Myth or Fact: Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?

Some people avoid the sun and use bleaching products to lighten the skin, while others seek the sun to achieve a sun-kissed glow. Even though there are benefits that come with tanning other than improved appearances, such as enhanced mood and increased vitamin D levels, there’s no denying that it is still considered a form of skin damage. Does sunscreen prevent tanning? Let’s find out!

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreens are classically divided into chemical (organic) sunscreen and physical (mineral) sunscreen. They differ in ingredients and how they block the rays.

Chemical sunscreen — absorbs into the skin and works like a sponge by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat.

Physical sunscreen — sits on the surface of the skin and acts like a shield by deflecting UV radiation away from the skin.

Why Is It Essential To Wear Sunscreen?

Dr. Stella emphasizes the importance of wearing sunscreen, “Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every single day.” No matter what your skin type is, wearing sunscreen is non-negotiable and for good reasons!

The two types of UV radiation that can affect our skin are UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA has longer wavelengths so it can penetrate deep into the skin, leading to premature aging. UVB causes damage to the outermost layer of the skin, leading to sunburn. Overexposure to either can lead to skin cancer.

What Happens To Your Skin When You Tan?

Tanning occurs in the skin’s uppermost layer called the epidermis. Melanocytes, special cells that are responsible for the synthesis of melanin, are located in the deepest part of the epidermis. When the skin is exposed to UV radiation, whether it is from the sun or tanning beds, it tries to defend itself by stimulating melanocytes to ramp up the production of protective melanin pigments. This is what causes pigmentation in the skin (aka tanning). Melanin also prevents further cellular damage to our skin by absorbing harmful UV rays and picking up reactive oxygen species (ROS) that form due to UV light damage.

So Does Sunscreen Actually Prevent You From Tanning?

To a certain degree, it does help our skin from getting tanned. Tanning is generally caused by UVA. It’s a good idea to opt for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB when you decide to spend the day outside!

Just because sunscreen acts like a shield, doesn’t mean that it’s impenetrable. Even when we’re wearing sunscreen, UV rays can still reach our skin and cause it to tan. This especially happens when we apply a small amount of sunscreen and sweat a lot.

Is It Possible To Tan Safely?

No. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to soften the blow of this hard truth. Once the skin begins to tan, cellular damage has already occurred. Even though our skin has its own way to protect itself by producing more melanin, it’s important to remember that the amount of melanin produced still is not enough to protect the skin cells from further damage.

The Bottom Line

That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy spending time outdoors soaking in the sun. Just remember to practice sun safety habits:

  • Avoid scheduling outdoor activities between the hours of 10am and 4pm when
    the UV rays are the strongest.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved cover-up, a wide-brimmed hat,
    UV blocking sunglasses, etc.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
    and reapply every 2 hours.
  • Seek shade when outdoors.

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Created With

Dr. Stella
Doctor
@stellamarselie

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