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Protect your ink: The best sunscreen for tattoos

SPF is important for your overall skin health—and for the vibrance of your tattoos.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 28, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Sunscreen for Tattoos
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 28, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Tattoos are works of art that require care and safeguarding, particularly when it comes to their vulnerability to sun exposure. In fact, understanding the significance of sun protection for tattoos is important to preserving their long-lasting allure. That’s right: Sunscreen isn’t just crucial for your overall skin health. It also plays a role in preventing your tattoos from fading!

Here, Curology’s team of expert dermatology providers go over the importance of shielding tattoos from the sun’s rays and share recommendations on choosing some of the most efficacious sunscreens for tattoos. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all in skincare. What works for one person may not necessarily have the same results for someone else. But it’s only natural to want the best! Luckily our team of licensed dermatology providers are regularly reviewing and assessing products on the market and are happy to offer a few recommendations! So here, you’ll find the products that hold up to our standards.

How do tattoos affect the skin?

If they’re not properly taken care of, tattoos can give rise to a wide array of clinical issues. Sun sensitivity affects approximately one-fifth of individuals with tattoos and studies show that sun exposure accounts for about 58% of all tattoo-related complaints.¹ Other commonly reported symptoms were itching, stinging, pain, as well as raised and inflamed skin. Another study examining individuals with tattoos found that 52% of complications were attributed to sun exposure.²

It is worth noting that complaints are reported more frequently in dark-colored tattoos, as they tend to absorb more light. Skin reactions can happen anytime, with some occurring immediately within seconds or minutes after sun exposure, while others can have a delayed onset, appearing hours later and persisting for days.³

Why is sunscreen needed for tattooed skin?

Tattoos may induce sun sensitivity, and individuals with dark tattoos may perceive this sensitivity more intensely.⁴

UVA and UVB are two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from the sun and can cause damage to our skin. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and can cause long-term damage like wrinkles and aging, while UVB rays affect the top layer of the skin and are the main cause of acute injury such as sunburn.⁵

For decades, sunscreens have gained widespread popularity as the predominant method of shielding against UV radiation. To effectively prevent skin cancers, UV-induced immunosuppression, and skin aging, it’s important to ensure adequate application of sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.⁶

This increased susceptibility of sun-sensitive skin with tattoos underscores the importance of extra sun protection measures and regular skin screenings. 

Some specific tattoo colors, including yellow, white, peach, or pink, are prone to experiencing changes in their appearance over time. These shades can be particularly susceptible to a phenomenon known as paradoxical ink darkening, in which colors darken over time, rather than fading—potentially altering the overall aesthetic of a tattoo.⁷ To preserve the color palette of your tattoo and reduce the risk of paradoxical ink darkening, avoid excessive exposure to sunlight and diligently follow the recommended aftercare instructions for your tattoo. By doing so, you can help maintain the long-term integrity of your tattoo’s colors.

Choose the best sunscreen for your tattoos and skin type 

Your skin type can influence your skin’s reaction to the sunscreen you use. Sensitive skin may react more to chemical sunscreens compared to mineral-based products. If you have acne-prone skin, using a product that does not contain pore-clogging ingredients may be in your best interest. In any case, consider opting for noncomedogenic mineral-based sunscreens, like The Sunscreen by Curology.

How to choose between chemical or mineral sunscreens

Sunscreens fall into two distinct categories: mineral and chemical.

Mineral

Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, utilize physical barrier UV filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to reflect or deflect UV radiation away from the skin.⁸ This mechanism enables them to offer broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. Notably, these sunscreens have been evaluated by the FDA and recognized as safe and effective, thus being classified as Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective (GRASE) products.⁹

Here are two mineral sunscreens we recommend:

Chemical

Chemical sunscreens are formulated with UV filters that effectively absorb UV radiation and blend seamlessly into the skin.¹⁰ 

Here are two we recommend:

How to apply sunscreen

You should apply tattoo sunscreen every day on skin not covered by clothing if you will be outside. The sun emits harmful UV rays year-round. Even on cloudy days, as much as 80% of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the clouds.¹¹

Additionally, here are a few tips to consider:¹²

  • When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle. 

  • Apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin not covered by clothing. Most adults need about 1 ounce of sunscreen per application to cover their whole body. 

During the recovery period, which usually lasts 1-3 weeks after getting the tattoo, it is important to take certain precautions. Primarily, refrain from applying sunscreen to a fresh tattoo until the tattoo has completely healed.¹³

Protect your tattoo with The Sunscreen by Curology

Preserving tattoo vibrancy and longevity requires protecting them from sun exposure. Sunscreens play a vital role in safeguarding tattooed skin and preventing fading. Sun sensitivity can lead to various issues like itching and inflammation, especially for dark-colored tattoos. Broad-spectrum sunscreens, both mineral and chemical, offer essential UV protection for tattooed skin, benefiting all skin tones.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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The Sunscreen by Curology offers broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection. It has a quick-absorbing and non-greasy formula that contains 9.4% zinc oxide, effectively reflecting UVA and UVB rays without clogging pores. This sunscreen can confidently shield your tattoo from harmful sun damage.

FAQs

Does it matter which sunscreen you use on a tattoo?

It is advised to use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Do I need to apply sunscreen on a tattoo even on cloudy days?

Yes. You should apply sunscreen every day on skin not covered by clothing if you will be outside. The sun emits harmful UV rays year-round. Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate the clouds.

Do I need to apply sunscreen on an old tattoo?

Even if your tattoos are older and have been fully healed for some time, it’s still important to continue protecting them from the sun’s harmful rays. Neglecting to shield old tattoos from sunlight may result in painful sunburns, which may lead to the formation of blisters and scarring—possibly affecting the appearance of the tattoo.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to:

  1. Serup, J., et al. Tattoo Complaints and Complications: Diagnosis and Clinical and Clinical Spectrum. Current Problems in Dermatology. (2015, n.d.).

  2. Serup, J., et al. Tattoo Complaints and Complications: Diagnosis and Clinical and Clinical Spectrum. Current Problems in Dermatology. Ibid.

  3. Serup, J., et al. Tattoo Complaints and Complications: Diagnosis and Clinical and Clinical Spectrum. Current Problems in Dermatology. Ibid.

  4. Serup, J., et al. Tattoo Complaints and Complications: Diagnosis and Clinical and Clinical Spectrum. Current Problems in Dermatology. Ibid.

  5. Wang, P.W., et al. Comparison of the Biological Impact of UVA and UVB upon the Skin with Functional Proteomics and Immunohistochemistry. Antioxidants. (2019, November 19).

  6. Wilson, B.D., et al. Comprehensive Review of Ultraviolet Radiation and the Current Status on Sunscreens. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (September 2012).

  7. Kirby, W., et al. Causes and Recommendations for Unanticipated Ink Retention Following Tattoo Removal Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (2013, July 6).

  8. Adamson, A.S. and Shinkai, K. Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen: Balancing Benefits With Unknown Harms. JAMA Network. (2020, January 21). 

  9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An update on sunscreen requirements: The deemed final order and the proposed order. (2022, December 16). 

  10. Adamson, A.S. and Shinkai, K. Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen: Balancing Benefits With Unknown Harms. JAMA Network. Ibid. 

  11. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, July 19).

  12. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  13. Gonzalez, C.D., et al. Aftercare Instructions in the Tattoo Community: An Opportunity to Educate on Sun Protection and Increased Risk of Cancer. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (2020, June 13).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

*Sunscreen cannot prevent all harm from UV rays.

*PSA for your future skin: sunscreen alone cannot prevent all UV damage.

*Protect your future skin by wearing sunscreen and limiting direct sun exposure.

*Sun damage is still a risk even while wearing sunscreen.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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