How To Tan With Tattoos Safely - A Comprehensive Guide

Written by: Claudia

While UV rays are the number one enemy of new and old tattoos, it’s natural to want to get a bit bronzed and get your fill of vitamin D. You may be wondering: are there ways to tan safely? Can I tan after getting a tattoo? How can I keep my tattoo protected? And is it worth the risk? We cover all these questions and more in this guide.

Related: Can you Get A Tatto With Self Tanner On?

How Long After Getting a Tattoo Can You Tan?

Your new tattoo is an open wound, and your skin is working to regenerate itself and heal the area. Tanning on an open wound can not only extend the healing time but could lead to severe burns which cause scarring and permanent tattoo distortion.

Tattoos take around one month to fully heal, and may still experience milk scabbing after this point. The skin might still be hypersensitive, and when exposed to UV rays, may cause a stinging sensation. Take this as a warning sign that your skin should be removed from sun exposure immediately as your newly regenerated skin will burn much more quickly than skin that has been given more months to heal.

We do not recommend UV rays exposure with the intent to tan until at least one to two months after a new tattoo, but there are ways to protect it if you intend to tan before that.

Can You Put Sunscreen On a New Tattoo?

As with everything else when it comes to new tattoos, there are a few rules for sunscreen too. Because you need to be extra cautious about what you put on your tattoo when it is healing, the ingredients found in common sunscreen make it rather unsafe for usage on an open wound. Most contain harsh chemicals that will further irritate or even burn a new tattoo.

Here at Tattoo Set, we are very picky about what we put on our tattoos and we want you to be careful, as well. It’s for that reason that we put together our list of the Best Sunscreen For Tattoos: Top 6 Choices Reviewed, and one of them is safe enough to use after your tattoo has stopped weeping.

Since you cannot put sunscreen on a brand new tattoo until around two to three weeks, it is better to avoid sun exposure entirely until it has healed. Without a barrier of protection against UVA and UVB rays, your tattoo is vulnerable and susceptible to severe damage caused by the sun.

For more information on safely using sunscreen on a new tattoo, check out our article Can I Put Sunscreen On My New Tattoo? - Sunblock Safety Tips For Fresh Ink.

Tattoos and Fading in the Sun

Tattoo fading is natural and will happen over time, regardless of whether or not your tattoo is exposed to sun. The problem is that UV rays accelerate the fading process.

The easiest way to visualize this is to compare it to a laser tattoo removal system. A laser tattoo removal system is a highly concentrated UV ray that shoots your tattoo in small but rapid bursts, breaking the ink apart so it can be absorbed by your bloodstream. When you sit out in the sun and tan, the UV rays do something similar to your tattoo, slowly breaking the ink apart so it is absorbed by your body and fades away.

Sun is attracted to dark colors, so it will look for the first abnormality on skin. If you don’t have moles or freckles, your tattoo is certainly the darkest pigment to get the attention of UV rays. Sun unfortunately causes light and bright colors to fade the quickest, while often causing feathering in darker pigments. Feathering means the pigment looks less sharp and may appear blurry over time.

Sun Tanning Beds

Tanning beds are more concentrated UV environments, where a tanning session of 12 minutes can be comparable to three hours in the sun. Tanning beds are no less dangerous for the fading of your tattoos, and can also cause new tattoos to burn.

Have a look at our thorough article, Do Tanning Beds Fade Tattoos? - How To Get Bronzed Without Fading Your Ink.

Tanning With Tattoos As Safely As Possible

We are not saying you need to avoid tanning for the rest of your life, but there are certain precautions you should take to make sure you preserve the life of your tattoo while also keeping yourself safe.

Don’t Start Too Soon

If it can be avoided, don’t start tanning a new tattoo until it is at least a few months old. Spending a fortune on a work of art that is meant to last a lifetime and then throwing it away for a bit of time in the sun is such a waste! You also don’t want to risk a premature burn on your newly healed skin that may cause permanent issues down the line.

Lather On The Sunscreen

If you do plan to go out in the sun, don’t ever do it without sunblock in your back pocket. Even if it's not a sunny day, UV rays can still penetrate through the clouds and impact your tattoo. Sunscreen should become a part of your daily tattoo routine for general skin health as well as for the preservation of your tattoo.

Look for zinc oxide sunscreen, as this acts like a little umbrella over your skin, repelling UV rays. Your SPF should be a minimum of 30, and beware of going over SPF 50. Sunscreens with a greater SPF broad spectrum coverage of 50 tend to introduce chemicals that are bad for your skin and the environment. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours of direct sun exposure, and directly after swimming or excessive perspiration.

Limit Your Exposure

If you are planning a day at the beach, don’t hesitate to bring or rent that umbrella. You should get your vitamin D in small bursts or while making sure that your tattooed skin has a bit more coverage than the rest of you. There are also sun protection sleeves and leg wraps that are a piece of clothing that manage to keep you cool while also helping to preserve the life of your tattoo, should you require them.

Always Moisturize

UVA and UVB rays can be dehydrating to your skin, and general skin and tattoo health should include daily moisturizing. Keeping your skin nourished, hydrated, and helping the elasticity of aging skin can also help combat sun damage. It is also recommended that after sun exposure, you use a nourishing post-sun moisturizer such as aloe vera.

Deal With Sunburn Promptly

A sunburn is nothing to joke about, and it should be taken seriously the minute you recognize it. Sunburns may look harmless but with sensitive skin, it can quickly turn into a third-degree burn. Over tattooed skin, this could lead to infection, scarring, and permanent distortion.

If your skin feels tender, looks excessively red, displays blistering, or is very sore, immediately moisturize it with a nourishing, soothing, and natural product, hydrate yourself with water, and seek out medical attention for tips on healing the area while ensuring your ink is not compromised.

Don’t Risk It

The best way to protect your tattoo from sun damage is to simply not risk it. If you can avoid direct contact with UV rays exposure, or can resist laying down to get nice and bronzed at the tanning salon, you’re not only benefiting your general health but also ensuring the longevity of the art investment on your skin.

Here are some alternatives to tanning:

  • Take vitamin D supplements to ensure you’re getting your sun-happy fill.
  • Spray tanning is a safe way to get bronzed skin, but ensure it is a chemical free formula.
  • There are self-tanner products that allow you to get a natural looking tan from home.

Our Final Thoughts

Some things are not worth gambling, and that’s how we feel when it comes to sun exposure and our expensive tattoos. If you intend to tan with a tattoo, make sure you are taking extra care and precautions, including wearing broad spectrum SPF sunscreen, staying hydrated, limiting your exposure, and keeping an eye out for any signs of concern such as burns and blistering.

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