Tattooed skin burns just the same as that which is unaffected by body art.
Burns can leave you with short term issues or effect the skin more severely. This holds for tattooed skin damaged by the sun, more serious types of burns, or extreme cases where people have tried to burn off their tattoo designs.
This article will identify burn types, determine the range of problems burn damage creates for tattooed skin, and ways to treat burn problems effectively or repair tattoos.
What types of burns are there?
There are three types of burns:
Superficial (Ist Degree burns)
These burns cause damage to the first or top layer of skin, which is known as the epidermis. The burn site will be red and painful but are usually considered minor.
Partial thickness (2nd Degree burns)
These burns are more painful and cause damage to the first and second layers of skin – the epidermis and dermis. The burn site will be red, peeling, and blistered. The individual will experience swelling to the area, and there will likely be fluid – clear or yellow – leaking from the skin. The burn site is very painful.
Full thickness (3rd Degree burns)
This is the most severe type of burn, involving damage to the dermis and epidermis plus the tissue lying underneath these skin layers.
The burn site looks black or charred with white exposed fatty tissue. These very deep, extremely serious burns may damage the underlying muscle and bone in addition to skin.
The individual will feel less pain due to nerve endings being destroyed, however the partial thickness/2nd degree burns around this will be almost unbearably painful.
Tattoos and sunburn
The sun’s ultraviolet rays cause damage to the skin, and new tattoo ink is highly susceptible to UV rays. Sun exposure also causes fading and degradation to tattooed skin over time.
Sun-damaged fresh tattoos are problematic for a variety of reasons, including:
- Loss of ink (drop out) that hasn’t settled into the dermis (2nd layer)
- Ink fading
- Skin irritation, swelling and redness
- Blistering and pain
- Increased scabbing, peeling, and scarring
- Increased susceptibility to infection
- Lengthier healing times
Your education, job, or the climate you live in may make it difficult to cover up your body art or to keep it out of the sun. If you must, apply a small amount of tattoo specific 30+ SPF sunblock every time you go outside uncovered and carry the sunblock with you so that it can be re-applied.
If you’re getting a tattoo during a vacation, don’t roll into the tattoo shop sunburned – you could be turned away by the artist – and if possible, wait until you’re just about to journey home to get your prized new piece of art to avoid complications excess sun could create.
What happens if my new tattoo gets sunburned?
If your new tattoo gets sunburned, firstly, don’t panic. There are several immediate steps you can take to calm the afflicted area and decrease chances of permanent damage.
- Get out of the sun, and stay covered up
- Stay hydrated
- Re-start your aftercare process by cleaning and applying ointment to your tattoo, especially those which promote skin hydration
- Take Advil to reduce swelling and redness
- Wear loose fitting, cotton clothing to allow your skin the chance to breathe
If it’s not subjected to continuous damage and steps are taken to heal the sunburn, then usually there won’t be any long last damage.
Tattoos and serious burns
If you have a tattoo affected by 2nd or 3rd degree burns, there is likely to be significant damage to the tattooed area in addition to skin and tissue.
Severe burns can create significant scarring to the tattoo and possible loss of pigment to the burned tattooed area.
Severe burns need immediate medical attention and or the performance of first aid. This could be caused by:
- A burn leading to labored breathing or airway obstruction
- A severe or deep burn to any part of your skin
- Skin that looks leathery after a burn or has been charred black, brown, or white
Even if they appear minor, it’s also important that you treat electricity or chemical burns seriously from the outset.
Other serious burn warning signs include:
- Feeling sick for a long period after getting burned
- Significant scarring
- Pus, pain, swelling, and redness (essentially the same infection signals you would have during the initial tattoo healing process)
- Burns or blisters that refuse to heal
Severe burns often pass through all the layers of skin that contain your tattoo, down into the tissue below. This can leave behind permanently loss of ink, scarring, fading and discoloration. Fresh or new tattoos are more likely to react poorly after being burned than old body art.
Deliberately burned tattoos
On rare occasions tattoos can be burned deliberately. This is often linked with prison or gang affiliations gone sour, but there are also examples of highly objectionable racist body art being subjected to vigilante justice.
It’s a horrible method of trying to remove a tattoo, but the objective is pain, suffering and humiliation rather than just the loss of ink.
Some people also attempt to remove their tattoos themselves by burning the tattoo – usually as a cheap removal method. This is seriously dangerous, and should not be recommended…by anyone.
What can I do if my tattoo is burned badly?
If your tattoo has been burned badly enough to need further attention, there are two things you can do:
- Tattoo repair. The first port of call should be to visit your tattoo artist to see what can be done to fix the tattoo. They will likely recommend that the tattoo heals fully, before attempting to fix any damage caused from a burn. Often, they’ll touch up damage or faded ink but charge to do so, as your burn has been caused by a lack of correct care
- Tattoo removal. Some burns are significant enough that the scarring or damage is too difficult to be fixed by your tattoo artist. This will likely mean you need to get the tattoo removed. Laser tattoo removal is the best method to get it done, however it is expensive and could take a few sessions to complete
Make sure that for tattoo repair or removal, that you fully understand the cost involved before getting the work done to rectify the damage caused from a burn.
The bottom line is that burns are not good for your new tattoo or for your health. Make sure that if you do get a superficially burn that you look after the area and take appropriate action to repair any damage by visiting your tattooist when healed.
If you are unfortunate enough to get burned severely, be aware that your ink and skin will both be damaged, probably significantly. Seek medical attention, then visit the tattoo shop or laser removal specialist for treatment.
And remember, it takes up to six months for your tattoo to heal fully and they do fade from sun exposure over time, so it’s best to always be sun smart and sensible!
Click on the links below for more tattoo healing and aftercare information articles