Don't Fade Away: Protect Your Tattoos This Summer

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Sunbathing is risky — you know that. But, take in some rays when you’ve got a tattoo and you’re just asking for trouble. Namely, dull ink.
Here's why: Your tattoo resides in a middle layer of skin, called the dermoepidermal junction. When you get a tan, it’s because melanin is secreted into the top layer of skin, the epidermis. Because the epidermis lies above the dermoepidermal junction, this UV-triggered melanin can make an otherwise brightly colored tattoo look muddy and dull. Probably not what you were going for when you got your ink.
To help prevent this look — as well as, you know, cancer — broad-spectrum sunscreen is a must. However, to really keep your tattoo super bright, there’s another type of skin-care ingredient you can add to your routine: tyrosinase and melanocyte inhibitors.
Tyrosinase is an enzyme in your body that, when exposed to UV light, ultimately triggers the melanocyte cells responsible for producing skin pigment, melanin. So, tyrosinase and melanocyte inhibitors, like hydroquinone, kojic acid, and licorice extract — the very ingredients you may be using to treat hyperpigmentation — actually block melanin production. So, SPF the hell out of your tattoos when you are in the sun, and then apply one of those like a spot treatment at night to prevent that murky look.
Luckily, there are a number of products on the market containing these melanin-blocking ingredients. Click through to see the most effective brightening ingredients and some of the best products that feature them — your ink will thank you.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ulta.
A controversial and widely misunderstood ingredient — it’s been banned in Texas unless supplied through a pharmacy — this phenol is one of the most effective melanin inhibitors available in skin care.
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Photo: Courtesy of The Body Shop.
Licorice Root & Shiso Extracts
Perfect for smaller tattoos thanks to its cute rollerball applicator, this formula includes two popular, natural melanin-synthesis inhibitors.
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Photo Courtesy of Sephora.
Mulberry & Scutellaria Extracts
This new Clinique serum is an all-around anti-aging product that addresses everything from wrinkles to firmness, but it’s the mulberry and scutellaria (a member of the mint family) in the formula that are known for anti-tyrosinase activity.
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Photo Courtesy of Black Opal.
This chain of amino acids has been shown to inhibit an important tyrosinase-regulating protein. Your “I Heart Mom” tat’s gonna be really jazzed about this one.
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Photo Courtesy of SkinCeuticals.
Kojic Acid & Arbutin
Both of these ingredients — the former a by-product of rice fermentation and the latter a bearberry-derived little cousin of hydroquinone — have been shown in studies over and over that they inhibit the production of melanin.
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