If you have a tattoo, you want to take extra care to keep it protected and prevent fading. And one of the best ways to keep your ink safe and looking its best is to shield it from the sun's harmful UV rays.
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Sun exposure affects the appearance of a tattoo by bleaching its pigment, and it also speeds up the breakdown of collagen and elastin, two structural proteins in the skin, says Brendan Camp, MD, a Manhattan-based dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology.
"Without either of these proteins, the skin becomes lax and is prone to fine lines and wrinkles," he says.
Immediately after getting a tattoo, there's a healing period of about two to three weeks during which applying sunscreen to the area may cause irritation. But after the tattoo has healed, covering the area in SPF is crucial to protecting its integrity and your skin health.
If you're looking for the right sunscreen to protect your tattoo, here are the ones dermatologists recommend.
The Best Sunscreens for Tattoos
- Best Overall: CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 ($13.99, Amazon)
- Best Stick Sunscreen: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Stick Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($17.49, Neutrogena.com)
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Oxide Dry-Touch Face Sunscreen ($10.99, Amazon)
- Best Tinted Moisturizer Sunscreen: DRMTLGY Physical Tinted Moisturizer ($25.95, Amazon)
- Best for Working Out: Thinksport All Sheer Mineral Sunscreen Spray SPF 50 ($16.99; GoThink.com)
- Best for Swimming: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen ($14.98; Amazon)
How We Chose
We chatted with dermatologists, who broke down the most important attributes of sunscreen that can be used on tattoos. Our top picks are based on their criteria, including:
1. Best Overall: CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
Tattooed skin is more prone to dryness, says Marisa Garshick, MD, dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York, and therefore requires extra moisture than non-tattooed skin.
Luckily, this sunscreen contains the necessary sun-protective ingredients, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as well as hyaluronic acid to help provide moisture. Ceramides, too, help support the skin's natural barrier, and niacinamide can soothe the skin, making it easy to apply over tattoos, adds Dr. Garshick.
"This mineral sunscreen is fragrance- and paraben-free, making it a good option even for those with dry or sensitive skin," she says.
2. Best Stick Sunscreen: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Stick Broad Spectrum SPF 50+
Sunscreen sticks like this one make it easy to apply sunscreen to a targeted area. This brand is a mineral sunscreen, with the main active ingredient being zinc oxide.
"The zinc acts as a physical blocker that reflects UV rays off the skin surface as opposed to letting them absorb into the skin," says Dr. Camp. "It is also sheer, so it will not leave a noticeable white residue on the skin like some other mineral sunscreens."
3. Best for Sensitive Skin: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Oxide Dry-Touch Face Sunscreen
This mineral sunscreen provides coverage against both UVA and UVB using the all-star ingredient zinc oxide. Dr. Garshick likes to recommend it to her patients with sensitive skin because it is free of potentially irritating ingredients such as fragrance, parabens, phthalates and dyes, and it has been awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance for those with sensitive skin.
"It's also a plus that it incorporates dry-touch technology to ensure that the sunscreen dries easily and won't leave the skin feeling greasy, which can be especially helpful for those with tattoos," she adds.
4. Best Tinted Moisturizer Sunscreen: DRMTLGY Physical Tinted Moisturizer
Tinted moisturizers can be quite useful for tattoos you might want to cover up for whatever reason. They provide the usual SPF — this one with 44 coverage — and also cast a shade of color corrector on top to even out skin tone.
"Not only does this brand contain mineral blockers, but it goes on without leaving a white cast behind, making it a good option for those with tattoos," says Dr. Garshick. "It is oil-free and good for those with sensitive skin."
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $25.95
5. Best for Working Out: Thinksport All Sheer Mineral Sunscreen Spray SPF 50
If you're an avid exerciser, play a sport or simply tend to sweat easily, this is a great sunscreen for you that can also cover up your tattooed skin.
"This sport sunscreen contains zinc oxide and is a great option for all, but especially for those who are active and spend a lot of time outdoors as it is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes," says Dr. Garshick.
She appreciates that it offers broad-spectrum coverage and is BPA-free. "The spray formulation makes it easy for hard-to-reach areas, such as the back, and easy reapplication," she adds.
Buy it: GoThink.com; Price: $16.99
6. Best for Swimming: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
Like most mineral sunscreens, zinc oxide is the star ingredient in this product, which provides broad-spectrum coverage by blocking UV rays from getting to the skin.
Because it's water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, it's ideal for occasions where you might be swimming, be it in the ocean, lake or a pool.
"This sunscreen is also free of chemical active ingredients and is both paraben-free and fragrance-free, making it a great option for sensitive skin," adds Dr. Garshick.
Added bonus: The bottle changes color in UV light, so you always know when to reapply.
What to Look for in a Sunscreen for Tattoos
Here are some features dermatologists recommend looking for when shopping for a sunscreen for tattooed skin.
Any sunscreen you use on your body or face should be at least SPF 30 or higher, says Dr. Garshick, because when it's applied and reapplied correctly, it blocks 97 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 15 is thought to block just 93 percent of UVB rays.
"It is important to ensure adequate protection, given [tattoos] can be thought of as an injury that makes the skin more sensitive to the sun," she says.
2. Mineral-Derived Ingredients
Unlike chemical sunscreens, which contain chemical ingredients that are absorbed into the skin to shield the skin from the sun's harmful rays, mineral sunscreens — which have ingredients like zinc and titanium — sit on the surface of the skin.
"Mineral sunscreen ingredients are not absorbed into the skin, but rather protect skin from UV radiation by reflecting UV off the skin," says Dr. Camp.
They tend to be less irritating on tattooed skin.
In general, Dr. Garshick recommends using a cream- or lotion-based sunscreen on tattooed areas to ensure proper coverage. That said, she points out that, for reapplication or for large surface areas, a spray can be used.
Don't Forget to Reapply
No matter where you’re applying your sunscreen, it’s important to remember to reapply every two to thee hours if you are not going swimming or very active, notes Richard Torbeck, MD, New York City-based dermatologist.
If you are very active (read: sweating) or swimming, reapply after about 60 to 80 minutes, he says, which is the maximum time limit for most water-resistant sunscreens.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.