Home » Sun Exposure And Tattoos: When Is It Safe?

Sun Exposure And Tattoos: When Is It Safe?

Exposing your tattoos to the sun is never safe. When you get a new tattoo, you must take care of several aspects to ensure your skin heals properly. For the body, getting a tattoo is like an injury. And it will treat the area of your skin where you got the tattoo in the same way it will treat a cut or a wound.

Since a tattoo is formed by making thousands of needle pricks to your skin to deposit the ink to the second layer of the skin, the dermis, the area will be red and swollen for quite some time until your tattoo has healed completely.

Sunrays can cause skin redness and inflammation at the best times. Hence, it is understandable what degree of redness and irritation you will suffer if your new tattoo is exposed to the sun, as the body region is already sore and tender.

It is important to keep your new tattoo away from the sun as much as possible after it has healed. It ensures your tattoo does not fade over time, or you can at least slow down the process.

Why Should You Prevent a Tattoo From The Sun?

A new tattoo is susceptible to infections. The open wound of the tattoo can be infected by bacteria in the air when you step out. Or, your tattoo may get infected if you sweat, and the bacteria will rot in the humidity. You must take good care to keep your tattoo clean and dry to prevent these infections.

However, the danger from the sun is of a different kind. Tattoos can be damaged by the sun at any time, whether new or old. Here is why you should prevent sun exposure.

Sun Damage to a New Tattoo

Sun Damage To A New Tattoo
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Here are the different ways the sun can damage your new tattoo.

The area on the skin is bound to be sensitive right after getting a tattoo. It will be red, swollen, and also painful. If exposed to the sun at this point, the area will become even more irritable, and the redness will increase. You may even inadvertently end up scratching the surface if you become unmindful.

If exposed to the sun, you are also more likely to feel hot and you will sweat. Prolonged exposure to the UVB rays of the sun will also cause sunburn and severe irritation. It will increase the risk of infection because the tattoo would be open, and the bacteria could easily fester with the moisture and humidity.

Since the dermis layer of the skin contains melanocytes, which release melanin when the skin is exposed to the sun, it can change the way how your tattoo looks. The melanin will affect the dye used for the tattoo and break them down. The color of your tattoo might fade, the borders may become blotchy, and you will have a blurry blob instead of a well-defined design.

Sun Damage to an Old Tattoo

Sun Damage to an Old Tattoo
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Even after your tattoo has healed for a while, you should reduce sun exposure as much as possible.

Sun rays have both UVA and UVB rays. These two are predominantly responsible for damaging your tattoo.

The UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and affect a tattoo the most, even though you may have gotten inked quite some time ago. The UVA rays cause free radical damage, breaking down the skin’s collagen. It will cause the skin to lose its elasticity faster, causing the skin to wrinkle and, likewise, distort the shape of the tattoo.

The UVA rays will also break down the pigments in your tattoo and cause the colors to fade or distort. If your tattoo has any light colors, it will fade faster, making it appear blotchy. The black ink may appear bluish or vice versa.

How Long Should You Wait Before Exposing The Skin to The Sun?

Ideally, you should stay out of the harsh sun, even if you do not have a tattoo. It prevents sunburns, redness, and premature aging, as the UVA and UVB rays cause the skin to fade and rapidly lose collagen.

If you have a new tattoo, you should wait at least three weeks before exposing the tattoo to direct sunlight. As long as your skin has scabbed, it means it is still healing. Once all the scabs have dried and fallen off, your skin has healed. However, it would help if you continued to take all safety measures to prevent your tattoo from fading.

Are Sunscreens Safe For Tattooed Skin?

Are Sunscreens Safe For Tattooed Skin
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Yes, sunscreens are safe for tattooed skin.

However, there needs to be more clarity about whether to apply sunscreen on tattoos. It’s because many need to learn how to apply it to tattoos.

Here are some points you should keep in mind

  • You should avoid applying sunscreen on new tattoos. Since the wounds are still open, the chemicals present in the sunscreen will most likely cause irritation. You may even experience a burning sensation, and your skin will become red without going out in the sun.
  • It is a myth that there are separate and special sunscreens for tattooed skin. Yes, there may be sunscreens that could be a little friendlier toward the color pigments of the tattoo. However, these are mostly the same products and are packaged differently.
  • While applying sunscreen on your tattoos, ensure it has a high SPF. It should have an SPF of at least 30 or above. You can use a moisturizer on the tattoo to keep the area supple and hydrated and then apply sunscreen.
  • While applying sunscreen on your tattoos, do not rub it hard into the skin, even if your tattoo has healed. Apply it lightly on the surface till the product has disappeared, and let it be.
  • You should never apply sunscreen on unclean skin or tattoos. Always wash or wipe the tattoo clean and then apply the product. It will remove traces of sweat and dirt from the skin surface, and you won’t risk rubbing them into your tattoo while applying sunscreen.
  • If you are allergic to commercial sunscreens, you can use natural sunscreens like aloe vera. You can apply natural, organic aloe vera gel, and it will give you the same results. It will also hydrate your skin in the process.

What Can You Do to Prevent Sun Exposure to Your Tattoos?

What Can You Do To Prevent Sun Exposure To Your Tattoos
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The best thing you can do to prevent sun exposure to your tattoos is to stay out of the sun. However, that is not always possible because you will have to go out for work or you may want to visit the beach.

  • Firstly, wait till your tattoo has completely healed.
  • Next, always cover the tattoo with your clothing. Wear a full-sleeved shirt or full-legged trousers. However, make sure they are loose-fitting. You do not want any item of clothing sticking too much to your tattoos, even if it is on your back, chest, or any other part of your body.
  • If you sweat, the wet clothes will stick to the surface, increasing the chances of infection.
  • You can also use sunscreen to reduce the impact of sun rays on the tattoos. If you are out in the sun for quite some time, then make sure you reapply the sunscreen.
  • You can also carry an umbrella or wear a wide-brimmed hat to prevent your tattoos from sun exposure while on vacation.

If your tattoo gets exposed to the sun accidentally for an extended period because you were somehow unprepared, apply an ice pack on the tattoo as soon as you come indoors. Keep the ice pack on the tattoo and wait for the redness and irritation to cool down.

Avoid using commercial, over-counter-ointments on the tattoo as you do not know how it will react with the pigments. If the problem persists, you should see a doctor.


You must avoid exposing your tattoo to the sun as much as you can, yet it might only be practically possible sometimes. You can take all the necessary precautions and then learn how to fix the damage due to the exposure.

After all, getting a tattoo can be expensive, depending on the design, size, and intricacies involved. It will also become a part of who you are, so taking care of it is essential if you want your body to look good.

Follow all the instructions your tattoo artist gives about tattoo after-care, which is sure to include precautions against sun exposure. Age and body acids will eventually take a toll on your tattoo, but that will be a long time if you can take care of your tattoo adequately before that happens.

About Author

Jonathan Corby "Jonny" is a guy who is passionate about Tattooing and successfully running a Tattoo Studio in NY. Through my journey as a Tattoo Artist I have made unforgettable memories. This irrational poetry and sense of freedom of art on skin has given a blissfull experience to my life. Each Tattoo has a story behind it; Lets share one!