SHOULD YOU PUT SPF ON A FRESH TATTOO? HERE’S WHAT EXPERTS SAY

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Tattoos can be a costly and time-consuming investment, especially if you want them to stay crisp and vibrant for as long as possible. A quality sunscreen for your tattoo is one of the best ways to keep it looking fresh and, according to experts, an absolute necessity too. I spoke with two dermatologists and a tattoo artist to find out more about the best sunscreens for tattoos, including why they’re important and when to use them. I also compiled a list of their recommendations for you to shop.  

SKIP AHEAD Why is it important to protect tattoos from the sun? | How I picked the best sunscreens for tattoos | The best sunscreens for tattoos in 2024 | How to shop for a tattoo sunscreen

Why is it important to protect tattoos from the sun?

It’s important to protect all skin from potential sun damage — however, shielding tattoos is especially crucial in order to avoid “fading, distortion, and damage to the skin,” according to Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City. “Sun exposure can cause tattoos to fade over time because the UV rays penetrate the skin and break down the pigments used in tattoos,” she says.

Cake, a Brooklyn-based tattoo artist and co-founder of tattoo studio and collective GirlsOnly NY, agrees, saying that although all tattoos age over time, “if you want to keep those lines crisp for as long as possible, it’s important to always protect your ink from the sun.” Along with preserving your design, Engelman says that protecting your tattoo from the sun can also lower your risk of infections and complications that may come with the aftercare and healing of a fresh tattoo. 

How I picked the best sunscreens for tattoos

According to Engelman, the best tattoo sunscreens are mineral sunscreens, which sit on top of the skin and physically block UV rays, rather than chemical sunscreens, which penetrate the skin to absorb UV rays. She recommends using mineral sunscreen for both old and new tattoos because of their broad-spectrum protection and gentle formulas that are safe for sensitive skin.

“I would recommend being careful when choosing a chemical sunscreen as it may contain ingredients that could interact with tattoo ink or cause irritation on the skin,” she says. Cake agrees that sunscreens with broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB are best, with an SPF of at least 30. You also don’t have to exclusively use sunscreens formulated for tattoos, which she says “tend to cost more.”

Following that guidance, most of the options on this list are broad-spectrum mineral sunscreens, and all of them have an SPF of 30 or higher.

The best sunscreens for tattoos in 2024

Best overall tattoo sunscreen: Mad Rabbit Defend Tattoo Sunscreen

Mad Rabbit Defend Tattoo Sunscreen

  • Mad Rabbit Defend Tattoo Sunscreen $ at Walmart
  • Mad Rabbit Defend Tattoo Sunscreen $ at Mad Rabbit

If you’re looking for a sunscreen designed specifically for tattoos, the Mad Rabbit Defend Tattoo Sunscreen comes recommended by Engelman, who describes it as “a mineral sunscreen formulated with zinc oxide as well as antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients.” It’s designed to target and prevent the fading of black, gray and colored ink, according to the brand, and can be used on all skin types, whether inked or not. It has a lightweight finish, and contains vitamin C and carrot extract, which stimulate collagen production and cell turnover for brighter and moisturized skin.

SPF: 30 | Water-resistant: Yes

Best sport tattoo sunscreen: EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion

EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion

  • EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion $ at Amazon
  • EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion $ at Dermstore
  • EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion $ at Bluemercury

EltaMD is an NBC Select favorite, and according to Engelman, the brand’s UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion is a great option for tattooed skin. It’s a mineral-based sunscreen (meaning it uses a mix of mineral and chemical ingredients) formulated for face and body and specifically designed to withstand physical activity of all kinds, according to the brand. It’s also non-comedogenic and fragrance-free, which Engelman says makes it suitable for all skin types and safe for tattoos that have healed on the surface. She also likes that it’s water- and sweat-resistant, “so you can keep your skin protected for longer when perspiring or during activities like swimming.”

SPF: 50 | Water-resistant: Yes

Best tinted tattoo sunscreen: Supergoop Mineral Mattescreen

Supergoop Mineral Mattescreen

  • Supergoop Mineral Mattescreen $ at Sephora
  • Supergoop Mineral Mattescreen $ at Ulta
  • Supergoop Mineral Mattescreen $ at Bluemercury

Cake uses this Mineral Mattescreen as her year-round face sunscreen; it has an oil-free, tinted formula designed to smooth and mattify your skin with minimal white cast (which can be difficult to avoid when it comes to mineral sunscreens), according to the brand. It’s formulated with bamboo and clover extract to reduce the effects of free radicals, and is also non-comedogenic and doubles as a makeup primer. For best results, Supergoop recommends reapplying the sunscreen at least every two hours, or after 40 minutes of swimming or sweating.

SPF: 40 | Water-resistant: Yes

Best full body tattoo sunscreen: Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion

Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion

  • Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion $ at Amazon
  • Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion $ at Sephora
  • Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion $ at Ulta

This chemical sunscreen lotion from Supergoop is Cake’s go-to full body option during the warmer months. It’s lightweight, absorbs quickly, and leaves no stickiness or white cast behind, according to the brand. It uses sunflower extract to shield the skin from environmental stressors and rosemary and rice bran extract to hydrate and soften the skin. The formula is sweat and water-resistant, and has a light rosemary scent (which may be irritating to those who prefer fragrance-free formulas). It’s also non-comedogenic, and available in an 18 oz value jug.

SPF: 50 | Water-resistant: Yes

Best water-resistant tattoo sunscreen: Kinfield Cloud Cover SPF

Kinfield Cloud Cover SPF

NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin loves this sunscreen from Kinfield, which the brand says is made to be water-resistant and reef-safe, so you can keep your tattoo safe while swimming without any worries. It uses sea kelp and glycerin to moisturize and hydrate the skin, along with aloe vera to soothe your skin during exposure to the sun’s harsh rays. Malin says that this sunscreen leaves behind a bit of a white cast, but she actually likes it: “it helps me make sure I covered the entire thing,” she says.

SPF: 35 | Water-resistant: Yes

Best sun patches for tattoos: Sun Patch Hand and Cheek Patches

Sun Patch Hand and Cheek UPF 50 Patches

  • Sun Patch Hand and Cheek UPF 50 Patches $ at Amazon
  • Sun Patch Hand and Cheek UPF 50 Patches $ at Sun Patch

Malin loves using these patches to cover up her tattoos while running; “My tattoos are pretty small, so I cut the patch to fit any areas that my shirt doesn’t cover,” she says. They’re made from a hypoallergenic silicone that has no added chemicals, making it safe for sensitive skin, according to the brand. The patches are waterproof, sweatproof and reusable, and Malin says they’re easy to apply and stay on throughout her runs, even when she gets sweaty.

UPF: 50 | Water-resistant: Yes

How to shop for sunscreens for tattoos

When selecting a sunscreen for tattoo protection, experts say that multiple factors, like effective ingredients, your skin’s type and sensitivity level, should be considered, just like any other skin care purchase.

  • Ingredients: Mineral sunscreens contain active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which Engelman says are non-irritating and “safer choices for sensitive, vulnerable skin.” She also recommends sunscreens with moisturizing ingredients, like jojoba oil or shea butter, as “a nice addition to keep the skin and tattoo soft and nourished.” 
  • When it comes to what you should avoid, Engelman suggests steering clear of sunscreens with fragrances or harsher ingredients like alcohol or oxybenzone. These can irritate your skin or even affect your tattoo’s appearances. Dr. Jeanine Downie,  a New Jersey-based, board-certified dermatologist, also recommends sunscreens that are sulfur- or oil-free, to avoid any pigment being leached out of the tattoo.
  • Sun protection: Although SPF rating is always an important factor when it comes to sunscreens, experts say a sunscreen for tattoos should have an SPF of at least 30, preferably 50 or higher, with broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB. They also recommend water-resistant formulas for maximum protection in rain or shine.

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At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

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I'm an associate SEO reporter for NBC Select who regularly covers skin care, wellness and more. For this article, I interviewed a tattoo artist and two dermatologists about sunscreen for tattoos, including their product recommendations and shopping advice.

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

2024-06-17T20:32:37Z dg43tfdfdgfd