Tattoos & Sunburns: What You Should Know

Tattoos & Sunburns: What You Should Know

Apr 04, 2023 | Bridget Reed

Featured in this article


Sunburn sucks all around. It’s never pleasant to deal with. It can itch, blister, peel, and damage your skin. It’s also one of the leading causes of most types of skin cancer. It’s a well-established fact that sunburns can be dangerous, but many people didn’t get the memo. 

Your health is always more important than your tattoos, but if you have tattoos, you’re probably wondering what’s going to happen if or when they get sunburned. This is what you need to know. 

What Happens if Your Tattoo Gets Sunburn?

Tattoos & Sunburns

It’s not usually a fun experience when your tattoos get sunburnt. The extent of the problem depends on if you have a brand new tattoo or a fully healed tattoo. 

If Your Tattoo Is New

Your tattoo artist likely gave you aftercare instructions that told you to avoid the sun until your tattoo is fully healed. If you follow your aftercare instructions, you are much less likely to get a sunburn on your tattoo. 

Sunburns can damage your skin significantly. If you’ve recently gotten a tattoo, your skin is already damaged. It can take 12 weeks for a tattoo to completely heal, but most of that process takes place during the first four weeks. It can be a big bummer to get a sunburn on your tattoo during the first four weeks.

Sunburns can substantially increase the time your skin will take to fully heal. Sunburns can affect all of the healing progress your body has already made. It can take several additional weeks for your tattoo to heal fully. 

Blistering sunburn can remove the ink from your tattoo, cause scarring, and distort the image. While fixing tattoos that have experience sun damage is possible, it can be a tough job for a tattoo artist. But don’t worry — we have info on how to prevent sunburns later!

If Your Tattoo Is Fully Healed

If your tattoo is fully healed, sunburns can cause fading and minor distortion. If you only get sunburnt one time, the damage will likely be minimal. You might not notice a difference in how your tattoo looks after sunburn heals. 

The damage can be cumulative if you spend a lot of time in the sun without proper protection. The process of fading and distortion can be slow. It can creep up on you. Before you know it, your tattoo can end up gray and patchy. 

What To Do if Your Tattoo Gets a Sunburn

If your tattoo is new and it gets sunburned, you can always call your tattoo artist. It may be a tougher conversation, but they can offer incredible recommendations and suggestions. Your artist is going to find out sooner or later because you may need a touch-up. Being honest from the beginning can support your tattoos for years to come.

Your tattoo artist will tell you what to do. It’s safe to apply aloe and hydrating, protective fragrance-free, dye-free skincare products to both tattoos and sunburn. That will likely be your best option. 

If your tattoo is older, you can treat it just like any other sunburned skin. Sunburn-soothing gels and skincare products can often safely be used over fully healed tattoos. 

Whether your tattoo is old or new, sunburns can hurt. Doctors don’t recommend using numbing products on fresh sunburn, even though many sunburn aftercare products contain numbing ingredients. 

You need to give it a little bit of time to start healing on its own. As your sunburn enters the last phase of the healing process, the skin will begin to peel. You can use a tattoo numbing spray to minimize the itching sensation during the healing process.

How Do I Prevent Sunburns on My Tattoos?

Tattoos & Sunburns

Sunblock is the holy grail of skincare — whether you have tattoos or not. It’s important to wear sunblock every day, even if it isn’t especially sunny outside or if you don’t plan to spend a lot of time outside. 

Most people don’t think to put on sunblock before they get in the car, but it’s still a good idea. The sunlight through your car window will hit your arms and shoulders while you’re driving. It probably won’t cause sunburn, but it can cause damage to your skin.

You don’t need to use fancy or expensive sunblock. Any broad-spectrum SPF 30 or greater is a great start. Economical solutions will work. 

You can even use spray on sunblock if you find that it’s easier for you to use (just stay away from these if your tattoo is brand new). Keep some sunblock in your purse or gym bag for daily touch-ups. Touch-ups are especially important if you go swimming or get sweaty. 

If you don’t want to wear sunblock, you can wear a lightweight shirt with long sleeves. Your sleeves can protect your skin (and your tattoos) from direct sun exposure. As long as the material isn’t completely sheer or similar to mesh, it’s protecting you. 

Final Thoughts on Sunburns and Tattoos

Protecting your tattoo from the sun can keep your skin healthy, and we know a few things about healthy tattoos. 

Sunburn is almost always completely preventable unless you’re an island castaway. It only takes a few minutes to protect your tattoo from the sun. In some cases, it’s as simple as choosing to wear a different shirt or choosing long pants over shorts. 

If your new tattoo gets sunburned, things are going to be rough. Your tattoo artist might have some solutions, but expect them to be upset with you. They may tell you you should have followed aftercare instructions, and it’s hard to argue with someone when they’re right. 


Sunburn & Your Skin The Facts. The Risks. What You Can Do. | Skin Cancer Foundation

What to wear to protect your skin from the sun | American Academy of Dermatology Association

Photoaging (Sun Damage) > Fact Sheets | Yale Medicine

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