Tattoo Sunburn - a real threat

Tattoos are at risk when exposed to sun. Learn more about how sunburn can affect your tattoo

There is no better place to show your tattoos than on the beach. 

And you can also get inspired by other people’s tattoos and sometimes it is also a great conversation starter while sitting close to each other on a surfboard waiting for the next suitable wave to come in. 

Yet the combination of sun and saltwater can reduce the color quality of your tattoo and sunburn on tattoos are particularly dangerous. 

Sunburn on an old tattoo

During summer, more and more people flock to the beach. Besides, many inked people love outdoor activities like riding motorcycles, hiking, and skateboarding. 

Sunburn can extremely damage skin, cause skin cancer in the long run and severe burns and peeling off the skin in the short run. While you always lose skin as a natural function so the upper layer of your skin can renew, sunburn increases this process and damages the lower layers of skin as well. In severe cases, the skin areas exposed to the sun can still be seen years after such a sunburn has happened. 

Strong sun exposure on a tattoo will also change the color of the ink over the long run. In combination with salt water, the color of your tattoo can fade out over several years. On one hand, more skin will peel off and deeper skin tissues will be affected. Skin tissues that carry the tattoo ink. The sun itself can also directly change the color of your tattoo. 

One important note on skin color: If you have light skin tone, you are more likely to get sunburn. Don’t let a dark tattoo fool you, though! The dark ink attracts sunlight and the light skin layers above often absorb less of the harmful UVA and UVB light than your skin without tattoos.

Sunburn on a new tattoo

A new tattoo damages skin layers and creates tiny blood vessels to open. Basically, you have an open wound in the size of the tattoo on your skin – one of your body’s most important organs. 

With proper care, the different layers of your skin will heal and maintain small encapsulated ink drops that give your tattoo the color. 

This healing process takes several weeks and a sunburn during that process can not only delay the healing process but cause serious damage. Make sure you limit the exposure to direct sunlight of the tattoo spot to the absolute minimum. 

A sunburn can lead to the following consequences:

  • Blistering of the skin. Skin that is exposed to sunlight can quickly form blisters. This is in itself bad, but you should make sure that sunlight will not cause any blisters. It sometimes happens that a new tattoo will have a local bacteria or virus infection that itself leads to blisters. If you can count out that this comes from the sun, doctors might be faster to find the real threat here. 
  • Irritation. Your skin is already irritated due to the tattooing process. You can often spot redish color, but the ink will make it often more difficult to spot the irritation. Sunburn strongly aggravates this.  
  • Colorloss. This is the least of your health problem, but sunburn on a new tattoo often also leads to the tattoo losing its saturation.
  • Delayed healing. The sunburn will delay the healing of the tattoo and can even lead to further infections and issues. 

Preventing sunburn

For new tattoos there is exactly one advise we can give you: do not expose your newly inked skin to direct sunshine for at least 4 weeks! 

In terms of your old tattoos the best way to prevent sunburn on tattoos is clearly to stay only limited amount of time exposed to sunlight. You should apply high quality sunscreen to your skin, no matter if tattooed or not. Inked skin needs special care however! Have a look at this list of best sunscreens for tattoos. In any case, make sure your sunscreen is of high quality and you keep applying sunblock every hour or two to keep it effective. Saltwater can quickly wash sunscreen away – so surfers should use water-resistant sunscreen and slowly adjust to the strong sunshine over a period of weeks. That is often longer than the normal holidays. 

You should not use self tanning productions on your inked skin. These products often have strong chemical compounds that will damage your skin and might also damage your tattoo and change the tattoo color and saturation in a bad way. 

What you do when you have a sunburn on a tattoo

If you got a severe sunburn on a new tattoo, better immediately consult with a doctor and your tattoo artist. You might cool the sunburned area down / just be especially careful not to expose the skin to any potential threat from bacteria or virus. You might also not want to expose the tattoo to lots of water and soap in this phase. An alternative is to use a clean towel and warp ice in it that you can apply for a short time as a first aid measure. 

For sunburns on old tattoos you might immediately apply skincare products that help alleviate the skin irritation and cool this area down. A cold wet towel or even ice-cubes in a towel will do wonders. Just make sure that the ice or cold water is from a clean source and use a fresh towel. Hint: in this case, UV light can help kill bacteria and disinfect a towel (but don’t use this on your skin). 

You can also take a shower in cold water to clean your skin. Again, you should not do that if you know that the local water is not very good. Also mind not to rub yourself dry after the shower. Use your towel suavemente

Finally, after the skin was properly cooled down for 5 to 20 minutes, you can apply some aloe vera. 

Make sure to keep yourself well hydrated by drinking a lot of water and keep cooling the sunburned skin down periodically. 

Painkillers can help you alleviate the pain of peeling and itchy skin but medication sometimes also has a direct effect on the way we absorb sunlight. 

What is your sunburn tattoo experience?

Juan Carlos, a friend of mine and avid surfer: My tattoos have changed. I spend a lot of money and time to get the coldesigns I want, but ti has changed since then. I can only guess that the exposure to sun and sea was responsible for that. Never heard an infection and love my life outdoors at the beach but it is shitty that the tattoos are just not as before. I should book another session to renew some of the ink.

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