Fresh tattoos need some TLC in the sun.
You planned the tattoo design for months—or maybe even years. You booked the appointment a month or two ago. You saved up and dropped big money for a hygienic and highly rated tattoo artist. You sat in the chair at the tattoo parlor, distracting yourself from the pain by dreaming about how that new ink would look in your bikini at the beach this summer.
But hang on: fresh ink, bright sun, and salty water are a cocktail you won’t want to sip. If you’re not careful, beach days may both damage your new tat *and* put you at risk for infection and complications—and some of them are life-threatening.
What to Know About Tattoos in the Summer
In general, dermatologists say that tattoos can be safe with proper care. Being informed before getting your tattoo is the best way to ensure healthy skin and body during and after the inking process.
That star or arrow on your ankle may seem like just ink on your skin, but the anatomy of a tattoo is more complicated than that. The ink is actually in the deeper layer of your skin—the dermis—which is where your nerves and blood vessels are located.
To deliver the ink through the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and into the dermis, a machine repeatedly drives several tiny needles with ink about one to four millimeters into the skin. Because of this, the new tattoo is not simply ink, but an open wound that may easily become infected.
New tattoos require around two weeks to heal, and your tattoo artist should go over after-care instructions for a new tattoo to promote healthy healing and avoid scarring or infections. Certain situations—like heading to the beach or pool—may require additional caution.
Both derms and tattoo artists recommend avoiding as much UV light as possible with a new tattoo. First of all, UV rays are the main reason tattoos fade over time. Day 2 is way too early to start fading your new ink, right?
More importantly, new tattoos (and other wounds) are more susceptible to sunburn, which increases your risk of skin cancer. Even a small amount of sun is more likely to severely burn and blister on a wound than under normal conditions. (Here are tips to treat a bad sunburn.)
How to Take Care of Your Tattoo at the Beach
If possible, get your tattoo in the winter, when your new ink is least likely to have exposure to UV rays or water. That said, if you find yourself going to the beach after getting a new tattoo, use these tips to take care of your fresh tat.
Avoid water (sorry). No swimming, soaking, or putting your tattoo directly under a water stream. Water—especially seawater or pool water—is harsh on your tattoo water and can increase your risk of infection. Keep your tattoo dry, except when doing your twice-a-day cleanings.
Wear sunscreen. If you absolutely cannot avoid the sun, be sure to use sunscreen. Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or more, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Learn more about how to choose the right sunscreen here.
Cover your tattoo. Wrap your tattoo site with gauze and tape. (Your tattoo artist should demonstrate how to do this before you leave the parlor.) This helps block both UV rays and infectious materials—like dirty sand—from getting into your wound.
Wear loose clothing. A tight swimsuit over a new tattoo may irritate the wounded skin. Make sure any clothing that touches your tattoo site is loose and comfortable.
Cleanse the tattoo site when you get home. As demonstrated by your tattoo artist, rinse the tattoo site using clean water and unscented soap. Don’t put the soap or water stream directly on the tattoo; use gravity to let the water and suds “fall” across the skin of your tattoo. Rinsing off any sand or sunscreen that may have gotten in your tattoo wound may help prevent infections.
If you’re gonna be heading to the beach on the reg this summer, you’ll definitely want to know these other beach day tips.
Caring for tattooed skin. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on January 30, 2022 at https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/skin-care/caring-for-tattooed-skin.)Tattooing in adolescents and young adults. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2018. (Accessed on January 30, 2022 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/tattooing-in-adolescents-and-young-adults.)