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In Living

Staying out of the sun altogether is best for tattoos, but use a sunblock of at least SPF 30 when you can't.

Tattoos and sun exposure: a losing combination


At this point, most people know overexposure to the sun is harmful to your skin, and it's even tougher on tattoos. Ultraviolet light deeply dulls the vibrancy of the ink colors and makes relatively new tattoos look more like grandpa's weathered Navy tat.

In short, the more you tan, the more you fade.

"The sun is one of the worst things for tattoos. Getting a sunburn on it is something you definitely don't want to do," says Brian Kaiser, a tattoo artist for 13 years who currently works at Cutthroat Tattoo, 1415 E. Brady St.

Although protecting the skin for health reasons is most important, the fact that tattoos aren't cheap is a reason to cover up, too. After all, it's protection of a lifelong investment.

Keep in mind that sun exposure doesn't just happen at the beach or summer festival. A lot of people accidentally overexpose their skin, and their tattoos, on their left arm or shoulder while driving. Keeping a bottle of sunscreen in the car is a good idea to avoid this sun-related oversight.

Contrary to what some people believe, tanning beds are just as hard on tattoos as the sun, and arguably even more so because the ultraviolet rays are more concentrated. Milwaukee's Erin Shanty says she overexposed a chest tattoo in a tanning bed.

"I was definitely tanning too much at one point in my life, and I ended up looking unnaturally dark. But it also made the yellow in my tattoo (of a sunflower) fade," says Shanty.

Jeremy Kirk, who has 16 years of tattooing under his belt, says just stay out of the sun altogether. Kirk, who works at Solid State, 2660 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., says summer is a very popular time for people to get tattoos because they can "show them off" more while wearing warm weather attire, but that also means there are a lot of fresh tattoos being overexposed to the sun every summer.

"After a tattoo heals, you want to always use a sunscreen that's SPF 30 or higher," says Kirk. "The sun makes tattoos fade much quicker over time."

Kirk doesn't have a particular brand of sunscreen that he recommends, just any brand with a high SPF. And he says that even though sun exposure will dull color more quickly, all tattoos will fade over time. He confirms that people's skin reacts differently to tattoos and some people's tattoos naturally fade faster than others.

"They do eventually fade, even if you're not in the sun," he says. "Everybody's skin is a little different. For some, it's easier to get the ink in the skin during the process. Others have more stubborn skin."

Never put sunblock on a new tattoo. Instead, follow the artist's aftercare instructions, and then it's best to keep it covered with clothing or by standing in the shade. Once it's completely healed, meaning it has gone through the entire scabbing / flaking process, apply sunscreen religiously for the rest of your life. (Sounds dramatic, but it's true.)

"Use sunscreen always, but not until it has completely healed," says Patrick Aubrey, who works at Body Ritual, 1459 N. Farwell Ave., and has been tattooing for 11 years.

The biggest piece of advice from Milwaukee tattoo artists is to simply stay out of the sun as much as possible, if not completely.

"You might not be able to stay out of the sun altogether, but spend as little time as possible in it. Staying out of the sun completely is the best thing you can do for your tattoos," says Kaiser. "Especially when it's healing. The sun really takes a toll on tattoos over the years."

Talkbacks

Akashic11 | July 23, 2012 at 2:25 a.m. (report)

Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:28, The Holy Bible. Tattoos are on the people who didn't get the word of the Lord!

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