This is actually a very good question, and a bit of a tricky one, too—because the answer is yes, and no.
If we’re talking about a new tattoo, then the answer is absolutely NO to sunscreen. Until your tattoo is fully healed, you cannot apply any type of sunscreen, and it’s really best to just avoid exposing the area to any direct sunlight whatsoever. If you plan to be outside in the sun with a new tattoo, then your best and safest protection is to keep the area covered with loose clothing.
When is it Safe to Use Sunscreen on my Tattoo?
Bare minimum, for at least the first 10-14 days, you have got to stay in the shade, or keep your new tattoo well under cover during any exposure to direct sunlight. In fact, some professional tattoo artists actually recommend you should keep your tattoo covered for up to three months to insure it’s fully healed. Talk to your tattoo artist for their professional advice on how long you should wait.
Now, let’s talk post-healing time. After the recommended waiting period to insure the tattoo is fully healed, then a good quality sunscreen should definitely be applied to protect your tattoo when heading outdoors for any fun and sun time.
Sun safety is a serious matter. Whether you are tattooed or not, but all the more so, if you are tattooed, you’ve got to be smart about protection. It’s no secret by now that unprotected sun exposure can do some serious damage to your skin. Beyond the obvious danger of sunburn, over the longer term there’s also risk of premature aging and even skin cancer.
Best Type of Sunscreen to Use on Your Tattoo
So, now that we’re all in agreement that a well-healed tattoo needs sunscreen protection, you may be wondering what kind of sunscreen you should use on your tattoo?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF of at least 30 for optimal sun protection—and it should be a broad spectrum product that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA and UVB rays actually harm the skin in different ways and both can cause some serious damage to tattoos.
UVB rays (a.k.a. burning rays) are largely responsible for damage done to the top layers of skin. These are the rays that cause a good old fashioned sunburn. Sun exposure can cause your tattoo to start fading much more quickly that it normally would. Even on a tattoo that’s like an old friend by now, a sunburn can cause some lasting harm.
UVA rays (a.k.a. aging rays) can penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays which in turn means they can cause long-lasting damage. Exposure to UVA rays can lead to premature aging of the skin, resulting in wrinkles and sagging, which definitely would not bode well for your tattoo.
If you’re wondering whether it matters if you choose a cream, spray or oil, the answer is really no. However, keep in mind that it is harder to control the coverage using a spray, and oils can make it harder to see exactly where it was applied. So, anything will do the job, but a cream sunscreen may be an overall top choice to insure full coverage and protection of the tattoo. But if you’re partial to one over another, any sun protection is better than none!
Also important when choosing your sunscreen is to find a product that’s water-resistant. If you plan on being in the water, or even just sweating, you’ll want something that’s not going to just drip right off when it gets wet. Even when you are using the water-resistant stuff, it’s essential to reapply every 2-3 hrs to insure you are keeping your tattoo—along with the rest of your skin— well protected.
Every tattoo will fade over time, some colors fade more quickly or more dramatically than others, and it’s impossible to avoid any fading to happen. But there’s no question that the best way to prevent burns, fading, wrinkles, and other damage to your tattoo is to be proactive and protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
About the author: Yaffa Baslaw (@yadeinu) is a Freelance Writer with over a decade of experience copywriting and blogging compelling content. She has written for more than 20 companies in the fields of healthcare, skincare, and retail.