Protecting Your Ink: How to Keep Tattooed Skin Safe From the Sun

Protecting Your Ink: How to Keep Tattooed Skin Safe From the Sun(Source: Thinkstock; Art by Tanya Leigh Washington)Whether you're one of the millions who have already gone under the needle or you're still toying around with the idea, as any body art fan will tell you, caring for your tattoo is an absolute must. With the summer sun's UV rays glaring down upon us, it's imperative that you care for your ink just as you would the rest of your skin. We've consulted doctors David Colbert and Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group, and Simone Magnotti, manager of New York Adorned in New York City, to offer you the complete guide to sun protection for tattooed skin. 

Does tattooed skin need more or different attention than non-tattooed skin? 
According to Dr. Colbert and Dr. Weiser, tattooed skin does not necessarily need more sun protection because tattoos themselves do not increase risk of skin cancer. However, as we all know, skin (including that with ink) should always be protected against the sun's rays. Those with fresh ink should definitely pay closer attention to sun protection, according to Magnotti. "On newly tattooed skin, though, there is no question that sun exposure must be avoided to allow for proper and complete healing," she says.

What is the minimum SPF required to protect tattooed skin?
You might already know SPF 30 or higher is the standard for all skin. But as Dr. Colbert reminds us, SPF should be reapplied every two hours for best defense against the sun. As for which particular ingredients to seek out in sunscreen, Magnotti consulted aesthetician Bethany Cirlin from #cleancanvasmoreart, a private laser studio that specializes in laser tattoo removal, to find the best option for tattooed and non-tattooed skin alike. Circlin explains we should really use a sunscreen that contains at least 8 percent zinc oxide. Because most sunscreens themselves actually allow a small percentage of sun to penetrate the skin, it's best to use sun products with zinc due to the mineral's sun-blocking properties. "Zinc is an agent that reflects the sun, rather than 'screens it,' and is thus considered to be a physical blocker—blocking the maximum amount of damaging rays," says Magnotti.

Is tattoo-specific sunscreen necessary?
Both the doctors and tattoo specialist agree that tattoo-specific sunscreen is not necessary. "Although there are specific tattoo sunscreens, these are typically used only because of the mode of application—stick or pen applicators," says Dr. Colbert. "The importance is keeping skin well sun-protected, whether tattooed or not." (PS: In case you're on the lookout for some new SPF, we're still using every last drop of our NYDG Physician's UV Defense, $28).

Is sunscreen safe to use on fresh ink?
Think of tattooed skin simply as skin on the mend. "Skin that has been recently 'traumatized' [tattooed] and is still healing should not be treated with sunscreen," says Magnotti. "Your best bet is to follow the tattoo aftercare instructions supplied by your tattooer and keep your tattoos covered by loose-fitting, clean clothing until fully healed."

Can tattooed skin still sunburn and blister like non-inked skin?
You better believe it. Dr. Colbert explains that tattoo ink is deposited relatively deeply into the skin and does not change skin's susceptibility to sunburn and blistering. And should your tattoo get burned, how should you care for it? Magnotti recommends the use of real aloe but also offers this reminder: "If your tattoo gets burned, it is a great indication you are not taking care of it properly!"

Protecting Your Ink: How to Keep Tattooed Skin Safe From the Sun(Source: Thinkstock; Art by Tanya Leigh Washington)Will sun exposure make tattoo ink fade?
The short answer is, yes. Sun exposure, tanning beds and time can all make ink fade. According to both dermatologists, unfortunately the sun's UV rays will cause tattoo ink to fade and blur more rapidly. And as we all know by now, tanning beds in general are bad, bad, bad for you! Not only do they fade your ink, but they can age skin and cause serious damage, too.

What's the best way to ensure your ink looks fresh?
Both Dr. Colbert and Dr. Weiser advise keeping your ink well protected from sun exposure, noting that some patients even choose to use a bandage or cover over their tattoos for extra protection. Magnotti agrees that general skin protection is key and advises that year-round sun protection is a must.

Does having a tattoo effect how often you should see a dermatologist for skin cancer checkups?
Although inked skin doesn't require more visits to your dermatologist, the doctors at New York Dermatology recommend avoid having your tattoo ink placed around nevi (moles), so your doctor can properly monitor them. "Nevi that are tattooed over are much more difficult to observe for changes that would be suggestive of skin cancer," they warn.

So there you have it, ink-lovers. There's really no excuse not to keep your skin and ink protected this summer—and every season thereafter.
Former Senior Associate Beauty Editor at StyleBistro. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @CaitlinSMiller Follow me: Google