Can you get tattooed with sunburn?

Woman sat on beach looking at the sea with a upper back tattoo and black bikini

Share this article

Sun’s out, tat’s out, am I right? Your tattoos might be on show a lot more when the sun shines alongside those pesky blank bits of bare skin (if you have any space left). But whatever you’re doing and wearing in the warm weather it’s a good idea to protect your skin from sunburn. It’s even more important if you’ve got a new tattoo booked in. 

Last year, during the heatwave, we saw tattoo artist Hannah Gehrke (@gerktattoos) post loads of stories about sunburn and tattoos and what will happen if you’re sunburnt when you show up for your appointment. So we decided to find out more from the artist about getting tattooed if you have sunburn. If you’ve got an upcoming tattoo appointment this is what you need to know…

Can you tattoo on sunburn?

“No, don’t do it!” Hannah is firmly against the idea of tattooing sunburnt skin, she explains that “sunburn is, first and foremost, skin damage from overexposure to the sun (UV rays) and affects the outer layers of your skin.” 

But there’s no judgement here and sunburn can happen to the best of us. “We’ve all been there, forgot to reapply sun cream, missed a spot or been caught without any. Then later on comes the dreaded redness and pain. It becomes inflamed and sensitive, and the last thing you want to do is tattoo over it; it hurts when you just touch it!”

If you’ve got sunburnt skin then getting a tattoo is probably the last thing you’d want to do. You might find that a lot of tattooers will refuse to tattoo you. Or you’ll need to put your new tattoo in a place where you don’t have sunburn and you might need to change your design as well.

Pink and yellow peony tattoos on arm

Peony tattoo by Hannah. 

Can you get a tattoo on peeling skin?

Getting a tattoo on a sunburn could technically be really difficult, as the stencils, inks and ointments tattooers use haven’t been designed for sunburnt skin. Hannah has dealt with peeling skin before and tells us how "it always results in the stencil having to be moved elsewhere on the body with no damage, or the booking being rearranged altogether until the area has fully healed.”

The stencil just isn’t made to be put on peeling skin as it “sticks to the outer layers of flaky, dead skin, so with one wipe your stencil is coming straight off!” 

Should I tell my artist before the appointment that I am sunburnt?

“Yes please!” advises Hannah, “we can either find a new home for the tattoo or rearrange the appointment. It's inconvenient for both of us, sure, but it's much better to be safe than sorry!” 

If you’ve been emailing your tattoo artist then send them a message on the same email chain or drop them a DM, but only if they accept them. Make sure to contact them as soon as possible if you’ve been sunburnt. 

How long after you've had sunburn can you get a tattoo?

“Tattooing sunburnt skin would not only be incredibly sore, but there's a huge chance of healing being problematic. Your skin would already be trying to heal from the sun damage, so it's best to let it heal up before even attempting to tattoo it.”

As Hannah mentions, it’s best for your skin to be fully healed before you get a tattoo after sunburn which means there should be no blisters, discolouration or peeling skin. Your skin should be back to its old self within a week and you can help it along by using aftersun or a daily moisturiser

Will my tattooist be able to tattoo me if my skin is peeling or blistered? 

Probably not, but it’s at the tattoo artist’s discretion. Sunburnt skin is sore, often red and damaged which isn’t ideal when it comes to tattooing. The added redness comes from blood flooding the skin as the body tries to treat the damage. New tattoos are open wounds and can bleed well enough on their own without tattooing sunburnt skin. 

The risk of infection is also higher and Hannah agrees that “tattooing over blistered skin would probably result in a fast track ticket to Skin Infection City, so it's best to avoid any areas with considerable skin damage altogether.”

With this in mind it’s unlikely your tattoo artist will agree to tattoo you if you turn up to your appointment with any type of sunburn, even if it’s minor. Hannah would “like to think the vast majority of artists would say no to someone with sunburnt skin.”

Tattoo of two yellow lemons with leaves and white flower on a arm

Lemon tattoo by Hannah. 

Does sunburn fade tattoos?

Absolutely, sunburn causes tattoos to fade. Hannah describes how “the lines blister, burst, scab and then drop out, resulting in a very patchy looking tattoo.” 

Sun exposure fades tattoos and sunburn will only speed up the process. After you’ve been sunburnt your skin peels and in doing so you’re shedding layers of skin faster than you would normally do. So it’s best to avoid sunburning your tattoos by looking after your tattooed skin. You can find out what else causes tattoos to fade on our blog.

Do tattoos protect against sunburn?

Tattoos like any part of your skin can get sunburn, so having a tattoo won’t protect you from getting sunburn in the future. We recommend using a sunscreen with SPF50+ on your healed tattoos and remember you can’t apply sun cream to a new tattoo. So make sure to wear loose clothing, follow the aftercare given to you by your artist and keep it out of the sun while it heals. 

How to treat sunburn on a new tattoo

So you’ve sunburnt your new tattoo, now what? Hannah recommends you “completely leave it alone.” You don’t want to irritate the tattoo any further so caring for your sunburnt tattoo would look like: 

  • Leaving it to dry out
  • Not touching it
  • Not bursting any blisters 
  • Not applying any creams to it 
  • Keeping it covered with light clothing

“It’s better to be safe than sorry, but it’s so important to protect your tattoo from the get go in order to avoid any serious complications.”

You’ll also want to keep an eye on your new tattoo in case it becomes infected. Hannah advises seeing your GP for a second opinion if it “begins weeping yellow/green fluids, becomes inflamed/red (not the sunburn itself) which begins to spread over time rather than decrease in size.” 

How to protect your new tattoo from sunburn

If you’ve just been tattooed there are a few things you can do to help keep your new tattoo sunburn free, including:  

  • Keeping it covered with some light clothing
  • Keeping it out of direct sunlight
  • Applying sun cream once it’s fully healed
  • Avoiding swimming

While it’s healing, to avoid sunburn on your new tattoo, Hannah recommends sticking to your regular chosen moisturiser and to “keep those new tattoos under wraps and protected!” You also want to avoid getting your “healing tattoo soaking wet, so you take steps to cool yourself down in the shade,” when it’s hot. 

Summer tattoo tips

We all want our tattoos to look their best for years to come so make sure to wear a high SPF cream. Hannah has some words of wisdom too; “you are not harder than the sun. Your skin is your body's largest organ, and you should take the steps to look after it. If you're getting tattooed in the summer, make sure to consistently reapply sun cream whilst you're out and about and seek shade to avoid burning prior to your appointment.” 

As an added bonus, sun cream is fantastic for helping your tattoos age well, too. The less UV rays your body absorbs, the better your tattoos will look years down the line. Read our summer skincare tips for more advice. 

We hope we’ve answered all your questions around getting tattooed when you have sunburn and how to avoid getting sunburn on any new tattoos. We’ll let Hannah have the final say on this one. “Look after your skin, folks!”