So, you finally got the tattoo you've always wanted. And what better time to show off your new ink than summertime, right? Unfortunately, while the warmer weather might be encouraging, sunlight isn't great for your tattooed skin.
Before you bear your skin and your art, here's what you need to know about how to protect tattoos from sun.
In the Sun? Think About Your Ink
Although your new tattoo is a meaningful piece of art to you, medically speaking, it's essentially an open wound.
Your tattoo artist uses a needle that punctures the skin and deposits ink inside your dermis, the middle layer of skin. That means your body needs to go through its natural healing cycle to recover from this damage. Your skin might be red, itchy, and sore afterward, and it may even form scabs over your tattoo—make sure not to scratch or pick them!
Since healing skin is more vulnerable to sun damage, you may burn more easily if you expose your tattoo to the sun too soon. As you recover from sunburn, the cells die and the damaged outer skin layer peels away. When it does, it may also take some of your new ink with it.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays can impact your tattoo in other ways, too. The sun's UV rays can degrade the pigments found in tattoo ink and speed up the fading process. Think of this as a weak version of the same process behind laser tattoo removal, a technique that uses powerful pulses of light to break down the ink particles so they can be carried away by the bloodstream.
UV rays can hinder your skin's healing process, causing symptoms like scabbing and dryness. And according to the American Academy of Dermatology, some people develop a sun allergy on their tattooed skin.
All that said, if you treat your skin and ink right, you can keep your art looking fresh and vibrant.
How to Protect Tattoos From Sun
The most important step to protect your tattoo is to allow your skin to heal fully in order to prevent scarring and infections. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should allow two weeks for healing. Still, it can take months for your skin to fully recover.
While your tattoo heals, stay out of the sun. If you do head outside, cover up your ink with sun-protective clothing. Don't apply sunscreen until it's fully healed. It's important to keep a healing wound clean of foreign substances except for those specifically designed to help the healing process. Consider asking your artist if you can apply an antibacterial ointment as the wound heals—they'll instruct you on if, how much, and how often you should use such products.
Your artist will also be able to tell you how long your new tattoo will take to fully heal based on its location and size. Once it has, apply sunscreen regularly to protect the ink and surrounding skin from the sun, preserving your health as well as the definition of the tattoo.
The same rules apply for both tattooed and non-tattooed skin: apply sunscreen 15 minutes before heading out the door and reapply every two hours at a minimum if you're spending the day outside. Dermatologists recommend daily use of a broad-spectrum product with SPF 30 or higher. Try to limit sun exposure in general, sticking to the shade and covering up during prolonged periods in the sun.
The Pros Know Best
Your best bet is to follow the post-care instructions your professional artist gives you on how to protect tattoos from sun. If you notice any changes or reactions in your skin, see your Dermatologist right away. They can answer any medical-oriented questions about your tattoo and provide advice that will keep your skin healthy, so you can showcase your art for years to come.