September 14, 2021 4 min read

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    How the Sun Affects Freshly Tattooed Skin

    Whether you've dabbled in skincare or not, you probably already know we wear sunscreen for a very important reason: The sun is the number one cause of wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, sun spots, skin cancer, and basically all of the signs of skin aging we try so desperately to avoid. The sun emits two types of ultraviolet UV rays, UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays and can quickly fade tattoo ink. These types of harmful UV rays also cause many signs of skin damage, such as wrinkles and sagging that can last the rest of your life. UVB rays usually damage the outermost layer of the skin causing cosmetic sun damage such as discoloration and sunburn. Since tattoos are technically open wounds, this type of UV radiation can slow down the tattoo's healing process and cause blisters, scabbing, discoloration, and irritation. Even if it isn't a fresh tattoo, the sun's rays can damage old tattoos and speed up tattoo fading.

    So what can be done? Here are some typical tattoo aftercare instructions, plus some tips on how to protect your tattoo before you hit the beach.

    Tips & Advice for Tattoo Aftercare

    Direct sunlight and bare, unhealed tattoos do not mix. The amount of time it can take for your tattoo to heal will vary based on your body's natural ability to heal wounds paired with frequency of cleansing, product use and use of sunscreen. To prevent your tattoo's pigment from fading and causing you to return to the tattoo parlor for costly touch-ups, consider adopting this bulletproof aftercare routine instead.

    Fresh tattoos are still open wounds and this phase can last up to a week. During this phase it's common for tattoos to ooze clear liquid and excess tattoo ink. At this stage, both mineral and chemical-based sunscreens can cause irritation. Rather than adding sunblock, cover up the tattoo either with clothes or a waterproof sticker that will blend in with your skin tone and prevent the tattoo from being exposed to the sun.

    When it's too early to use sunscreen or apply topical products to your tattoo, you can begin healing from the inside out. Taking a daily collagen supplement at this stage will help the wound heal faster and secure skin’s regeneration. In addition to helping your tattoo heal, collagen may also improve your skin's overall texture and thickness to avoid premature aging due to sun exposure.

    Once your tattoo dries out and begins to heal further, you can start applying unscented hydrating lotions and sunscreens to speed the healing process and avoid sun damage. The best sunscreens, both for the planet and your body, are mineral-based or "natural" sunscreen lotions. These formulations use non-nanotized titanium oxide and non-nanotized zinc oxide to provide sun protection without contributing to coral reef bleaching. When shopping for a natural sunscreen, here are some things to keep in mind:

    • Make sure it is broad spectrum so that it protects against both forms of UV rays.
    • Use a minimum of SPF 30. SPF 50 and above may provide incremental sun protection, but dermatologists agree a minimum of SPF 30 is best.
    • Avoid chemical sunscreens which can irritate and burn fresh tattoos.
    • ​Choose cream sunscreens over sprays for more even and eco-friendly protection.
    • Don't fall for marketing gimmicks that claim their sunscreens are formulated specifically for tattoo aftercare. Experts agree that natural sunscreens with hydrating ingredients like aloe vera work just as well, if not better, at protecting tattoos.
    • Remember to reapply! Most sunscreens state water resistance in terms of hours. However, the thickness in which you apply the sunscreen, how rough the waves are, and how much you are sweating can all influence how long you can go in-between applications. As a general rule of thumb, reapply sunscreen every 60-90 minutes.
    • Choose a fragrance-free formula to avoid irritation.
    • Check out this blog about the best reef-safe sunscreens on the market!
    In addition to choosing the right sunscreen and taking supplements when necessary, remember to cover up whenever possible for more surefire sun protection. Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps which can cause premature aging and skin cancer. Remember to thoroughly wash the tattoo with soap and water multiple times throughout the day to avoid infection.

    How to Heal Sunburned Tattoos

    If you do get sunburn on your new tattoo, whether it's a fresh or newly healed tattoo, there are things you can do to reduce pain and inflammation while preserving the color of your tattoo.

    After sunburn, the tattoo gets red, swollen, and inflamed. To reduce swelling and better manage the pain:

    • Rinse it under cool water and pat, not rub, dry.
    • Use aloe vera or unscented, gentle lotion to rehydrate the area.
    • Take aspirin, ibuprofen, or Boswellia (a natural anti-inflammatory) to reduce swelling and pain.
    • Drink plenty of water. 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) is recommended for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) is recommended for women every day.  
    • Resist the urge to pick and pop blisters, so as to avoid infection and irritation.
    • Continue taking a collagen supplement to hydrate and support your skin.
    • Remember to apply sunblock lotion to your tattoo regularly to avoid fading.

    Minimizing sun exposure is the only way to truly prevent your tattoo from fading. But by using anti-inflammatory, skin-supporting supplements and natural sunscreens, you can still enjoy the sun without your fresh ink fading away!

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