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Can You Get a Tattoo on a Tan

With the right artist you can successfully tattoo on top of freckles, scars, stretch marks, and of course over bad tattoos. However, one question that often pops up in the summer is in regards to whether or not you can tattoo over a tan. After all, the surface of your skin will have changed moderately to significantly, depending upon how long you’ve been out there under the big yellow ball this season. Then, there are those of you taking naps on UV beds or standing on guard at spray-tan salons which can be more impactful that natural Vitamin-D. Whatever the case may be there are indeed some things to consider before getting a tattoo soon after getting a butterscotch tone. Let’s investigate.

What You Need to Know About Tattooing Over a Tan

Moderate Au Naturale

If you’ve had a couple of casual days at the beach and have a moderate (and natural) tan as a result, without the feeling (pain, sensitivity, swelling) or appearance (redness or other odd discoloration) of a sunburn, you probably have nothing to worry about, and can continue on with your scheduled tattoo appointment. Remember, when you get a tattoo, the ink is injected into the middle layer of your skin, called the dermis. A moderate tan instead darkens the epidermis, the outer layer of your skin, which is why for most people a nice golden tan fades so damn fast. Since the tattoo machine needle penetrates the epidermis, the ink will still take.

In an ideal scenario you would not tan at all before getting your tattoo, but it’s unrealistic to expect you to hide indoors or under a sheath of clothes on a beautiful summer day, so just remember to apply your SPF 30-60 and keep an eye on your skin.


A sunburn absolutely impacts your tattooist’s canvas, and if a professional artist identifies a sunburn on your intended area they will politely ask you to schedule an appointment for a few days down the road once the burn has healed and the skin is no longer sensitive. In some cases, a “few days” can turn into two weeks or longer, when the sunburn is extreme. In this latter case, cells in the underlying dermis (vs epidermis) can be damaged as well, resulting in a second-degree burn. When this occurs you will experience blistering and/or excessive peeling in the days to come. Once the blistering/peeling has subsided, your dermis and epidermis will need to heal from the trauma before it can accept another attack from the tattoo machine’s needle. If you have sustained a sunburn – wait until it has FULLY healed and let your tattooist know about it before they put needle to skin – they may want to inspect the area more closely.

Fake & Bake

Imitation UV derived from a tanning bed or standup contraption has the same general impact on your skin’s epidermis. In theory, a light to moderate fake tan will present no issue when it comes to tattooing. However, given that you have FULL control over whether or not you enter a tanning salon, why do it the week of your intended tattoo? Protect your investment in permanent body art by waiting to hit the tanning salon within the week of your tattoo, and for three weeks after getting a tattoo, to let it heal. If you absolutely have to get a salon tan (whatever the motivation may be) cover up the entire “to be tattooed” area with SPF 60+ and fabric. If you forget to bring either of the latter to the salon just use your sock or whatever.

What about spray tans? If Ross’s tanning incident on Friends (such a good episode!) isn’t enough to dissuade you from going this route, let mercy for your tattooist be the motivation. A spray tan artificially colors the outer layer of your skin, and when your tattooist is working on the recently painted area, the color may smudge/smear and complicate the artist’s ability to properly blend the color and tone (of the ink) they’re applying. Even if the spray tan color has set, it will impact the brightness and color of your newly applied ink, and it will be impossible for your artist to gauge exactly what the tattoo will look like on your natural skin. By getting a spray tan before your tattoo, you won’t really know what the tattoo looks like until a couple of weeks down the road once your natural color has returned. You may not like the end result, and you will have to go back on your own dime for a touch up, which may or may not have the desired impact.

When it comes to fake and/or bake – just wait.

If you have any additional questions about getting a tattoo after getting your George Hamilton on (outdated reference?) or you’re ready to move forward, contact an Adrenaline Studios near you.