New Tattoos And Indirect Sunlight: Can A New Tattoo Burn?

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So you’ve just gotten a new tattoo and it looks really cool. You want to show it off to all of your friends so you don’t necessarily want to cover it up with a bandage, wrap or clothing. You figure that as long as you stay in the shade; under an umbrella at the beach for example, you should be fine. Well I’m going to solve your problem and figure out if indirect sunlight really matters for new tattoos. let us see what I found out about how Indirect sunlight affects new tattoos.

Several Studies have indicated that shade structures, coverings and umbrellas are not sufficient to completely block UV radiation. The protection that shade in a low albedo environment offers from ultra violet radiation is its ability to double the amount of time it would take for Erythema (redness of skin due to sun damage) and damage in direct sunlight to a new tattoo to occur. Highly reflective surfaces like sand and snow can greatly increase the percentage of indirect UV radiation that is able to get underneath your shade protection. Glass offers protection from sunlight but can only reduce exposure to 25% of what direct sunlight would be.

UV Index 1-2 Very Low 3-4 Low 5-6 Medium 7-10 High 11+ Very High
Estimated Minutes for a new tattoo to burn In shade under umbrella in dry grass during peak UV hours (11am- 4pm) 120 Minutes 90 Minutes 60 Minutes 30-48 Minutes 20 minutes or less
Estimated Minutes for a new tattoo to burn in shade under umbrella in concrete during peak UV hours 114 Minutes 85.5 Minutes 57 Minutes 28.5-45.6 Minutes 19 Minutes or less
Estimated Minutes for a new tattoo to burn in shade under umbrella in sand during peak UV hours 102 Minutes 76.5 Minutes 51 Minutes 25.5-40.8 Minutes 17 Minutes or less
Estimated Minutes for a new tattoo to burn in shade under umbrella in snow during peak UV hours 66 Minutes 49.55 Minutes 33 Minutes 16.5-26.4 Minutes 11 Minutes or less
Estimated minutes for a new tattoo to burn in direct sunlight through window indoors or in car during peak UV hours. 150 Minutes 112.5 Minutes 75 Minutes 37.5-60 Minutes 25 Minutes or less

You can find out the UV index in your area with a quick google search.

Your tattoo is not completely safe underneath indirect sunlight. This holds true for being outside at the beach, by the pool, skiing/snowboarding, walking around under a shady street or even being inside near a window.

All of these Situations where hiding under the shade might be thought to be a safe bet, do not actually offer full protection from the sun. Other forms of sun protection must be used in order to fully protect a new tattoo from damage.

Lets look at what science has shown us about sunlight and the tattoo damaging ultra violet radiation that it emits.

Science Shows Indirect Sunlight Can Cause Skin Damage

Sick Tattoo

The way to measure whether or not sun exposure is going to be harmful is by looking at the UV index. The UV index can range from Low at 1-2 to Extreme at 11+. The Index represents the amount of radiation hitting the earths surface that could possibly damage your skin.

Here is a table showing the UV index and the estimated time under direct sunlight with no sun protection that it would take for your skin to see symptoms of Erythema (sunburn).

UV Index 0-2 Very Low 3-4 Low 5-6 Medium 7-10 High 10+ Very High
Minutes To Burn 60 minutes 45 minutes 30 minutes 15-24 Minutes 10 minutes or less

50% of your total UV exposure comes from diffuse UV. Diffuse UV is the proper term for indirect sunlight. Diffuse UV is sunlight that has been scattered or reflected off of the atmosphere and the surrounding environment including surfaces near you.

Just because you went underneath some shade, only means that you’ve greatly reduced your UV exposure by direct UV, but you have not eliminated your UV exposure entirely.

Direct UV can be fairly well eliminated by just standing under an umbrella, but given that about 50% of your total UV exposure in direct sunlight comes from diffuse UV, you have only halved your UV exposure and thus halved your time until sun induced skin reddening occurs.

Factors Affecting Indirect Sunlight Exposure

These are the three factors to look at for what makes effective shade:

  1. Does your surrounding environment have highly reflective (high albedo) surfaces nearby?
  2. How much of the sky is actually visible from your shade?
  3. Is the shade natural (like trees, shrubs etc) or manmade?
Surface Type Grass Concrete Sand Snow
Albedo (reflectivity) 0.5%-1.2% 10% 15%-30% 90%

This means that by sitting on a sandy beach with a small umbrella blocking sunlight from hitting you directly, you can still be exposed to up to 65% of the total UV in the environment. That means an umbrella reduced your total UV exposure by only 35%.

Sitting under an umbrella in the snow on a sunny day would only reduce your UV exposure by a mere 5%! Still enough to get a sunburn on your new tattoo in about 10 minutes!

Another thing that can affect your UV exposure is the Amount of sky exposure that you can see while under your shade. This will increase the amount of reflected UV that is able to enter under your canopy.

Natural shade is useful for sun protection but be sure that the canopy is not sparsely populated with leaves and foliage and to be sure that there is a thick layer of foliage that is covering you so that little to no light is getting through.

Lets look at different environments and how the surroundings in those environments will affect your UV exposure.

Indirect Sunlight In The City

When you are in the city and walking around with a sun umbrella your your sun exposure is still going to be 55% of the total UV. The umbrella is only protecting you from 45% of the sunlight. Your time until experiencing symptoms of sunburn on your new tattoo is going to be only 5% less than being on dry grass.

Concrete is everywhere and the sunlight is going to reflect off it.

Indirect Sunlight At The beach

When you are at the beach and under an umbrella your Sun exposure is going to be 65% of the total UV you would otherwise get from direct exposure. You are only protected from 35% of total UV. Your Time until experiencing symptoms of sun burn is 15% less than being on dry grass with an umbrella.

Sand and water are highly reflective and so this is a very UV intense environment.

Indirect Sunlight In the Snow

Sun exposure is still going to be 95% of total UV. By being in the snow with an umbrella you are merely Protected from 5% of total UV! Time to burn is 45% less than control.

Snow is unfathomably reflective. This is why it can cause snow blindness. The reflectivity is insane so take extra precaution with new tattoos while skiing at high altitudes.

Indirect Sunlight Indoors/In car

Glass totally blocks UVB radiation but it still can let in nearly all of the UVA radiation if the glass is untreated. Laminated Glass blocks almost all of the UVA radiation.

The front windshield of a car is most commonly laminated to allow the glass to break into small fragments during a crash.

The side window panels and rear window panel and windows in homes however are not commonly laminated therefore letting in a considerable amount of UVA radiation. UVA is 95% so blocking the UVB only account for a 5% reduction in total UV exposure.

The average amount of UVA ambient radiation transmission was 0.8%-17.5% through side windows of a car and 0-25.7% through the rear windows according to this study.

The study didn’t account for solar angle or albedo of surfaces so lets say that direct sunlight peeking through the window is going to be at the top range for exposure.

This means that You are receiving about 20-25% of the total ambient radiation if sunlight is shining through a side window and onto your arm.

That means that your time to burn in direct sunlight through a windshield is going to be 1/4 of time to burn in direct sunlight.

If your arm is on the door during a long drive on a sunny day for an hour it could burn. The glass doesn’t totally protect you.


Even if you think your tattoo is protected from the sun because you are under some shade, it is still very much able to be burned and lose its quality. We’ve seen that the UV light can easily get underneath your shade structure and can sometimes burn your tattoo in under an hour. Make sure to keep your new tattoo covered with some very thick materials at all times and stay out of the sun as much as possible while it recovers.

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