The Dos & Don'ts Of Putting Sunscreen On A Tattoo

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Getting a tattoo during the summer isn't impossible — it's just complicated. Any professional will tell you that the key to healing freshly-inked body art is keeping it out of the sun, at least for the first few weeks. But what if you have a beach holiday planned just days after your tattoo appointment and don't want to cancel either? What do you do?
Here's the thing: If you want your tattoo to heal properly and actually last forever, it's best to keep it out of the sun while it's healing. Dermatologist Robert Finney, MD, explains that the skin barrier is compromised after getting a tattoo, so it can't protect itself against sun damage, which can lead to many issues. "Direct sun exposure on traumatised skin can increase the risk of improper healing, odd pigmentation, and fading or uneven ink," he says. "If you care about the longevity of your tattoo, keep it covered up and away from the sun until it's fully healed."
What's more, putting sunscreen on a fresh tattoo could potentially cause an allergic reaction or irritation, says Dr. Finney. "[Tattoos] are open wounds and should not be exposed to anything topical other than the ointments suggested by your artist," Mike Rubendall, tattoo artist and founder of Kings Avenue Tattoo, adds. Bottom line: The only products that should touch your tattoo will be on the list of aftercare instructions provided by your tattoo artist — and are unlikely to include a sunscreen.
Luckily, keeping covered in the sun isn't as difficult as you might expect. Rash guards and long-sleeve swimsuits are perfect ways to hide your skin from the sun and prevent uncomfortable chafing. While sitting underneath an umbrella is always an option, opting for a new bathing suit sounds a whole lot better — and it's on-trend for the summer season, too. As for tats on the legs, hips, and feet, board shorts and swim shoes are your new best friends.
It's only after your tattoo is healed (about four weeks later, after the peeling stage is over) is it time to put on the sunscreen. "The sun can and will accelerate the ageing process immensely causing your tattoos to fade and lose clarity," says Rubendall. "Sunscreen is an easy and effective way to prevent this from happening." The only question left: What's the right sunscreen for your tattoo?
Ahead, seven tattoo-friendly sunscreens you'll need this summer.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.