Keep an eye on your tattoos when you are out in the sun

When you’re out in the sun, whether you’re on holiday or having a BBQ in your garden, it’s nice to get some sun on your skin – boosting your vitamin D levels and getting a nice glow.

But something you may not have considered is that your tattoos may be leading you down a dangerous path when it comes to sun exposure.

A small US study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, showed that tattooed skin produces significantly less sweat than normal skin, which could lead to overheating when in the sun for prolonged periods.

The skin uses sweat as a cooling device. When the skin begins to get hot, sweat is released from sweat glands under the skin which then evaporate on the surface, lowering the temperature.

The study used the sweat-inducing compound, pilocarpine nitrate, to induce a 5.2cm2 sample of tattooed skin from one side of the body and then a sample of un-inked skin from the opposite side.

The tattooed skin produced about half the amount of sweat as the non-tattooed skin, as well as on average producing 1.73 times more sodium (Na+, salt).

Producing less sweat could mean your skin is in real danger of overheating and losing too much salt in your sweat means you could suffer an electrolyte imbalance, particularly pertinent if you’re exercising (sodium is an electrolyte needed for muscle contraction).

Though it’s true that if you have a few scattered tattoos around your body, this may not be too much of a concern, however if large portions of your skin are completely covered then there’s a significant chance you could suffer from overheating.

Overheating and heat exhaustion, regardless of tattoos, are things to really look out for when in the sun.

Signs of heat exhaustion include tiredness, dizziness, nausea, headaches and muscle cramps, so if anyone you know starts to exhibit any of these symptoms, get them to lie down in a cool place, drink plenty of water and cool them down by removing their clothes and wetting their skin with a cold sponge or flannel.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher