Protecting Your Tattoo From the Sun

John Dietrich

Spring is fast approaching: the days are getting longer, and people are showing more skin. But with the extra sunshine, there’s also a better chance that you’re exposing your tattoo to the sun. In an ideal world, we’d all have golden tans and vivid tattoos. But, the reality is that the more time you spend in the sun, the duller your tattoos become. So should we spend all time indoors, hiding from the sun? No way! There are better ways to maintain the integrity of your tattoo, even after catching some rays! Discover what happens to your ink when you sunbathe, and learn about how to keep your cherished tattoo in its best form!

How the Sun Affects Your Tattoo

The sun affects your tattoo in 2 ways: it alters the color of your tattoo and it blurs the lines of your design. Your skin has 3 major layers, which we’ve detailed in our blog post on tattoo colors. When you get a tattoo, your artist inserts ink into the dermis layer of your skin, where there are also melanocytes. These are light-receptive cells which help protect your body from harmful UV rays. They’re also what causes the darkening of your skin when you spend time in the sun. So let’s say you get a blue tattoo, and then you take two weeks of vacation on the beach, in the sun. During this time, melanocytes release a yellow-brown pigment, called ‘melanin.’ The melanin sits above the tattoo pigment, thus altering the color of your blue tattoo and turning it slightly green.


Photo: Dreamstime
Sun Damaged Tattoo
Photo: Imgur

At the same time, the contours of your tattoo design will start to blur. It turns out that the sun’s UV rays aren’t fully blocked by the layer of melanocytes at the top of the dermis. That means some rays reach the layer of ink molecules, and they break them down. When this happens, the ink molecules are finally small enough for your immune system to break down and process through your liver. And when this happens, you’ll see blurring contours on your tattoo.

You might be wondering what you can do to prevent the sun from damaging your cherished tattoo. Below, we’ve outlined some strategies to keep your design in its best shape when faced with sunshine!

How to Protect Your Tattoo From the Sun

Immediately after getting a tattoo, it’s very important to keep it completely out of direct sunlight. At this stage, sunlight can cause your tattoo to blister, and it can bleach some of the colour out of your design. Generally, professionals advise that you keep your tattoo out of sunlight for 3 to 4 weeks. At this point, your tattoo should be completely healed.

Once your ink has settled and your skin has completely healed, you should continue to take protective measures. Dr. Petrescu from Toronto advises tattoo wearers to “spread 30 SPF sunscreen over the tattooed areas of your skin to keep your design’s colour potency” and freshness. Even when you’re not outside, there are small steps you can take to keep the integrity of your tattoo. Moisturizing your skin regularly is very helpful: spending time in the sun can cause light flaking, which fades your tattoo. Just a thin layer of moisturizer keeps your design in tact without leaching any of the color out. If you’re especially keen on keeping the color and lines of your design in good condition, then you can also think about the placement of your tattoo. If you have your design done in a spot that tends to get very little sun exposure, it will keep its brightness and definition for much longer.

We all enjoy some time in the sun, but when your tattoo is at stake, it never hurts to take some precautionary measures. Many people get touch-ups done on their tattoos over the years. But, keeping your tattoo protected from the sun’s UV rays can prolong time in between touch-ups. Always remember to keep your skin moisturized and to wear SPF 30 sunscreen when you know you’ll be outside for a longer period of time. If you know of any extra tips about protecting your tattoo from the sun, let us know about them in the comment section below!

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