As someone intimately familiar with body modification, it’s no wonder you want to know how long after a tattoo can you tan. After all, tattoos spew extra ink, plasma, and gunk out for the first few days of healing. To top it off, once that’s done, it constantly peels and itches as if it received a horrible sunburn. Naturally, tanning seems like a strange thing to combine with a healing tattoo, but I know a few ways to play your cards right. Use this little guide to learn about the hazards of tanning with a tattoo, how to prevent them, and even how to keep your tattoo looking awesome for your entire life! For more general information—including how to heal your tattoo faster—our other guide may work better for you.
Tattoos can fade when exposed to the sun! Make sure you protect your skin and especially your ink when you enjoy the great days outside. Below is our favorite tattoo sunscreen product. Read our full reviews here!
New Tattoos and Sunlight
Can you put sunscreen on a new tattoo? Whenever you deal with any sort of wound—especially large and deep ones like a tattoo—your skin damage prevents any protection from the sun. Your skin exists to block out harmful UV rays and fierce sunlight, so when you take that away, you end up with colossal burns whenever you soak up the sun. With that said, let’s add tanning to the formula. Tanning in the sun causes the exact same sort of damage a sunburn would, except much faster. With tanning booths, it induces the same type of effect in your skin, and poses the same risk.
But wait, that’s not all! Tanning creates unique conditions for your tattoo ink. You know about laser tattoo removal, the miracle treatment that zaps tattoos away, right? Well, it works because high concentrations of light pierce through the skin and break down the ink molecules. At smaller sizes, the immune system disposes of the ink properly, and the tattoo disappears. With sunlight, it uses the exact same type of light—just at lower concentrations. When you remove the only thing protecting your body from a sun burn—your skin—you end up with a very faded tattoo and horrible burn. We provide detailed information on this and other risks during tattoo healing in our full guide.
How to Use a Tanning Bed After a Tattoo
Okay, we know about how light and tattoos interact. So, how long after getting a tattoo can you fake tan? And can you tan with a new tattoo if you cover it? Let’s start with the basics. In order to tan at all, you need proper protection. Two different ways exist to keep your tattoo and body safe during a tan. I go over them both here.
First, directly covering a tattoo with some sort of cloth will keep it perfectly safe. Since not all fabric blocks UVB and UVA, I recommend applying sunscreen to the cloth itself. Make sure none of it goes onto your tattoo, as that would damage your ink and potentially cause illness for you. And yes, I promise putting sunscreen on top of clothing works. Just don’t do it on a regular basis.
The second method involves the use of tattoo-safe tanning lotion or sunscreen product. For tattoo tanning lotions, they provide nutrients for your skin that keep it nice and healthy. It also provides protection from a broad range of light—not just the ones we use to tan. Tattoo sunscreen, on the other hand, uses safe ingredients for consistent use on your tattoo. I recommend covering the area of your tattoo with as much precision as you can muster, unless you like a swath of light skin around your tattoo. Unfortunately, tattoos and suntan lotions never get along at the early stages of tattoo healing.
When Can I Expose my Tattoo to the Sun?
When can I put sunscreen on a new tattoo? Okay, nobody likes covering up their tattoo, but a lady’s gotta tan. So, when can you wear that tattoo with pride? Or, if that wait turns out to be too long, when can you use sunscreen? Your tattoo takes a while to heal, obviously. For the first stage of healing, you need to use special soaps to keep it constantly clean and dry without using too much water or clogging it up. It bleeds, oozes, and generally makes a mess of everything. Tanning during this time instantly ruins your tattoo and hurts like hell. No matter what, wait until after this stage.
During stage two, things slow down and your skin starts healing properly. Congratulations, with skin in place, you can finally tan! Well, if you’re alright with a poorly healed and faded tattoo. The skin barely forms a layer over the tattoo. Light takes a little extra time to burn it, but tanning still treats your skin too harshly. At this point, you already use moisturizers on your skin to keep flaking at bay and itchiness down. Once your skin stops ‘absorbing’ your thin treatments, it contains enough moisture to stand up to tanning. This page goes over some tattoo-safe tanning lotions and sunscreens. Nonetheless, I recommend waiting between six weeks to two months to start tanning.
Tattoo Tanning FAQ
I bet some little questions still haunt your mind, and I will try my best to answer them! If you see a missing question, go ahead and leave us a comment. We respond to all questions very quickly, I promise!
How long after getting a tattoo can you go swimming?
It takes exactly as long as it does to wait for a tan. Your healing tattoo opens your body up to all sorts of germs. With modern medicine and hygienic technology, we sometimes forget that improper care still poses the greatest risk to tattooing.
What happens to tattoos when I get a tan?
Your tattoo invariably fades with tanning. Not dramatically, of course, but enough to notice after a few years. The sun represents the greatest enemy of tattoos, so spending extra time in sunlight (or simulated sunlight) leads to advanced aging. I recommend frequent touch ups to keep it looking nice, or you could simply try some tattoo tanning lotion.
Tattoos and Tanning in Harmony
Ultimately, your tattoo sticks with you for life. Wearing it involves exercising responsibility over your body. The best way to keep your skin safe is to use sunscreen. New tattoo or not, tanning or going pale, your skin benefits greatly from sunscreen. It protects against sunburns, skin cancer, and fading tattoos. Why go without? Anyways, hopefully this helped you learn about the limits of tanning and tattoos. Any responsible person can combine the two harmoniously, as long as you wait a bit after a new tattoo! For more information on tattoo healing, check out our awesome guide on all things tattoo care!