There is a common misconception that tattoos can protect against skin cancer by creating a physical barrier between skin cells and the sun's harmful UV rays, similar to how clothing can protect the skin from sunburn.
Unfortunately, this isn't true. Tattoo ink does not create any barrier and can't protect against sunburn, cell damage or skin cancer.
While there is certainly no evidence that tattoos cause skin cancer, they can be responsible for masking changes in the skin which might lead to a delayed skin cancer diagnosis.
The first sign of skin cancer is usually a new or changing spot on the skin. Tattoo ink - especially heavy or dark pigments - can disguise these changes and make it harder for you or your doctor to detect symptoms.
If left undetected, skin cancer can grow and spread to other parts of the body, leading to significant scarring, permanent disfigurement or even death. Therefore, early detection is crucial.
If you have a tattoo or plan to get one, consider these tips to minimise your skin cancer risk:
- Before getting the tattoo, get a skin cancer check to ensure no spots in the area are cancerous.
- After getting the tattoo, check the skin underneath it regularly for any new or changing moles. This can be difficult because of the ink, so you will need to check carefully.
- See a skin cancer doctor for regular skin checks and ensure they use a dermatoscope for your whole body, including over tattooed skin. This won't damage your tattoo.
- If you're going out in the sun, ensure your tattoo is covered with clothing, shade or sunscreen (or all three!). This protects it from skin cancer and also helps to prevent ink fading as you get older.
- Don't be afraid to see your doctor if you notice any changes to your tattooed skin. If you have skin cancer, the spot will be removed and your tattoo may be disfigured, but the consequences of leaving skin cancer untreated are much worse.