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Tanning with Tattoos: How to do it Safely? – A Definitive Guide

by  Karina -  Last updated on April 20, 2021

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Tattoos tell a story. Sometimes it is a very meaningful and personal story, close to the heart. Sometimes it is the story of a drunken night with friends, other times it is the story of young love. For some people, tattoos are an expression of their creativity, for others, it is an expression of admiration for other people’s creativity.

Whatever the story for its conception, the tattoo then turns your body into a story of your life, especially once you have quite a few. While tattoos aren’t for everyone, if you decided to get your skin permanently inked, there’s no doubt that you want to show it off on your body for other people to see.

And there’s no better time to do it than summer. The weather is warmer and you can finally start shedding those layers of jumpers and woolly socks that helped get you through the long, dark days of winter. It is time for the days of tank tops and shorts and letting your skin soak up that much-needed vitamin D.

But what do you do if you’ve got tattoos? You don’t want them to fade, and you don’t want to damage your skin. What are your options? How do you get that healthy glow without ruining your new tattoo or causing permanent skin damage? Well don’t worry, you’re in the right place.

We’ve got the answers to all of these questions below. But first, let’s take a quick look at the effect of the sun on your skin, and why it can be particularly damaging when you have tattoos.

Effects of the sun on tattoos

We all know how good it feels to lie in the sun and soak up those warm rays. You can feel the sunshine covering your body and it feels like every muscle instantly relaxes. But as you soak up that warm sunny feeling, your skin is soaking up UV rays.

These days we all know that these UV rays from the sun can cause skin cancer. They can also cause your skin to age prematurely and wrinkle. Plus they can cause your skin to look blotchy, dull, or dry. But what is the effect on tattoos?

When the sunlight hits your skin, the UV rays are absorbed and they break up the pigment in the skin. Now, tattoos are generally under two layers of skin. This means that the top layer can work as a filter between the pigment and the sun exposure. But, the UV rays can still cause the tattoos to fade. On new tattoos, the effects of UV rays can be disastrous (we’ll talk about that below).

How different colors are affected?

When you get your tattoo, there are various aspects you’ll consider- where on your body you want to get it, what size it will be, and whether it will be in color or just black. There are different reasons for people getting different options, but here are the effects of sunlight on the different options:

Colored tattoos are more susceptible to fading. This is true over time even if you keep it well-covered, but it is especially true as a reaction to exposure to the sun. Within colored tattoos, the sun will affect different colors differently. The lighter tints are the most vulnerable to fading as a result of sun exposure.

Darker colors and black will hold up better in the sunlight, there is no doubt about it. Sunlight is absorbed by dark colors. This means that they absorb more UV rays and burn more easily. So although the colors might look less faded, the skin is likely to feel more tender after exposure.

Keep your skin hydrated

When you have a new tattoo, keeping your skin well hydrated is essential to keep it in good condition. If your skin becomes dry or flakey, it will have a bad impact on your new tattoo. But remember, hydration doesn’t just happen on the outside. Make sure that you drink lots of water and keep yourself well-hydrated to keep your skin in the best condition.

Now you may be thinking that the ultimate prize for hydration would be to immerse yourself in water entirely, but that’s not entirely the case.

Yes, salt water is good for you, but if you swim in the sea, you’re likely to have parts of you exposed to the sunlight while you are bobbing along ’s also the tricky moment of coming onto shore and drying where your body is very exposed. And if you are thinking about going swimming at a pool indoors instead, don’t. Chlorine isn’t the best for your new tattoo.

In terms of showering, it is best to leave the scorching hot, long relaxing showers until your skin has completely healed. Instead, try to keep it a little shorter and with lukewarm water. It will help give your skin more of a chance to hydrate.

The other key way to keep your skin hydrated is through moisturizing. This is always important for skin care, but it is vital that you get moisturizing as soon as you get out of the sun. Your skin will be feeling tender so you need to prevent it from drying out or peeling. If you have burned your skin, then deal with it immediately. You need to be vigilant with moisturizing and keeping it protected until your skin has fully healed.

SPF

We all have a tendency of underestimating the power of the sun, especially in our quest for the perfect tan, but we really should be wearing a minimum of SPF 30 every day. Think about it, when you’re gardening, or driving with the windows down, or hiking, we are exposing our skin to the sun. It’s not just at the beach or by the pool that we need to be careful. But if you’ve got a tattoo then you need to be more aware and more careful.

When you are using sunscreen, you need to make sure that it is a certified sunscreen, with a minimum of SPF30, and a UV rating of more than 2*. Make sure to re-apply it at least every two hours, and more if you go in the water.

As long as your tattoo is not new, and you are taking the strong precautions that you ought to take for the rest of your skin too, there’s no reason why you can’t work on your tan like normal. However, the issue of new tattoos is a little different. Let’s take a look at how to deal with them in the sun. 

Things to consider with new tattoos

Maybe you’re considering getting a new tattoo, and want to plan how to take care of it afterward. Or maybe you’ve just got a tattoo and are worried about what to do in the sun. Well, the three main things to consider are general care, sun protection, and keeping it hydrated.

First things first, follow the recommended aftercare from your tattooist. You’ve just got a permanent, and unique piece of work inked onto your skin- you don’t want to ruin it by not looking after it.

Second, you should treat your tattoo as if it were an open wound for the first 2-3 weeks. Then for at least the first month, keep it out of all direct sunlight. It needs at least three months until you can start to think of it as similar to other parts of your skin. This could mean that winter might be a better time to get a new tattoo if you haven’t gone for it yet.

Third, as we’ve said for older tattoos, make sure that you keep your skin well-hydrated and well-protected. You could even consider getting a patch of fabric in the right shape and size so that you can keep your tattoo completely protected from the sun.

Fake tans

First things first, don’t use any tanning substances until your new tattoo is fully healed

One option you could go for is to get a fake tan. We would not recommend using a sunbed if you have tattoos, as they have very harmful UV rays that would be as damaging as you staying in the sunlight.

Instead, you might explore getting a professional spray tan, or applying your own tan through a spray or cream. These could look a little different over a new tattoo, so make sure that you check the color first.

If you get a fake tan, it can be worth considering using barrier cream over the tattoo, to keep it protected. Be warned, light tattoos can often go darker with the fake tan, but that is due to the bronzer component of the fake tan, so it will just be temporary.

Conclusion

These are the key components to tanning your skin when you have tattoos. Keep your skin protected via shade, clothing, and a minimum of SPF30 tattoo sunscreen. Make sure to keep your skin well hydrated. If you want the tattoo to be with you for life, keep it looking good by taking care of it well. Follow this guide and you’ll be able to show off your tattoos in all their glory for years to come.  

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