If you’re a regular sun seeker, you no doubt know how important it is to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Having too little sun protection can lead to sunburn, skin damage, and even skin cancer.

Without proper protection, the sun can do some serious damage to your tattoos, too.

Read on to learn more about why sunscreen is important for keeping your body ink looking good and the best types of sunscreen to use.

The sun emits two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, UVA and UVB. They do different things to your skin and can damage tattoos in different ways.

Sunscreen can prevent UVA and UVB rays from damaging your skin and affecting the appearance of your tattoo.

UVA rays

UVA rays tend to penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays, causing more long-lasting damage. These rays can cause skin to age prematurely, leading to wrinkles and sagging over tattooed areas.

UVA rays can also fade many types of tattoo inks. According to tattoo experts, lighter-colored inks tend to fade faster than darker inks. White and pastel inks fade fastest of all. But even black and gray inks can fade over time if not protected.

UVB rays

UVB rays are primarily responsible for causing damage to the very top layers of skin. UVB rays are most responsible for causing sunburn.

Sunburned skin can do a lot of damage to tattoos, especially if your tattoo is new.

New tattoos are essentially open wounds that shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight until they’re healed. New tattoos that get sunburned may take longer to heal. They may itch and blister.

Even sunburns on old tattoos can cause lasting damage. Chronic UVB exposure and sunburns may damage the appearance of tattoos over time.

If you have a new tattoo, you can’t apply sunscreen to it until it’s fully healed. Instead, cover your tattoo with loose clothing to avoid exposing it to direct sunlight.

Remember, new tattoos are open wounds. Sunscreens contain chemicals and minerals. These substances can irritate your skin.

If you have a healed tattoo, it’s safe to apply sunscreen.

According to tattoo experts, sunscreens that are advertised and marketed as being specifically formulated for tattoos won’t protect your tattoo better than regular sunscreens.

Sunscreens that are marketed for tattoos usually contain all the same ingredients as regular sunscreens. They’re just often sold at a higher price point.

If you don’t need to purchase a sunscreen specifically formulated for tattoos, then what should you look for when buying sunscreen to protect your ink?

Cream, oil, or spray?

A cream-type sunscreen is often a good choice since you can see where you’re applying it.

Other types of sunscreens, such as sprays, powders, and oils, are often not as easy to see on your skin. This means you might miss a spot when applying them to your tattoo. That can lead to burns and other kinds of skin damage.

However, use whatever sunscreen you like the most. Any type of sunscreen and sun protection is better than none.

Opt for water-resistant sunscreen if you plan on swimming while you’re outdoors.


SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measure of how strongly a sunscreen blocks the sun’s UV rays from penetrating your skin.

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for covering your tattoos and the rest of your body. If your skin is more sensitive to the sun, choose an SPF of 50 or more to make sure you keep burns at bay.

When buying sunscreen, look for those labeled “broad spectrum.” This means a sunscreen contains ingredients that protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Safe ingredients

Sunscreen ingredients deemed safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include:

  • zinc oxide
  • titanium dioxide (in cream)

Mineral sunscreens are very effective at protecting tattoos. Currently they’re thought of as safer for you and the environment when compared to chemical sunscreens.

Ingredients that may be less safe

Scientists now know that some sunscreen ingredients can be toxic to the environment. Some research also suggests certain sunscreen ingredients may increase the risk of some skin problems.

Ingredients that may be harmful to the environment, particularly coral reefs and aquatic life, include:

  • oxybenzone (banned in Hawaii)
  • octinoxate (banned in Hawaii; Key West, Florida; and Palau)

A recent study found that some sunscreen ingredients, like oxybenzone, can be absorbed into the bloodstream beyond the threshold approved by the FDA. Further studies are needed to determine if this can affect your health in any way.

Another ingredient to watch out for is para-aminobenzoic acid, also known as PABA. Banned in Australia and Canada, PABA may increase the risk of allergic dermatitis. PABA can also increase the skin’s photosensitivity. A study on animals also showed certain levels of toxicity with this ingredient.

If you plan on being in the sun, apply sunscreen 15 minutes before heading outside.

Reapply at least every two hours. Apply more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating heavily.

If your tattoo gets burned, follow these steps:

  1. Apply a cool compress to the burned area.
  2. Next, apply a soothing hypoallergenic moisturizer over the burned area.
  3. Drink lots of fluids and monitor your sunburned skin.
  4. Get medical attention if you have a fever, notice swelling around your tattoo, or feel waves of heat and cold. These could be signs of an infection.
  5. Once your tattoo has healed from a burn, you can determine if it needs touchups from your tattoo artist.

Follow these other lifestyle tips to keep your tattoo looking and feeling its best:

  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. They may fade tattoos and can lead to skin cancer. Tanning beds and sunlamps emit very concentrated light that could cause a painful reaction on tattooed skin.
  • Limit your time in the sun whenever possible. The sun is at its strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Try to limit the amount of time you spend in the sun during this time of the day if you can, or take extra precautions to protect your skin.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing over tattoos when outdoors. This is especially the case if you have a new tattoo, or if you have sensitive skin and need extra protection.

The best way to prevent burns, fading, wrinkles, and other damage to your tattoo is to protect yourself from the sun in the first place.

Using sunscreen can help keep your body ink looking its best. Sunscreen can also prevent sun damage and skin infections that can fade or damage your tattoo.