Yes, It’s True: Sunburn On Tattoos Is Bad, Very Bad!

You read that right, sunburn on tattoos is bad. In fact, it’s one of the worst things that can possibly happen to an unhealed tattoo (it doesn’t mean to say though that old tattoos are exempt). In this article, you’ll learn everything there is to know about tattoo sunburn and what you can do to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

But first, can you get a tattoo whilst sunburnt?

Sunburn on tattoos is bad

Photo by Artem Beliaikin

It’s best not to get a tattoo whilst sunburnt. Depending on how severe the burn is, you may need to wait anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before going under the needle. Your skin will already be quite sore from the sunburn. You’ll only be adding a LOT more soreness if you get a new tattoo.

So, let’s say you’ve got superior pain tolerance and you don’t mind the extra pain a new tattoo is going to give you. Is this a good enough reason for you to continue with your tattoo appointment?

Well, the answer is still no. This is because a tattoo may not heal properly if your skin is in a terrible state. For instance, your skin may reject the ink; this will obviously be a waste of everybody’s time (and your money).

Lastly, even if you really want to get tattooed right there and then, your tattooist may not agree to do so. The truth is that it’s highly unlikely a registered tattooist will waste his time working on someone with a sunburn. The risk of something going wrong just isn’t worth the money.  

Check out this tattoo shop (Blue Magic Pins) in Genk, Belgium. They specifically tell their clients to avoid visiting solariums or tanning booths at least 1-2 weeks before tattooing. They won’t tattoo sunburnt or flaking, peeling skin. Here’s a screenshot taken from their website:

Sunburn on tattoos - dont get a tattoo if you're sunburnt

Here’s what could happen if you get sunburnt on your NEW tattoo

A sunburn is already problematic on its own. But on a new tattoo, the problems pile on top of each other. In no particular order, here are several problems that can arise due to a sun-damaged tattoo:

1. Lose tattoo ink

The sun’s ultraviolet rays can do a lot of damage to the skin. In fact, UV rays are the main culprit behind most skin cancers. Now, the thing with tattoo ink is that it’s highly susceptible to UV rays.

UV rays can penetrate the deeper layers of skin, including the dermis where tattoo ink resides. The sun’s rays can fade old tattoos when exposed over a period of time, but on new tattoos, it will be a disaster.

This is because with unhealed tattoos, the ink wouldn’t have settled yet in the dermis. It will therefore be easier for the UV rays to break down the ink, get it absorbed into the body, and excrete it as waste. So, you’ll end up with a patchy-looking tattoo on your skin.

2. Skin irritation

A healing tattoo is tender on its own. But when it gets sunburnt, the area can easily get irritated, which can lead to all sorts of things like severe itching, bumps and rashes, and even a burning sensation.

3. Tattoo pain

A healing tattoo should be well taken-cared of. If you let it get exposed to the sun and you get sunburnt, then chances are, the pain’s going to be intense. I mean, a sunburn’s already painful enough as it is, but with a healing tattoo, you can expect to multiply the pain by several multiples! So, if you’ve got a relatively low pain threshold, please stay out of the sun.

4. Blistering

Blisters aren’t fun. If you’ve had them, you know a little bit of pressure to the spot can cause intense pain. And when the blister occurs on tattooed skin, you’ve got more than the pain to worry about. It can ruin a perfectly good tattoo. Plus, it can also easily lead to infection if you accidentally pop the blister.

5. Infection

It’s rare for mildly sunburned skin to become infected. But for more severe cases, it can cause the skin to peel off or blister. When this happens, the inner layers of the skin become exposed which increases the risk of infection.

6. Scabbing and peeling

bumpy and raised tattoo of a starfish

A scabbing tattoo (Photo by Amanda from Flickr)

Scabbing and peeling are pretty normal for most people who get sunburn. But when you have a tattoo, it complicates things a bit. I know you’re probably thinking tattoos also scab and peel when it heals, so what’s a bit more scabbing and peeling, right?

Well, in healing tattoos, that would be a dangerous combination. While healing tattoos do scab and peel, it’s important not to pick and pull the skin off prematurely. Otherwise, it can lead to loss of ink.

When you’ve got double the scabbing and peeling, that means you need to double your precautions to ensure your tattoo doesn’t come undone!

The solution to this? Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. You can use any non-perfumed moisturising lotion. Or, if you prefer a more natural solution, you can use coconut oil, cocoa butter, and even essential oils!

Here’s our favourite tattoo moisturising lotion (click on image to buy on Amazon):

after inked vegan tattoo aftercare lotion

7. Scarring

One harmful effect of sunburn on tattoos is the damage it causes to skin. Slight burns usually resolve themselves without any lasting damage. But for more serious sunburns, it can lead to scars.

So, what does it mean for your tattoo(s)?

Well, it will obviously damage your tattoo’s appearance. You’ll have scars on top of your tattoo. You’ll be very fortunate if your skin ever goes back to normal without affecting the ink underneath.

8. Delayed healing

Any of the issues listed above will be enough to delay the tattoo healing process. A perfectly normal and well-cared-for tattoo will heal in just a couple of weeks. But if any complications arise from a sunburn on tattoos, that can push back the healing by a few more days (if you’re lucky) to a few weeks!

And if you’re wondering if sunburns contribute to tattoo fading? Well, the answer is yes. This is especially true for both new and old tattoos. Best stay out of the sun if you want your precious skin art to last forever!  

What happens if you get sunburnt on an OLD tattoo?

While there are fewer things that can go wrong when an old tattoo gets sunburnt, it can still cause damage. The usual things can still occur like skin irritation, blistering, scabbing, peeling and even scarring.

But the most notable thing about sunburns on old tattoos is that it speeds up fading. This means your tattoo is going to look far older than its age. So, you may need to get a tattoo touch-up far sooner than you’d like!

Sunburn on tattoos? What to do if it happens to you

If you, unfortunately, get sunburnt on your tattoo, the first thing you should do is to get out of the sun and let your cool your skin down. You can either take a cold shower, a cold bath, or use a cold compress if you’re burnt in a relatively tiny spot.

*For new tattoos, no bathing but you can shower. If you decide to use a cold compress, put a clean cloth between the compress and the tattoo to avoid infections.

You can then apply non-fragranced moisturising lotions to hydrate the skin. For healing tattoos, don’t smother them by putting on a thick layer of lotion. You can also try applying soothing gel like Aloe Pura’s Organic Aloe Vera Gel.

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This product contains no artificial colours, fragrances and parabens so this may work on both new (as long it’s past the weeping stage) and old tattoos. Aloe Vera has well-known skin healing properties and will help restore dry, damaged, and sunburnt skin. Lastly, this gel also has antioxidants plus vitamins A, C and E.

To help hydrate your skin from the inside, drink plenty of water. Natural fruit juices are fine but do avoid drinking soda and alcohol as these can dry the skin (not good for sunburns).

If you’re in a lot of pain, painkillers may offer some relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil) should help with pain and inflammation.

For severe sunburns, please get it checked out by your GP (not your tattooist). Some complications may arise, and the last thing you want is for your tattoo to get infected.

Proactive ways to protect your tattoo from the sun

Life on earth probably wouldn’t exist without the sun. Our lives revolve around it. But once you get a tattoo, your life’s going to change as you know it.  

You need to be more vigilant every time you go out into the sun – your tattoo’s longevity depends on it. The more exposed your tattoo is to the sun, the faster it’s going to fade.

So, let’s divide this section into two to make the process easier to follow:

Tips to protect a NEW tattoo from the sun

Protecting your brand-new tattoo from the sun should be high up on your priority list. But unfortunately, sunscreens should be avoided for the first few days or so. This is especially important for tattoos that are still weeping or oozing – it’s a sign that the tattoo puncture wounds are still open.

You don’t want anything that can infiltrate the wound and cause an infection. And most sunscreen lotions are anything but gentle. These are often made with harsh chemicals and contains artificial colours and scents.

So, in the meantime while sunscreen is on the do-not-use list, you can do any of the following to protect your ink:

  1. Stay out of the sun and stay in the shade instead
  2. Wear all these three together if you do go out:
    • UV-protective clothing  
    • Wide-brimmed hat
    • Sunglasses with UV protection

Read more information here:

Tips to protect an OLD tattoo from the sun

Fully healed tattoos are much easier to protect than new tattoos. This is because sunscreen is now an option, and you obviously don’t need to ‘baby’ your tattoo as much. You can still do all the tips listed in the previous section, just add sunscreen to the list.

The best sunscreen for tattoos is the broad-spectrum kind which will protect you against both UVA (causes wrinkles and ageing) and UVB (causes redness and sunburns) radiation.

Here are some good sunscreens for your consideration:

picture of banana boat sun comfortuvistat sun cream spf50
Banana Boat Sun Comfort SPF50 SprayAveeno Protect + Hydrate SPF50 LotionUvistat Sun Cream SPF50

Unfortunately, the problem is that most people become complacent with the protection part once the tattoo’s been on their skin for a few months.

It’s easy to say, “Oh look, it’s still there. It’s been exposed to the sun lots of times. Surely, it’s fine to let it go naked this time, too.”

That said, it’s important to protect your tattoo from the sun no matter how old it is. All tattoos will fade eventually, but it will fade much faster if you don’t do anything to protect it from the sun. And if you do happen to get sunburnt on your tattoo, then it can still damage your tattoo, and of course, your skin.


Sunburn on tattoos isn’t something to take lightly. After all, tattoos don’t exactly come cheap (unless, of course, it’s a DIY or stick ‘n poke tattoo). If you spent a lot of money on it, then you want to protect your investment. So, take proactive measures and shield that ink from the sun’s harmful rays!

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