Can You Put Sunscreen On New Tattoos?

All new tattoos need lots of TLC (that’s tender lovin’ care for ya). Whether you had it done at an upscale tattoo parlour or at your friend’s house, you need to take care of it the right way. That includes protecting it when you go out during the day. So, the question is, is it safe to put sunscreen on new tattoos? Scroll down to find out.

Why is sunscreen so important?

sunscreen is important but don't put it on new tattoos
Photo by Retha Ferguson

The sun doesn’t need to be shining bright for it to do some damage to your skin. It doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy, foggy, or rainy – if the sun’s out, its harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are out, too.

The only sure-fire way to protect yourself – and your brand-new tattoo – from the sun is by staying indoors. But who wants to get cooped up 24/7, right? We all need to go to work/school, buy groceries, take the kids and the dogs to the park, chill out with friends at the beach, and so on.

There are only so many things you can do indoors, while out in the sun, the whole world is literally waiting for you to explore it!

The only problem is you can’t go out for longer than a few hours before getting sunburnt. And if you’ve ever had a sunburn before, you know it’s no fun. Unfortunately, sun-related dangers don’t stop at sunburn, either. In addition to skin damage, you can also potentially get eye damage AND skin cancer. Scary stuff!

Is sunscreen safe on a new tattoo?

dont put sunscreen on new tattoos
Photo by Wendy Wei

Quick answer is no. At least not on brand-new, fresh tattoos. It takes a few days for the needle puncture wounds to close, and for blood, plasma, and ink to stop oozing from the area.

The only thing that should be applied to a weeping tattoo is non-fragranced, antibacterial soap (for cleaning) and healing ointment like Aquaphor (to protect it from the elements). Once it stops weeping, you can put on some moisturising lotion to keep the area soft and supple.

That said, here’s why sunscreen is a big no-no on new, unhealed tattoos:

1. Sunscreens are often made with harsh chemicals

There are ‘gentle’ sunscreens available on the market nowadays. However, these are few and far between (and significantly more expensive, too). The truth is that most sunscreens contain harsh chemicals that can cause allergies and irritations.

According to the US FDA, these are the acceptable active ingredients in sunscreen:

Aminobenzoic acid
Avobenzone
Cinoxate
Dioxybenzone
Homosalate
Meradimate
Octocrylene
Octinoxate
Octisalate
Oxybenzone
Padimate O
Ensulizole
Sulisobenzone
Titanium dioxide
Trolamine salicylate
Zinc oxide

However, research shows that even these FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients can have some harmful side effects. This article highlights these ingredients as being the culprit behind skin irritations and allergies, amongst other adverse effects:

  • Avobenzone
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Paraben preservatives
  • Retinyl palmitate

2. Artificial colours and scents

Plenty of sunscreen manufacturers add artificial colours and scents to their products. They do this to offer a more appealing experience to customers. However, the downside is that these additives can negatively affect your tattoo’s natural healing process.

Choose tattoo aftercare products that are unscented, non-artificially coloured, and as ink-friendly as possible.

3. Thick and sticky consistency

When applying anything to a new tattoo, do it in minimal fashion. This means no overly thick layers to smother the tattoo underneath. It’s important to let the skin breathe so it can heal properly.

This is the same reason why Vaseline (or pure petroleum jelly) shouldn’t be applied to new tattoos. It blocks oxygen from getting to the skin. It also traps whatever germs and bacteria are underneath the ointment – prime spot for a tattoo infection!

That said, sunscreen lotion is naturally thick and sticky in terms of consistency. It’s made this way so the sun’s UV rays can’t get to the skin. However, this is obviously not ideal for your new tattoo.

When can you use sunscreen on a new tattoo?

Once your tattoo is all healed up, you can use whatever sunscreen you like! Now, as to when your tattoo’s going to finally heal, that depends on a lot of factors. For example, the size of the tattoo, the tattooist’s skill, your immune system, your overall health, and how well you followed tattoo aftercare instructions.

Here’s what you can do to protect your tattoo from the harmful rays of the sun:

1. Stay in the shade

Please stay out of the sun, especially from late morning to mid-afternoon (around 11am to 3pm in the UK). Generally, this timeframe is when the sun is at its brightest and most harmful.  

2. Wear UV-protective clothing

If you do need to go out into the hot sun, make sure your clothes (long-sleeve top, trousers/skirts, shoes) offer UV protection.

But how would you know if your clothes are UV-resistant?

Well, you can put your clothes up against the sun. If it doesn’t allow the sunlight through, then it will protect you from the sun. However, if it does let the light in, then best wear it during the night (or stay indoors).

3. Put on a wide-brimmed hat

A person standing in front of a building
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Example of a wide brimmed hat (Photo by Jaunt and Joy)

Aside from being awesome, wide-brim hats also offer physical protection from the sun. It will shade your face, neck, and ears. And depending on the sun’s angle, may even offer full body protection (got to be a super wide brim hat though)!

4. Wear sunglasses with UV protection

Most modern sunglasses offer UV protection. It’s either coated or embedded in the lens. Look for a label that says “100% UV protection.” If you’re not sure whether your sunglasses have this feature, visit an optician so they can check on a photometer.

What kind of sunscreen is best for tattoos?

Sunscreen is available in many different forms, such as lotions, sprays, sticks, creams, and oils. You can choose whatever suits your need and budget. But make sure you read the label as each product comes with their own instructions.  

For best results, choose a product that says ‘broad spectrum’ on the label. It offers protection against the two types of UV radiation:

  • UVA – penetrates deep into the skin and causes aging, wrinkles, and long-term skin damage; and
  • UVB – absorbed by the epidermis and causes redness and sunburns.

Here are some of our favourite broad spectrum sunscreen for tattoos:

(1) Banana Boat Sun Comfort SPF50 Spray

picture of banana boat sun comfort

What I like:

  • Easy application with spray bottle
  • Lightweight so won’t dry out skin
  • Water resistant for up to 80 minutes
  • Great for use in sports and swimming
  • Sand will brush off quite easily

What I don’t like:

  • A bit pricey

(2) Aveeno Protect + Hydrate SPF50 Lotion

What I like:

  • Sweat and water resistant up to 80 minutes
  • This sun cream offers 24-hour hydration
  • Helps reverse skin dehydration
  • Light, non-greasy and fast absorbent

What I don’t like:

  • It’s only intended for use on the face

(3) Sunsense Ultra SPF50+ Sunscreen Roll-on

What I like:

  • Comes in roll-on form so it’s  easy to apply
  • 3-hour water resistance
  • Great for family use
  • Fragrance-free formulation

What I don’t like:

  • Best for use on the body, not really for the face

(4) Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF45

What I like:

  • UVA and UVB protection for up to 80 minutes
  • Lightweight, fast absorbing and non-shiny finish

What I don’t like:

  • Users may experience a slight white cast left on skin
  • Might not be suitable for sensitive skin

I have dark skin, do I still need to apply sunscreen?

Sunscreen use isn’t predicated on skin colour. Everyone needs protection against the sun. While it is true that darker skin offers more protection against UV rays, skin cancer is still a possibility amongst those with coloured skin. So, whatever your skin colour is – and whether or not you’ve got a tattoo – do apply sunscreen or wear UV-protective clothing when you go out during the day.

Conclusion

Putting sunscreen on new tattoos is not a good idea. But it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay indoors whilst your tattoo heals. As you’ve learned in this article, you can still go out into the sun without compromising your tattoo – just make sure it’s well protected!

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