Sunburn On A Tattoo: Treatment And Prevention

Written by: Claudia
Updated:

It’s hard to avoid a frolic in the sun, and who can blame us for wanting to soak in a little bit of vitamin D when we are on the beach? But tattooed skin is even more susceptible to UV ray damage as it attracts ultraviolet light, so what happens when we get a sunburn on tattooed skin? Read on to find out the best treatment and future prevention planning for outdoor days.

Sunburn on a New Tattoo

Not only is this an absolutely painful experience, but getting a sunburn on a new tattoo is a nightmare. A new tattoo is an open wound and it’s extremely vulnerable to UV ray damage and sunburn, making it even more at risk than healthy skin.

A sunburn on a new tattoo could lead to one or more of the following:

Delayed Healing

A sunburn could extend the overall healing of your tattoo rather significantly. A sunburn is another layer of trauma on skin that has already experienced severe trauma.

Blistering

Blistering from sunburns can be extremely worrying. They could burst and lead to further infection or even distort your tattoo permanently. Have a look at our article, Why Do I Have Blisters On My New Tattoo And How Do I Treat Them?

Appearance Issues

Since UV rays can cause pigments to fade, and since sunburn scarring can impact your skin in the long-term, a sunburn on a new tattoo could cause distortion to your fresh ink.

Irritation

New tattoos are very delicate and the area is already vulnerable to irritation; a sunburn could increase the itch and the burn sensation of your wound.

Infection

Since sunburns can heal unpredictably or cause blistering, this could lead to bacteria infiltration or infection of your open wound. Infections, when left untreated, could damage your tattoo or do worse to your overall health.

Sunburn on an Old Tattoo

Sunburn on an old tattoo is more likely than on other parts of untattooed skin. This is because UV rays are drawn to darker colors, so they will be drawn to your tattooed regions which have a different pigment than your skin tone.

A sunburn on a new tattoo is far more worrisome because of how vulnerable the organ is, but a sunburn on an old tattoo should still be approached with caution. Sunburns, like any burn, have three different classes of severity:

  • First Degree Burn - causes swelling and redness of the skin
  • Second Degree Burn - causes blistering which could also lead to permanent skin damage
  • Third Degree Burn - can cause severe scar tissue, thickening the skin and making it leathery and distorted on appearance

What to Do if You Get Sunburn on a Tattoo

If you are noticing signs of sunburn on a new tattoo, you should speak to your tattoo artist immediately. They will be able to assess the damage done to your fresh ink and will be able to give you product suggestions or recommend you to a medical professional if necessary.

For a Mild Burn on Your Tattoo

  • Run cold water over the area that has been sunburned
  • Apply a cold compress to the area
  • Do not pick at or pop any noticeable blistering
  • Use a soothing lotion or ointment on the area, such as Aloe Vera
  • Ask a medical professional if they recommend wrapping the area; if they do, it should be done carefully and in a sterile environment
  • Take a pain reliever to help with the discomfort, but do not take a blood thinner
  • Monitor the healing and stay hydrated

For a Severe Burn on Your Tattoo

For a severe burn on your tattoo, a medical professional should be contacted immediately. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms of a severe burn:

  • Immediate blistering
  • Leathery appearance
  • Color change in your skin tone
  • Fever, chills, or trouble breathing
  • Pus, swelling, and excessive redness

Sunburned tattoos should be treated the same way as all sunburned skin, only keeping in mind that failure to care for the burns properly could lead to the distortion of your tattoo. Sunburns generally take around two weeks to fully heal.

How to Avoid Getting a Sunburn on Your New Tattoo

Since we know that the sun can’t always be avoided, and no one likes to be locked away in darkness when it’s a bright and sunny day, we have other suggestions to help you prevent sunburns on your new tattoo.

  • Stay hydrated
  • After two weeks of healing, apply a sunscreen to your new tattoo and reapply frequently
  • Avoid direct sunlight in the late afternoon and stay in the shade if possible
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing that covers your tattoo or wear UV ray protective clothing
  • Stay out of water, even if your tattoo is not submerged, as the reflective surface increases the chance of UV damage
  • Avoid tanning beds as they are equally as harmful to a new tattoo
  • Bring a beach umbrella or stay situated under a gazebo
  • Plan your tattoo for the winter months, or around an organized vacation so you have less chance of exposure

Our Final Thoughts

The only way to truly protect your new tattoo from sunburn is to be aware of the possibility of sunburn on even the cloudiest days, and to ensure your tattoo is covered by clothing or you are staying in the shade. Since sunscreen should not be used until you’ve had at least two to three weeks of healing, exposure before this time and without that extra shield of protection is super risky.

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