Sometimes we cannot resist slipping into a tanning salon, especially during those winter months where we need a bit more vitamin D or a mood booster. But did you know that tanning beds can actually fade or prematurely age your tattoos? UV rays are not only dangerous to your health; they can also be your tattoo’s number one enemy.
Luckily, there are still ways for you to add some color to your skin that won’t compromise the art you carry.
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How Does UV Light Affect a Tattoo?
The easiest way to understand how UV light affects a tattoo is to consider how laser tattoo removal destroys it. Laser tattoo removal uses an extremely high and concentrated version of UV wavelengths to attack, in light bursts, your tattoo. It’s like the light is basically punching apart your ink and sending the particles into your bloodstream so they can be absorbed and disappear. This is why after a laser tattoo removal session, people often feel as though they have a really extreme sunburn on the area.
UV light from sun exposure or tanning bed exposure does the same thing, but in a less concentrated format. The best analogy would be that the tanning bed is baking your tattoo, changing the intensity of the color, blurring the work, or fading it. Tanning beds, in comparison to external sun exposure, also use more concentrated UVs, making ten minutes in a bed comparable to three hours on the beach.
Along with prematurely aging the tattoo, tanning beds can affect the color of your tattoos, dissipating the brightness, turning bright reds into dull oranges.
What If My Tattoo Is New?
Under no circumstances should a new tattoo ever be exposed to direct UV light, whether artificial or natural. Your skin, while still healing, is susceptible to severe sunburns, to advanced color fading, and to the introduction of bacteria that could be present in tanning salons.
Going to a tanning bed with a new tattoo that hasn’t had at least five or more weeks of healing means the UV rays are not only penetrating the epidermis but going into the dermis as well. This could also cause potential skin health risks, such as blistering, growths, or even skin cancer.
How Long Must I Wait After Getting a New Tattoo?
To be extra safe, it’s always best to wait five to six weeks after a new tattoo before subjecting it to direct UV exposure in a tanning bed. This time may be extended for larger or more detailed tattoos that take longer to heal.
You may feel tempted to risk it at around the three or four week mark, when your skin looks healed enough for sunscreen application. At this point, you are still sensitive and your white blood cells are continuing to reform skin cells, so you put yourself and your tattoo at risk. Burning your skin could lead to permanent scarring and deformed tattoos that cannot be corrected.
Can I Prevent My Tattoo Fading Under a Tanning Bed?
If you absolutely must use a tanning bed, you have two options to help prevent premature aging and fading of your tattoos.
- Wear Sunscreen - While you should always use a broad spectrum SPF over your whole body prior to sun exposure, you should especially take care to lather it onto your tattoos before a tanning session. Always use sunscreen that is SPF 30 or more; our absolute favorite sunscreen for our tattoos is La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Zinc Oxide Sunscreen or you can have a look at our list of the Best Sunscreen For Tattoos.
Beware of what is in your sunscreen: many sunscreens advertised on tattoo or skincare websites contain harmful chemicals. We triple-checked our list to make sure you’re getting the ultimate protection at no risk to you or your tattoos.
- Cover Your Tattoo - It may seem silly but there are protective fabrics that you can use to just cover your tattoo and avoid UV exposure on that spot, even while using a tanning bed. For example, if you have a full sleeve, there are cooling fabrics with UV protection that you can wear over your sleeve to keep it safe and extend the longevity of your art.
There are healthy and safe alternatives to tanning beds that allow you to get some color and not put your ink at risk.
- Spray Tans - After allowing your tattoo a full month or more to heal, spray tans become a completely safe option to get bronzed. You can get a beautiful and natural looking tan without the harmful UV exposure. Many sprays now include moisturizing ingredients which help nourish your skin in the process.
Though a spray tan may make your tattoos look darker upon application, it’s a temporary side effect - unlike the permanent effects of sun damage. Spray tans can last almost two weeks.
- Self Tanner - If a spray tan at a salon makes you nervous, there are numerous self tanner options you can purchase for at-home use. Once again, these products should only be used after your tattoo has fully healed.
Self tanner is usually a cream or a foam that includes the ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which reacts with dead skin cells, causing them to darken upon application. Because it sits on your epidermis, it’s quite easy to scrub away after a few showers, so it requires more frequent application than a spray tan.
It is also always recommended that you continue the moisturizing aspect of your tattoo aftercare days, weeks, months, and even years down the road. This ensures the health and longevity of your piece. If your cream or lotion includes SPF, then you also have the added benefit of UV protection.
Our Final Thoughts
If you decide to use a tanning bed when you have tattoos, then you must be ready for the risks involved. These include premature aging of your tattoos, and the fading or blurring of the art you likely paid quite a bit to put on your body.
There are alternatives for getting a bronzed look that are far safer for you and your tattoos. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, and you should take the necessary precautions to ensure the longevity of your ink.