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The Best Sunscreens For Tattoos

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When it comes to preventing skin cancer and protecting the overall health of your skin, the importance of wearing sunscreen is nothing new. But if you have tattoos, SPF is even more essential. "Wearing sunscreen will help protect the tattoo from fading, sun damage, and keep your tattoo looking fresher, longer," Shaughnessy Otsuji, co-owner and lead artist at Studio Sashiko, tells Elite Daily. The best sunscreens for tattoos will mostly depend on your personal preferences (in terms of the formula and feel), but dermatologist Dr. Jeremy Fenton notes that you'll want an SPF of at least 30. "Once you have an SPF of 30, it doesn't offer much benefit above that as long as you are applying it [on] thick and regularly," he explains. "However, for those [who] aren't slathering the sunscreen on regularly, or [are] skimping on the amount they apply, there may be a benefit to SPF 50+," he says.

The Experts

Shaughnessy Otsuji is the co-owner and lead artist at Studio Sashiko in Los Angeles, CA and Langley, Canada. Otsuji studied at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and has worked in the body modification and tattoo industries since 2007. She specializes in using tattooing techniques to create natural-looking eyebrows, as well as restorative areola tattooing for clients who have undergone mastectomies or breast reconstruction surgeries.

Dr. Jeremy Fenton, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in general and cosmetic dermatology, laser therapy, Botox, and fillers. He serves as the medical director for Schweiger Dermatology Group and is a clinical instructor at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, NY. Dr. Fenton received the Marion B. Sulzberger Award for excellence in dermatology while attending the NYU School of Medicine, and he completed his dermatology residency at Vanderbilt University, where he was also chosen to serve as chief resident.

Post-Tattoo Care

If you recently got a tattoo, you'll want to avoid sun exposure entirely for at least two weeks (though Dr. Fenton says that one month is preferred). "The healing stage of a tattoo will vary, as the skin heals differently," Otsuji says. "Fresh tattoos are open wounds and can be extra sensitive to sunlight while healing," she explains. "During this time, you should avoid the sun by covering the new tattoo with long sleeves, pants, a hat, sunglasses, or any other clothing items to cover it up." You'll also want to avoid sweating and swimming while your tattoo fully heals, and be sure to follow the aftercare instructions from your tattoo artist. "Taking care of your tattoos is important because it will keep [them] looking fresher, longer," Otsuji stresses.

Mineral Vs. Chemical Sunscreen

Both Otsuji and Dr. Fenton share that mineral sunscreens, which sit on the skin's surface, are generally a better option. "It doesn't degrade in the sun, and it is less likely to cause any type of skin reaction or irritation," Dr. Fenton says of mineral sun blockers, particularly, the ingredient zinc oxide. Otsuji points out that some people might not like the white tint that mineral formulas leave behind, in which case a chemical sunscreen might be your preferred option. "Chemical SPF formulas can be easier to apply without feeling sticky or greasy, but certain chemicals may exacerbate skin conditions such as rosacea or melasma," she cautions. "It is always a great idea to check in with your skin care specialist about any concerns before starting a new chemical product," she suggests. Either way, don't forget to reapply. "Keep on reapplying every two to three hours, or after swimming or sweating," advises Dr. Fenton.

To find out whether a sunscreen is mineral or chemical, look on the back of the bottle for the following active ingredients:

  • Mineral sunscreen ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide
  • Chemical sunscreen ingredients: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, octinoxate

Shop The Best Sunscreens For Tattoos

In a hurry? Here are the best sunscreens for tattoos:

1. The Overall Best: EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50

2. Best Invisible Sunscreen For Tattoos: Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

3. Best Facial Sunscreen: Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+

4. Best Stick Sunscreen: CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen Stick

5. Best Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen

01
The Derm's Pick: Best Overall

Dr. Fenton recommends any of the sunscreens from EltaMD's lineup, but their UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 is an overall great option — whether you're looking to protect a full-sleeve tattoo or something smaller. The formula uses a mix of mineral and chemical sunscreen ingredients to increase protection from UVA and UVB rays with up to 80 minutes of water resistance. The sunscreen is fragrance-free, oil-free, and noncomedogenic, so even though it was designed to be used as a full-body sunscreen, you can apply it on your face without the risk of irritation or breakouts.

Relevant Review: "I have a half sleeve of color tattoos. It's amazing for protecting the color and saturation of the pigments and keeps it from fading. It does leave a white cast on the skin and does make my tattoo look whiter, but I don't care as long as the color is protected."

SPF Level: 50 Sunscreen Type: Mineral & Chemical Water-Resistant: Yes Size: 3 oz. Cruelty-Free: No

02
Best Invisible Sunscreen For Tattoos

For darker skin tones (or anyone who doesn’t like sunscreens that leave behind a white cast), try Supergoop!’s Unseen Sunscreen with SPF 40. This clear gel sunscreen sinks into skin invisibly and weightlessly, leaving no discernible residue behind. It's fragrance-free and loaded with good-for-skin ingredients like meadowfoam seed, red algae, shea butter, and vitamin E to keep your skin moisturized and help protect against blue light.

Relevant Review: "Expensive for small size but the product is very reputable & comes highly endorsed. It’s clear. Works well for sunscreen over tattoos such as eyebrows bc it is CLEAR [...].”

SPF Level: 40 Sunscreen Type: Chemical Water-Resistant: Yes Size: 1.7 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes

03
Best Facial Sunscreen

Don't forget that microblading (and other brow tattooing techniques) are tattoos, too. "Our faces are much more exposed to sunlight on a regular basis," Otsuji says of microbladed brows being more prone to sun damage. "I strongly recommend wearing SPF once your brows have healed to keep them from fading prematurely," she advises. Neutrogena’s Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Lotion is a lightweight option that's oil-free, noncomedogenic, and made with oil-absorbing ingredients like silica and aluminum starch to keep your skin looking matte. If you're looking for a thinner consistency, the brand also makes a serum version of this sunscreen, which is fragrance-free and completely eliminates the risk of weighing down or discoloring your brows.

Relevant Review: "This sunscreen is seriously perfect! It blends in with no white residue. […] It's moisturizing like a true lotion. It makes my tattoos look bright and vibrant while protecting them from UV rays. I actually look forward to using this sunscreen."

SPF Level: 60 Sunscreen Type: Chemical Water-Resistant: Yes Size: 3 oz. Cruelty-Free: No

04
Best Stick Sunscreen

For on-the-go touchups and keeping in your bag without the risk of spills, it doesn't get much easier than a stick formula, which lets you swipe your sunscreen right over your tattoo for extra protection. CeraVe’s Mineral Sunscreen Stick uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to provide broad-spectrum SPF 50 coverage. To further reduce the risk of irritation, the sunscreen is fragrance-free and oil-free, and it helps to protect and restore your skin's natural barrier using three ceramides and hyaluronic acid.

Relevant Review: "I have a very brightly colored tattoo that I want to keep protected, so I always keep this sunscreen on me so if I end up outside, I can protect it. Because it is a physical sunscreen, it does leave a white cast, but it's much better at protecting tattoos than a chemical sunscreen, so that's a sacrifice I'm willing to accept. It's also very smooth and creamy and doesn't leave any greasy feeling."

SPF Level: 50 Sunscreen Type: Mineral Water-Resistant: Yes Size: 0.47 oz. Cruelty-Free: No

05
Best Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin

For a traditional lotion sunscreen that's sensitive skin-friendly, Blue Lizard’s Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen can be used on both your body and face. The formula uses only the mineral ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for sun protection, and it's fragrance-free and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Hydrogenated castor oil and vitamin E are also included in the formula to keep your skin moisturized and soft.

Relevant Review: "After going through countless forums and talking with tattoo enthusiasts, I found Blue Lizard. […] The first 10-15 minutes of applying it over my tattoo, I will get the typical white zinc faded look that all zinc sunscreens have. After that time, however, it absorbs and my tattoo looks as dark as it was before the sunscreen. This stuff is amazing, and it's the only sunscreen I will use to protect my artwork."

SPF Level: 50 Sunscreen Type: Mineral Water-Resistant: Yes Size: 5 oz. Cruelty-Free: No

06
You May Also Like: Best Healing Ointment For Tattooed, Sunburnt Skin

A tattoo doesn't make you immune to sunburn, Dr. Fenton warns. If you're not able to see any red skin through the tattoo, "Often the first sign is when you put it under warm water in the shower — it will feel hot and burn," he explains. For a new tattoo or a burn that's so bad it blisters or starts to scab, Dr. Fenton recommends treating the skin with Aquaphor Healing Ointment. The fragrance-free ointment soothes irritation while creating a protective barrier to help your skin retain moisture. If your sunburn isn’t on a newer tattoo, Dr. Fenton says you can treat it as you would a sunburn on non-tattooed skin, using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or aloe gel.

Relevant Review: "I've used Aquaphor for every tattoo I've ever gotten, and I swear by it for getting past the peeling, itchy, dry stage."

Experts:

Shaughnessy Otsuji, co-owner and lead artist at Studio Sashiko

Dr. Jeremy Fenton, M.D., board-certified dermatologist