How To Protect Tattoos In A Tanning Bed – 6 Tips

Shield your tattoos while you tan your skin with these easy and effective aftercare tips.

Written by , MA (English) Shreya Mukherjee MA (English) linkedin_icon Experience: 2 years
Edited by , MA (English Literature) Madhumati Chowdhury MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , Integrated MA (English) Gazala Firdos Ansari Integrated MA (English) linkedin_icon Experience: 2 years

If your desire to get a sun-kissed golden glow is irresistible enough to drag you to a tanning salon, understanding how to protect your tattoo in a tanning bed is paramount. Tattoos are intricate artwork on your skin, full of vibrant colors that are meant to stay vibrant over time. While the idea of getting a tan might be tempting, using tanning beds is not the best choice for your tattoos. The strong ultraviolet rays from tanning beds can raise the risk of fading and even changing the chemistry of your tattoo. So, can you prevent tattoo fading under a tanning bed? Well, you can, but you need to take extra precautions before tanning with a new, still-healing tattoo or even an old ink to protect it from the harmful rays.

Keep reading to know more about the risks of using tanning beds as well as tips that can shield your tattoo from UV light.

Risks Of Tanning With Tattoos

A woman with a sunburnt tattoo
Image: Created with Midjourney

One of the most important tattoo aftercare advice after getting a fresh ink is that you need to keep it away from direct exposure to sunlight, because ultraviolet rays can cause tattoo fading. Similarly, rays from tanning beds are also a risk factor for tattooed skin. The intensity of the UV rays may split the pigments of the tattoo ink, leading to fading. This process is similar to a laser tattoo removal procedure, where it works by directing light into the skin that gets absorbed by the tattoo pigments, causing them to heat up and break apart (1). When fragmentation occurs, the concentration of pigment particles decreases, leading to the fading of tattoo colors. Moreover, it can alter the chemistry of tattoo pigments, potentially generating toxic decomposition products.

Both sun exposure and tanning beds trigger a similar result, just in a less intense manner for the former. Tanning beds, unlike natural sunlight, release more concentrated UV radiation, which can lead to a myriad of general health issues, such as photoallergic effects, chronic inflammation, and oxidative stress. Moreover, compounds in tattoo ink, along with their broken down byproducts during UV exposure, might also act as tumor promoters in tattooed skin (2).

protip_icon Did You Know?
Studies have shown that apart from cancer, indoor tanning can lead to immunosuppression, which can affect the proper functioning of the immune system, especially its healing properties (3).

So then, is it safe to get a tan after getting a tattoo? Be it a new tattoo or an old one, artificially tanning is not a good option. Moreover, the risks may be greater if you are tanning with new tattoos. Keep reading to know more.

Tanning With New Tattoos

A woman with a new tattoo who is about to get a tan
Image: Created with Dall·E

Tanning with new tattoos is more dangerous than older tattoos. Right after the tattooing process, your inked layer of skin is bound to be super sensitive. So, it is best to avoid tanning until your tattoo has completely healed. Exposing fresh tattoos to UV rays (from the sun or tanning beds) can lead to problems like fading, overexposure, and burning, all of which can damage your tattoo. Moreover, it can also slow down the healing process.

Newly tattooed skin is basically an open wound through which the UV rays penetrate the epidermis into the dermis–where the tattoo is situated–which may cause potential health risks, including cancer (2). Also, fresh tattoo ink takes time to settle into the dermis. So, tanning before that may result in the ink pigments leaking out, ruining the tattoo design.

Hence, the best way to optimize the healing process following a new tattoo is to keep it away from the tanning bed as well as the sun. It is also not recommended to apply sunscreen lotion before the tattoo is completely healed, as it may irritate your sensitive skin and extend the healing process for longer. Once your tattoo has finished scabbing, you can use a broad spectrum mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide to protect it. This will act as a protective layer on top of your skin, providing a barrier against UV exposure and retaining tattoo vibrancy .

If you are particular about using a tanning bed, it is important to wait until your fresh tattoo has fully healed to ensure the best results and minimize any potential risks. Check out the next section to know how long this wait period can be.

How Long Do You Have To Wait To Tan After Getting A Tattoo?

It is best to wait 5 to 6 weeks after getting a new tattoo before exposing it to direct UV rays from a tanning bed. Even if your skin appears healed after the third week, it is better to wait until the healing process timeline is complete. Your skin is sensitive during this time, and by taking the leap you might risk burning your skin, resulting in permanent scarring and distorted tattoos that cannot be fixed. So, it is better to be patient and wait for the recommended healing time.

protip_icon Quick Tip
The waiting period might be longer for larger or more intricate tattoos needing extra aftercare for healing. Therefore, always consult your tattoo artist if you are not sure whether your tattoo is healed.

Even after healing, you should be extremely careful while using a tanning bed to avoid tattoo fading and other skin issues. Scroll down for a few tips that may come in handy in the process.

How To Protect Your Tattoo In A Tanning Bed

1. Apply Sunscreen

A woman applying sunscreen to her shoulder tattoo
Image: Created with Dall·E

Applying broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 (preferably 50) may help prevent fading and protect your tattoo in a tanning bed. You may use a cotton swab to apply sunscreen directly on your tattooed skin.

2. Use Tanning Lotion With SPF

A woman pouring out tanning lotion on a tanning mitt
Image: Shutterstock

Using a tanning lotion specifically designed for tattoos can be useful in preventing fading. Look for lotions that are formulated with SPF to provide extra protection for your tattooed skin during tanning sessions. However, you may also apply sunscreen after applying the tanning lotion for added protection.

3. Cover The Tattoo

A tattoo artist covering their client’s tattoo with a protective film
Image: Shutterstock
  • Fabric

You may cover your tattooed skin with fabric before using the tanning bed. Cut a fabric piece matching your tattoo shape and secure it with medical tape for precise coverage. Ensure the fabric is breathable, protecting your tattoo while allowing the skin to breathe.

  • Stickers

Using a sticker on top of the tattoo may also be a good idea to protect it from UV light. Pick a sticker as per the size and shape of your tattoo and stick it to the tattooed area. Always do a patch test with the sticker to ensure your skin does not react to the adhesive. Mind you, this process will also end up giving you a tanning tattoo, which is basically tan lines formed in the shape of the sticker.

  • Adhesive Bandage

Opt for a UV-resistant adhesive bandage before the tanning session to cover your tattoo. Look for bandages designed specifically for tattoo protection, ensuring they offer UV-blocking properties for an additional layer of defense against potential fading and damage during tanning sessions.

  • Other Covering Options

For foot tattoos, you can wear an ankle sock, while a sweatband will do the work for the small tattoos around the ankle, calves, forearms, and wrists. If the tattoo is large, it is best to use a t-shirt to cover it. A bathing suit can help cover tattoos near the hip, buttocks, lower back, and stomach, while a sarong can help block the rays for a thigh tattoo.

When considering hopping into a tanning bed with tattoos, it is vital to know what happens if you do not protect it while doing so. Both natural sunlight and tanning beds release UV radiation that causes tattoo fading and other skin issues. Also, tanning with new tattoos is not safe either, as the healing skin is more sensitive during this stage and may cause premature fading and extended healing times. Applying sunscreen, particularly with at least SPF 30 or more, is a simple yet effective measure to protect your tattoo. You may also consider covering your tattoo with fabric, stickers, or adhesive bandages for a comprehensive defense strategy during tanning sessions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if my tattoo gets sunburned in a tanning bed?

If your tattoo gets sunburned in a tanning bed, treat it gently to aid healing. Apply a soothing, fragrance-free moisturizer and avoid exposing the sunburned tattoo to further UV radiation. Keep the area clean and avoid picking at any peeling skin. If the sunburn persists or shows signs of infection, consult with a healthcare professional.

What happens if I do not cover my tattoo in a tanning bed?

If you do not cover your tattoo in a tanning bed, it may fade, the colors may get distorted, and you may experience skin irritation or sunburn. There are a few ways to cover a tattoo, from using stickers and sweat bands to bathing suits; you can choose one that suits your needs to keep yourself protected from adverse effects.

Key Takeaways

  • UV exposure from sunlight or tanning beds can fade tattoos and pose health risks, especially for fresh inks.
  • Wait 5-6 weeks post-tattoo for tanning bed use to reduce the risk of scarring and ensure proper healing.
  • Healing periods vary, so consult your tattoo artist if unsure whether your tattoo is healed. Even after healing, exercise caution using tanning beds to prevent tattoo fading and skin issues.
  • Shield your tattoo in tanning beds with SPF 30+ sunscreen, tanning lotions with SPF, and covering options like fabric or UV-resistant bandages.

Tattoos are susceptible to damage in tanning beds, but how badly do they get affected and how can you prevent it? Watch this video to learn more about the consequences and a few handy tips to help you out.


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  1. Laser treatment of tattoos: Basic principles
  2. Cutaneous malignancies in tattoos, a case series of six patients
  3. Reasons for using indoor tanning devices: A systematic review of qualitative evidence
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Shreya Mukherjee

Shreya MukherjeeBeauty & Lifestyle Writer

Shreya is a beauty and lifestyle writer with two years of experience. After graduating from Christ University, Bengaluru, she started as a writer for a non-profit organization, Bhumi, as an intern. She then wrote for a progressive content website. Shreya started out writing for ship-breaking industries and display board industries, but as she began experimenting and indulging with makeup full bio

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