In the weeks after getting a tattoo, protection is top of mind. You’re washing it regularly and keeping it hydrated, soothed, and moisturized. Once you’re past those initial few weeks, though, the dedication to protection shouldn’t stop. Although the skin is healed, it’s still susceptible to fading from the sun.
“Sun exposure can have a huge impact on tattoos,” says Syd Smith, a tattoo artist in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause fading, discoloration, and even damage to the ink, causing the tattoo to blur or smudge. Additionally, UV radiation from the sun can cause the skin to age prematurely, which can also affect the appearance of the tattoo over time.”
When your tattoo is fresh, you should be keeping it away from UV rays completely—staying out of the sun and covering it with clothing whenever you step outside. “This allows the skin to heal properly and reduces the risk of infection,” says Smith. Mikhail Andersson, a tattoo artist in New York City, recommends using an Under Armor Sleeve ($15) if you get a tattoo on your arm or leg.
Depending on your tattoo and how your skin heals, Smith says you can start applying sunscreen after at least two weeks. “Before using sunscreen, it’s important to consult with your tattoo artist to make sure that the tattoo is fully healed and that the sunscreen won’t cause any bad reactions,” she says.
When that time comes, sunscreen is a must to keep it looking its best. “I’ve had an experience where I was in the sun with no sunscreen with a tattoo that was a month old that faded about 40 percent in a week,” says Andersson. “UV light works like a laser and the stronger the light and the thinner the top layer of the skin is tattooed, the faster the tattoo can fade.”
If you want to get tattoo-specific sunscreen, both Andresson and Smith recommend the Mad Rabbit Defend Tattoo Sunscreen ($27).
“I have been using the Mad Rabbit SPF on my tattoos,” says Smith. “It’s made specifically for tattoos and provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, which is important for protecting tattoos from sun damage.” It uses zinc oxide to protect against UV rays along with potent antioxidants like vitamin C, carrot extract, and rosehip oil to keep skin strong and protected from environmental damage.
If you want one with more protection, Andersson says any sunscreen lotion (NOT spray) with SPF 50 or higher will do. The La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt In Milk Body & Face Sunscreen SPF 60 ($26) is a great option.
Once you’ve got a sunscreen you love, apply it every day—not just when you’re headed to the beach. In addition to protecting your ink from the sun, it will keep your skin moisturized. “If you’re going to get tattoos, you’re playing the long game,” says Smith. “Just because a tattoo is now healed doesn’t mean it’s immune to sun damage.”
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