburn and cause irritation. 
  • Never popping any blisters that come up.
  • Moisturizing with fragrance free lotion.
  • Taking a pain reliever to reduce discomfort and help avoid the need to scratch. 
  • Drinking a ton of water – sunburn can cause dehydration.
Geometric Moon Tattoo @janapadar

Should You Use Tanning Beds With Tattoos?

Tanning beds aren’t a lower form of sun rays – your tattoo can get just as damaged from tanning beds as from laying out in the sun. So, don’t go into tanning beds during the tattoo healing process, and if you do want to go into a tanning bed with a healed tattoo, take precautions. 

Can You Use Self Tanner On Tattoos?

No and yes. 

No if your tattoo is new. Inkeeze says,

“Using a fake tan product straight after getting a new tattoo would be a bad idea for healing, and it could result in infections.”

Once your tattoo is fully healed, you can apply self tanner and get a glow that won’t damage your tattoo. 

Script Name Tattoo

You don’t have to give up your sun worshiping ways if you are inked. Follow the above tips to protect your ink while still enjoying the warm weather. 

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