Tattoos And Tanning In The Sun: Good Idea Or Not?

Just like oil and water, tattoos and tanning in the sun will also NOT mix well together. It’s because the sun – or more specifically, its ultraviolet rays – is tattoo ink’s number one enemy.

It’s necessary to protect your precious tattoo at all times. Okay, well, not really at all times, just when the sun’s up… Kidding aside, no tattoo is going to last a lifetime if it’s overexposed to the sun. Scroll down to find out why and if there are alternatives to getting tanned without the mighty sunshine.

Sunlight is special, but…

There’s something special about warm, sunny days. No, it’s not the stay-in-bed-and-watch-Netflix-all-day-long kind of day, it’s the exact opposite! When the sun’s out, it’s like something compels you to head out the door and explore the world!

That said, here are some notable benefits when you get enough (moderate) exposure to sunlight:

  • You get a nice, healthy tan
  • It’s a natural source of vitamin D
  • Helps with bone growth and calcium absorption
  • Heals wounds and various skin conditions
  • Great mood booster
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Helps improve your body’s immune system
  • Improves sleep quality

Of course, too much of a good thing is often bad. And this is exactly the case with too much sunlight – too much exposure to UV rays is dangerous. It’s the number one cause for skin cancer worldwide!

So, while the sun is generally good for you, you’d also need to err on the side of caution. Else, you risk getting sick simply because you chose to spend an inordinate amount of time out in the sun. 

Why can’t the sun play nice with tattoos?

Photo by Taylor Harding 

Tattoos exist because our bodies cannot break down the ink pigment. They’re simply far too large for white blood cells to destroy. So, the body does the next best thing – it traps the ink in the skin, specifically, the dermis layer. Over time, however, some of the ink particles get broken down which eventually leads to tattoo fading.

Now, one of the quickest, natural ways for ink pigment to be broken into small particles is by exposing it to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Not just once or twice, but over a prolonged period of time.

Think of the sun’s UV rays as slowly ‘cooking’ the ink until it finally softens and degrades the pigment, which then gets carried out of the body as waste. Technically, the sun’s UV rays are a less powerful version of a tattoo removal laser machine, which can fade or totally erase tattoos in just a few sessions.

Now, many people think it’s okay to go out ‘unprotected’ when it’s rainy or cloudy, thinking that the sun’s rays can’t get to them at this point simply because the sun is nowhere to be seen! Or, when inside a car or building, they’re safe from the sun’s rays.

Well, the truth is that, generally, if the sunlight can touch your skin, then so can its harmful ultraviolet rays.

So, how can you cover or protect your tattoo from the sun?

This article is about tattoos and tanning in the sun. You already know the health benefits as well as some of the dangers of being overexposed to the sun.

That said, I am sure you don’t want to spend the rest of your life hiding in the shade. Tattoos are special works of art – they’re meant to be seen and appreciated by the world, if you so desire! They’re not there to punish and banish you to darkness and artificial lighting.

That being said, sun tanning is possible even if you have a tattoo. Here’s how you can protect your precious skin art from the sun:

1.   Apply sunscreen lotion

Sunscreen lotions are great for cost-effective whole-body protection. It not only protects the skin from sunburns, it also adds a layer of protection to your ink. To better protect your ink, choose a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection and high SPF (should be at least 30+). Generally, however, the higher the SPF, the more expensive it is, so feel free to weigh your options.

Suggested broad-spectrum, high SPF lotion spray:

picture of banana boat sun comfort

Banana Boat SunComfort SPF 50+

2.   Use a tattoo stick

Tattoo sticks are like handy lip balms. It usually comes in tiny tubes which fit in the tightest pants pockets or the tiniest handbag. The size and high SPF are the main selling points for tattoo sticks.

These sticks are quite pricey though compared to sunscreen lotions. But if you’re looking for something you can carry around for a quick dab throughout the day, this is the right product for you.

Tattoo sticks are best used on cute and tiny tattoos. For large tattoos like half-sleeves and full-sleeves, sunscreen lotion is a more wallet-friendly option for you.

Suggested tattoo stick:

Australian Gold SPF 50+ Tattoo Stick

3.   Wear UV-resistant clothing

Well, obviously, if you’re looking to get tanned in the sun, you wouldn’t want to cover up. But if you’re just looking to have some fun in the sun and not necessarily looking to get tanned, then UV-resistant clothing is the way to go. Out of all the sun-protection options on this list, this is the most cost-effective because you can wash and wear as many times as you like!

Suggested product:

Shinymod Cooling Sun Sleeves

How long after a tattoo can you tan?

It’s better to wait for the tattoo to fully heal. Depending on the size of the tattoo and the tattooist’s skill, it may take anywhere from 3-4 weeks to a couple of months for the skin to heal (inside and out).

Even if the tattoo looks healed on the surface, it may be a different story below the skin. So, it’s best to wait until it’s 100% healed before sitting out in the sun.

Tanning beds and tattoos

If you do use a sun tanning bed without sufficient protection, it may cause irreversible damage to your tattoo. A tanning bed emits a higher concentration of UV rays. So, if your tattoo goes naked on the tanning bed, you’re technically undergoing a tattoo removal session!

So, how to cover your tattoo in a tanning bed?

First, apply sunscreen lotion or tattoo stick on your tattoo. Then cover it with UV-resistant fabric or cloth (like a bandage). That’s dual protection for your ink.

Here’s a more in-depth discussion on this topic:

Can you put sunscreen on a new tattoo?

If by new tattoo you mean one that’s only a few days old, then the answer is no. Absolutely not. With the needle puncture wounds still open, it can only mean one thing – the ink can still get out via its initial entry point.

At this point, sunscreen can do more harm than good. It’s best to just cover up the tattoo with UV-protective clothing when you go out and get some sunshine.

However, the good news is once your tatt is fully healed, you’ll be free to use sunscreen all you like. In fact, you’ll probably be using sunscreen for the rest of your life! Not only to protect your tattoo, but your skin, in general.

Alternative way to get tanned if you’re tattooed

Nowadays, if you want to get tanned, you don’t need to spend hours out in the sun or inside a tanning salon. Sunless tanners do exist; in fact, a tanning lotion is all you need to get tanned! Here’s an example:

use high spf lotion if tanning in the sun

Australian Gold Sun Lotion SPF30 with instant bronzer

How it works is that the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA) reacts with the dead skin cells in the epidermis. This causes the skin to darken and simulate a tan for that all-important sun-kissed look.

Of course, if you’re going to be showing off your tattoo out in the sun, it’s important to choose a self-tanning lotion or spray tan that also offers sun protection (not all tanning lotions offer SPF protection).

If you’re wondering if your spray tan or self-tanning lotion will affect your tattoo, the answer is no. The effect is only temporary and DHA does not go into the dermis layer, so your ink is safe.


Tattoos and tanning in the sun may not be an ideal combo, but all’s not lost. You can still go out there and get tanned – you just need to protect your precious tattoo from the sun’s ultra-harmful UV rays. Your tattoo’s longevity will ultimately depend on how well you protect it from the sun’s reach.

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