So, When Can I Expose My Tattoo to the Sun?

When Can I Expose My Tattoo to the Sun
Credit: Sarah Harvey / Model: Liam Bannon

So you’ve landed on a design you love, found a studio and artist you trust, endured the discomfort of application, and carefully tended to the healing process to avoid infection. Congratulations! That gorgeous new design is yours for life. But, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind if you want to keep a tattoo in mint condition, especially in the first few weeks after you’ve left the studio. One major consideration is sun exposure.

Shun the sun while a tattoo is still healing

If you find yourself asking ‘when can I expose my tattoo to the sun?’, or ‘how important is sunscreen to tattoos?’, read on. “Tattoos take approximately three to four weeks to fully heal,” says Dr. Neil Tanna, MD, associate program director of plastic surgery and professor of surgery at Northwell Health. Even if you’re slathering on your SPF 50, those three to four weeks still stand. “Until the healing process is completed, tattoos should not be exposed to the sun, even if sunscreen is applied.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t soak up some vitamin D eventually, however. After a couple weeks of keeping a fresh design fully concealed from the sun, Prairie Koo, director and owner of Toronto based tattoo studio Ink & Water says that “when you are tanning, definitely apply sunscreen.” Yet, even with a coat, any UV exposure can alter the depth and quality of ink designs because the sun “changes the pigmentation and can alter the look of the tattoo. But, sunscreen helps a lot.” Koo also suggests checking out this helpful guide on smart precautions about how those warm rays can impact body art (along with other ink-related considerations). 

The best kinds of sunscreen for new tattoos

Even after a tattoo has successfully healed, SPF is non-negotiable if you want to maintain the quality of your ink. “Newly healed skin contains less melanin pigment and is therefore more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation,” Tanna says. “As a result, proper sun protection is essential for recent tattoos.” Designs that are still healing and newly healed need to be treated properly in terms of sun exposure, because the “pigment has not fully set,” Tanna explains.

On recent tattoos, Tanna recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and to opt for gentler sunscreen formulations. “To protect the newly healed skin, sunscreen with potential allergens and irritants, such as benzophenone, cinnamates, and fragrances, should be avoided,” Tanna says. “Sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is fine, however.” 

Months and years later, tattooed skin may indeed be more susceptible to alterations in hues when exposed to UV rays. “Sun exposure will always accelerate the fading of a tattoo,” Tanna explains, so to avoid discoloration, stay on top of your SPF routine all year round.

If you liked our post, “When Can I Expose My Tattoo to the Sun?”, check out Can You Put Sunscreen on a New Tattoo?

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