Can you tan with sunscreen?

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There’s a lot of misconception surrounding sunscreen and the effect it has on tanning. While a majority of people know that sunscreen is the best way to avoid sunburn, many will skip wearing it to get a deep tan as they believe using sunscreen will prevent tanning.

This article will explain that you can still achieve your ideal summer tan whilst wearing sunscreen, and the importance of applying SPF when exposed to the sun.

Does sunscreen prevent tanning?

Our skin is often exposed to hours of sunlight. To avoid irreversible damage to the skin cells it is essential to wear sunscreen whenever you go outside, but some of us may think this will reduce our chances of getting a tan.

Sunscreen does not prevent you from tanning, because it does not protect your skin from 100% of UVA radiation.

Applying SPF 30+ protects you from 97% of UV rays, while SPF 50+ from 98%. This means that some rays will still reach your skin despite wearing sunscreen, so it will not prevent tanning completely. You will still be able to get some colour on your skin, just at a slower, more manageable rate, whilst lowering the risks of damaging your skin.

This does, however, mean that you are able to burn. With SPF 30, it will take roughly 30 times longer to burn than if you leave yourself unprotected in the sun, assuming it is correctly applied. So ensure that you reapply sunscreen to limit the damage to your skin.

When choosing a sunscreen, there are two types that help defend the skin against UV damage:

  • Chemical-based sunscreen absorbs UV rays and alters them before they penetrate the skin and cause damage.
  • Physical-based sunscreen reflects the rays away from your skin. As explained above, no sun cream is 100% effective against protecting your skin so you can tan with sunscreen.

What are the risks of tanning without sunscreen?

UVA and UVB rays are very harmful to your skin. Sunburn can have multiple negative consequences, both short and long-term, that can greatly affect your appearance and overall health.

Short term it makes the skin red, swollen, blister and very painful to touch. Tanning without sunscreen (or incorrectly-applied sunscreen) greatly increases the chances of developing hyperpigmentation (developing darker patches of skin), photoageing (your skin ageing prematurely) and the chances of developing skin cancer later on in life.

Safe sun protection

Sunscreen should be used every day because our skin isn’t only affected by the sun on holiday. UV rays and high-energy visible (HEVIS) light are present all day, every day. So, regardless of the weather, even on rainy or overcast days, it is highly important to your health that you wear sunscreen when spending long periods of time outside.

It is worth noting that any sort of tan from UV rays is considered sun damage. As even the strongest sunscreen does not prevent tanning, it is always best to apply SPF 30+ or 50+. This will help your skin stay healthy and younger-looking as you age.

When to apply sunscreen for optimal protection

It is recommended you apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside to ensure that it has fully bonded to your skin so you get the best protection. Re-apply every two hours when out in the sun, or more regularly if you’re swimming, perspiring or towelling off. You can learn more about applying sunscreen correctly here.

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