Caring for your skin and tattoos – myths and truths

Most adults understand that overexposure to the sun is harmful to the skin’s health, but many forget that tattoos can take even less exposure due to ultraviolet sun rays diminishing the vibrancy and longevity of the ink. Of course, health concerns are paramount, but tattoos carry their own unique concerns separate from health.

Tattoos are a costly semi-permanent investment, with even more costs to touch up or remove if they’re damaged by the sun. At upwards of 40%, a record number of Americans have been inked in one place or another, making sun and tan precautions for tattoos a hot button issue with a lot of misinformation floating around.

If you have a new tattoo, a tattoo that’s frequently not covered by clothing, spend a lot of time exposed to the sun, or just want to know the facts about keeping your tattoo as vibrant as possible, then keep reading to dispel some myths and learn some truths.

Myth: Tattooed skin isn’t at risk for skin cancer or sunburns because the ink protects it.

Fact: While having a tattoo neither increases or decreases your chance of skin cancer, tattooed skin does burn just like any other patch of exposed skin. Of note, those worried about monitoring for skin cancer because of moles or a family history should avoid getting tattooed around and over moles. Tattoos around skin marks make it difficult for dermatologists to monitor your skin, and most creditable tattoo artist will refuse to tattoo any area with moles or other skin issues.

Myth: Tattoos require special sunscreen.

Fact: Expensive special sunscreen isn’t necessary and adds nothing to sun protection. Physicians recommend any brand of broad spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 and 8% or more zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as an active ingredient. The latter both provide a physical block that reflects sunlight away from your skin. Sunscreen should be reapplied to all exposed skin after water submission and every two hours.

Myth: It’s okay to expose a new, healing tattoo as long as sunscreen is applied.

Fact: Never. If a tattoo is still healing, meaning it hasn’t scabbed and finished flaking, then you never apply sunscreen. Healing varies based on the size, location, and health of the person, but most tattoos take anywhere from three weeks to three months to fully heal. During this time, the tattoo should be covered by a breathable bandage and/or heavy cotton clothing to protect it from prolonged sun exposure. Freshly inked skin is traumatized and especially prone to sunburns, which can effect healing and displace or fade color particles.

Myth: I only need to worry with sunscreen when suntanning or being outdoors a lot.

Fact: Those with outdoor jobs or who frequently enjoy outdoor activities need to be vigilant about applying sunscreen and wearing appropriate protective clothing, but there are a lot of other prolonged and frequent sun exposures people forget to consider in their everyday lives. Driving to and from work, sitting in car lines, or opening office window shades are great examples. Is the sun beating down on you through windows or a sunroof for more than a few minutes? If so, you need sunscreen.

Myth: Tanning beds don’t count.

Fact: Tanning beds actually count just as much if not more. Premature aging and wrinkles, which tanning beds are notorious for creating, can distort tattoos. UV exposure fades tattoos, regardless if they’re artificial or natural.

Myth: I can’t safely get a tan if I have a tattoo.

Fact: While there’s no such thing as a safe tan when it comes to UV exposure, a tan isn’t out of the question. Spray tans, bronzers, and self-tanning creams offer a temporary tan. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved dihydroxyacetone for external application to the skin, which hasn’t been shown to alter tattoos in any way since it only attaches to dead skin cells. Do avoid sunless tanning pills that contain canthaxanthin, a color additive, as these have been known to discolor skin, cause liver damage, and impair vision.