Taking proper care of a new tattoo is vital to ensure the longevity of your new ink. You wouldn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for a custom design to be permanently etched into your skin only for it to fade within a few short years.
Most people are familiar with the tattoo after care steps of washing with mild soap, drying completely, and applying Aquaphor or unscented lotion.
Some of the lesser known rules involve what to do with your tattoo in the sun. If you get a new tattoo the week before a long beach vacation, how do you make sure your tattoo is protected in the sun?
So, can you put sunscreen on a new tattoo? No, you should never put sunscreen on a new tattoo. The chemicals, scents, and additives in sunscreen can damage your tattoo and cause irritation or even infection. Instead, you should protect your tattoo with an article of dark, loose clothing.
Before you make that tattoo appointment during the summer, read this article and consider how the sun may affect your tattoo.
Are you able to put sunscreen on a new tattoo?
No, you should never put sunscreen on a new tattoo.
Sunscreen is a chemical solution filled with additives, perfumes, and sometimes even colors.
Remember that your tattoo is a fresh, open wound. You would never lather sunscreen on top of an open cut, so you wouldn’t do it on a new tattoo.
The chemicals in sunscreen can damage your tattoo by causing redness, irritation, rashes, and even increased itching. Tattoos itch enough while they’re healing – why add to the itching misery?
Part of proper tattoo after care is washing with a mild, unscented soap and moisturizing with a light layer of Aquaphor or unscented lotion.
The key to those products is that they’re all mild and unscented. Sunscreen is neither mild nor unscented.
Sunscreen is also generally thick in consistency, and your tattoo needs air flow for healing.
For all these reasons, you should never apply sunscreen to a new tattoo.
What’s the soonest you can apply sunscreen on a tattoo?
So you know you can’t apply sunscreen on a new tattoo, but how soon can you apply it?
Sunscreen shouldn’t be applied over a tattoo until it’s fully healed.
The time frame for full healing will vary from tattoo to tattoo. It will depend on color, size, placement, and the way your skin takes the ink and heals from the damage.
Good estimated time frames would be 2-4 weeks for a small to medium tattoo, and 4-6 weeks for a larger tattoo.
A small/medium tattoo would be something that fits on your wrist, ankle, or even just the length of your forearm or calf.
A larger tattoo would be a back piece, chest piece, partial or full sleeve, or thigh tattoo that covers most of your thigh.
Although sunscreen shouldn’t be applied until your tattoo is healed, once it does reach the level of full healing, you’ll want to apply sunscreen anytime you go in the sun.
Once a tattoo is fully healed, it needs sunscreen to protect against the UV rays that can cause your ink to fade. Apply SPF 30 sunscreen anytime you’re going in the sun with a fully healed tattoo.
What does sun exposure do to a new tattoo?
The sun emits UV rays, which damage skin regardless of whether you have tattoos or not.
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB rays.
UVA rays can penetrate deeply, causing damage further under the surface layers of the skin. UVB rays damage the surface layers of skin. Combined, they’re both causing damage to the various levels of your skin.
Tattoos are made by pricking the skin with a needle and sinking ink underneath the top two layers of skin.
When tattoos are exposed to direct sunlight, and subsequently UV rays, the ink will fade and the skin will become irritated, red, itchy, and burned.
Tattoos that are completely healed will usually just suffer the normal amount of sunburn that non-tattooed skin would experience, as well as fading in the ink.
Fresh tattoos, however, are open wounds. The sensitive, healing skin will become further damaged by the sun, which leads to the irritation, redness, and itchiness.
Will a sunburn ruin a new tattoo?
Just as sunburned skin becomes itchy and, depending on the severity of the sunburn, gets blistered, tattooed skin will do the same.
If a new tattoo gets sunburned, it will be worse than a regular sunburn. The damage to your open wound will cause blisters that takes your tattoo longer to heal.
Your tattoo will take longer to heal because your body will now have to work on healing the blisters first, then healing the open wound underneath these blisters.
The blisters can also affect your ink. It may cause ink spreading or patchiness in the color.
So yes, a sunburn can ruin a new tattoo. The ink spreading and patchiness will distort the look of your fresh tattoo, and the blisters will cause your new tattoo to take longer to heal.
What are the best ways to cover a new tattoo while at the beach/pool?
The best way to cover your tattoo at the beach or the pool would be to cover it with loose clothing.
During tattoo healing, you don’t want to wear tight clothing. The fabric will rub against the fresh tattoo and can cause irritation.
The same rule applies to the beach or the pool. If you have a fresh tattoo on your body where a swimsuit would cover it up, it’s best not to wear the swimsuit at all. The tight fabric will irritate your tattoo.
Additionally, if you have a fresh tattoo in a different place on your body, like your arm, you wouldn’t want to wear a tight swim shirt to cover it up.
The best method if you’re going to the beach or pool with a fresh tattoo is to wear loose clothing that covers it up.
Of course, it would be even better if you avoided the beach or pool altogether.
You should never go swimming with a fresh tattoo, regardless of the water. Whether it’s the beach, the pool, the lake, all of these water types can lead to infection.
Each of these bodies of water contains their own levels of chemicals, irritants, and bacteria that can soak into your fresh tattoo and cause an infection.
How much does the sun fade tattoos?
Long-term direct sun exposure to a tattoo can cause the ink to fade significantly.
Light inks, such as white or pastel colors, fade much quicker than dark inks such as black or dark colors.
However, in the sun, all ink fades. White ink will fade to the point where you almost can’t tell it’s there to begin with. Dark inks will fade to be a softer, lighter version of the colors they were before.
To help prevent this significant fading to your tattoos, it’s best to apply SPF 30 sunscreen to your healed tattoos.
Remember that you should never apply sunscreen to fresh tattoos, but once they’re healed, you should always wear sunscreen.
Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours.
Why does a tattoo bubble after it’s been in the sun?
If you come back home after a day at the pool or beach and notice your tattoo bubbling, this isn’t from sun exposure; it’s from too much moisture.
Fresh tattoos require washing twice a day, but you need to pat them dry completely before applying your light layer of Aquaphor or unscented lotion.
The key is making sure the tattoo is dry, and keeping your layer of moisturizer very light.
This is because too much moisture can cause bubbling on your tattoo, which will prevent the scabs from healing properly and can lead to ink spreading.
This bubbling is another reason that it’s recommended to avoid beaches, pools, lakes, and other bodies of water with a fresh tattoo.
Soaking your new tattoo in a body of water while swimming can cause too much moisture to soak into the open wound and lead to the bubbling.
This bubbling is often a precursor to a bacterial infection.
If you notice bubbling on your new tattoo, you should consult your tattoo artist and/or a doctor to see if you should begin taking antibiotics.
How can I prevent sun damage to my new tattoo?
The best way to prevent sun damage to your new tattoo is to avoid direct sunlight altogether.
If you live in an area by an ocean or lake, it might be best to wait to get a tattoo until the fall or winter months.
When it’s cold, you’ll naturally bundle up more and your skin will be protected from the sun.