Basic Ink Sabotage: The Dangers of Sun Exposure to Tattoos

No matter what time of year it is or where you live, the suns rays are always present. The weather is now heating up, which means that people are becoming more aware of how they are going to protect their tattoos, both new and old, from the suns harmful rays.  Whether your clients are heavily tattooed, or just have a few here and there, you need to be more vigilant about teaching them about protecting their tattoos from the sun. 

You’re responsible for creating the art, but once your client leaves the studio, your work is in their hands. When tattoos don’t heal properly, the tattoo artist usually gets the blame. While this may be fair in some cases due to poor tattooing practices, many times it can be the client’s fault. But let’s keep this between us since “the customer is always right”. Are you looking to up your tattooing game? Sign up for our Black and Gray Realism Course, hosted by the brilliant Huge Feist. You will learn expert tips and tricks on how to take your tattooing game to the next level. 

Many tattoo artists use word-of-mouth to relay aftercare practices and the dangers of sun exposure to tattoos. This is a gamble because clients sometimes forget and end up seeking answers online. 

One way you can eliminate this issue is by preparing digital or physical pamphlets with aftercare instructions. This should, of course, outline the dangers of sun exposure to tattoos and inform clients on what they can do to ensure their tattoo heals properly. Following an aftercare guide can be very helpful, especially for clients who are first-timers. 

You can even use this article as inspiration. Keep reading to ensure your instructions cover everything related to the dangers of sun exposure to tattoos. 

What are the Dangers of Sun Exposure to Tattoos?

The skin is constantly bombarded by ultraviolet radiation (UV radiation) from the sun. These rays can pose certain dangers regarding tattoos and the skin if the client is constantly working in the sun, lives near the ocean, or goes on a family vacation. But, there is also day-to-day exposure to worry about. 

There are three different types of UV rays. These include:

  • UVA rays- UVA rays have the least amount of energy, however, they still cause skin cells to age which leads to fine lines and wrinkles. 95% of the UV rays that reach the surface of the earth are UVA rays.

These types of UV rays also attack the ink in tattoos, breaking up the pigment. The damage to the skin increases white blood cell activity in the area which then carries ink away, much like an infection or foreign object. This happens faster for white ink and pastel colors than it does for grays and black. The result is a blurred, blotchy tattoo.

UVA rays also cause the skin to tan which can effect the appearance of tattoos. This can cause colored ink to become distorted and even begin to change color.

  • UVB rays- UVB rays have a bit more energy than UVA rays and can cause direct damage to skin cells. This is the type of UV ray that causes skin cancer and sunburns. 

A sunburn on a new tattoo will affect the way it heals. This means that it may become distorted, scarred, and take much longer to heal. The lines and coloring will not be the same as when you first tattooed the skin, as they may become dull, blurry, or poorly defined. 

  • UVC rays- UVC rays have the most energy of all the UV rays, however, they exist high in the atmosphere and don’t typically reach the ground. Man-made UVC rays exist in the form of welding torches, phototherapy, mercury lamps, and UVC sanitizing bulbs used to kill harmful microorganisms in food and water.  

Exposure to these types of rays can cause blistering which can affect both new and healed tattoos.  

UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, particularly during the spring and summer months, and at higher altitudes. When new tattoos are exposed to UV rays, they are at greater risk of damage in the form of scarring, blistering, and infection. 

How To Prevent The Dangers of Sun Exposure to Tattoos

When you tell clients that they need to keep their tattoos out of the sun and warn against the dangers of sun exposure to tattoos, you can expect a ton of “buts” and “ifs”, especially if you tattoo in a town that is a holiday destination. 

They’ll ask “But how am I supposed to work”, or “If I get this tattoo, can I still tan and swim?”. The answer might be glaringly obvious to you, but you still must advise on the dangers of sun exposure to tattoos.

Here are some things your clients should be doing or should avoid doing after getting a tattoo:

Wear sunscreen

Ideally, everyone should be wearing sunscreen, but the reality is that most of us don’t. When you give a client a tattoo, you must stress the importance of doing so once the tattoo is about 2 weeks healed. Sunscreen helps to prevent damage and fading caused by the sun’s UV rays. They also help to keep the healing skin moisturized and safe from the elements. 

Avoid tanning

Your clients should avoid tanning by both natural and artificial means. Tanning naturally will expose the skin to all the effects of UV rays. Using a tanning bed or sun lamp concentrates these rays on the skin and can cause tattoos to fade faster, distort, and even blister. Client’s who insist that they need to keep up their tanned appearance can use spray tan from the time that their tattoo is fully healed. 

Limit time in the sun

The sun’s rays are at their peak between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. If possible, your clients should stay inside durig this time. If their job includes walking or standing in the sun, using an umbrella can go a long way. If this is not an option, their best bet is to wear loose-fitting clothing that covers the tattoo. This will not only protect the tattoo from the sun, but will also allow it to breathe while it is healing. Once healed, the client can switch to using a strong sunscreen to protect the tattoo. 

Stay hydrated

The best way to keep the skin hydrated is to drink lots of fluids, especially water. This is another way your clients can limit the dangers of sun exposure to tattoos. Dry skin is more susceptible to damage from the sun. 

Use an arm/leg sleeve

No amount of direct sunlight on the skin is considered too minor to cause damage. Stress this point. Skin can become sunburned in as little as 10 minutes when the UV index is high.

Even when driving, the UV rays penetrate the windshield and come in contact with the arms. Using an arm sleeve comes in pretty handy, especially in hot areas where wearing a ton of clothes just isn’t feasible.

Get tattooed in the winter

Clients who absolutely have to be in the sun shouldn’t get tattoos during the summer months, especially large tattoos. The UV index is the lowest in the winter months, which means the threat from UV rays decreases.

Be sure to stress that this does not eliminate the need for other precautions. Your clients should still wear sunscreen and cover up their tattoos when possible when outside during winter months if it is warm enough to wear summer clothing in your area. 

Choosing A Sunscreen For Tattoos

Many clients go off and buy special sunscreens that are branded for protecting tattoos but the reality is that they’re not so different from any other sunscreen you can find in the store. Regular sunscreen does the trick as long as it contains the right ingredients. 

Here’s how you can advise clients on choosing the right sunscreen for tattoos:


SPF, or sun factor protection, plays a huge role in how effective sunscreen is at protecting tattoos. The ideal sunscreen should be at least SPF 30 and should be labeled “broad spectrum”, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. 

Clients with darker skin tones are at less risk of sunburn and the harmful effects of UV rays on tattoos. This is due to high levels of melanin in the skin. Clients with lighter skin, or who are more sensitive to the sun should be seeking sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher. 


Mineral sunscreens are the best types of sunscreen. They are among the most effective at blocking UVA rays and have the least toxic ingredients. The ingredients to look out for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. 

Avoid ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate which are hazardous to aquatic life. Research is ongoing about how the high levels of absorption into the bloodstream affect humans. Another ingredient to avoid is para-aminobenzoic acid. This substance is banned in Canada, as it has the potential to cause increased photosensitivity and allergic dermatitis. 

Note that your clients should only use sunscreen on healed tattoos. If the wound is still fresh, the best approach is to cover the area with loose-fitting clothing and to avoid sun exposure to the area. Sun exposure on a fresh tattoo, for even 5 minutes, is extremely painful so you will automatically want to avoid the sun in any case!

Dealing With Sunburned Tattoos 

Sunburn is one of the many dangers of sun exposure to tattoos. You can stress this point over and over again, but there’s always going to be that one client that didn’t listen.

The best thing your clients can do if they get sunburn on their fresh tattoo is to apply an ice pack to help soothe the area. The next step is to apply a thin layer of a suitable moisturizer and monitor it.

During this time, your client should watch out for signs of infection and should be keeping themselves hydrated. Keep your fingers crossed that this doesn’t happen because that will mean a doctor’s trip and maybe even antibiotics.

When the area finally heals, you may have to go back in and do touch-ups and try to fix any damage. 

Letting Go

It’s important to remember that not all clients will listen to your advice. Some will start their aftercare, then quit halfway, and others will not heed your warnings at all. That’s just life.

Your job is to create art and to offer advice about the dangers of sun exposure to tattoos. After that, you should feel comfortable letting go. You may be asked to touch up a ruined design if your client doesn’t listen to you. Remember that you reserve the right to charge for the service, and to also refuse service. Sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense to revisit art when the client doesn’t intend to do proper aftercare.


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