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Can You Still Tan With Sunscreen?

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Tanning is the skin’s natural defensive process, which allows it to shield itself from the consequences of prolonged sun exposure. So, as long as your skin activates this defensive barrier, you will experience tanning. And precisely, this is why dermatologists recommend using sunscreens.

With the help of numerous ingredients, sunscreens work by absorbing and scattering UV rays before they can reach your skin. As a result, your skin gets less tanned, leading people to believe that they are now tan-proof, but the answer is a bit more nuanced and interesting. Let’s discuss this in detail. 

Does sunscreen prevent tanning?

Sunscreens do not provide 100% protection against UV rays. The protection also depends on the correct application, as using a lesser amount will not be enough to create a protective layer. Moreover, stepping out during peak sun hours can cause a deeper tan and sunburn. You can still get a slight tan despite wearing sunblock. 

The severity of the tan may also depend on factors such as sun exposure and skin type. This implies some people get more sun damage than others. For instance, dark-skin-toned people are less likely to get tanned and sunburnt in comparison to people with wheatish skin tones. 

Impact of tanning on skin 

When UV rays reach the skin, they damage the outermost layer, causing the cells to react. As a reaction to this, the skin produces more melanin for protection, resulting in a tan and skin darkening. Some people may not tan and develop burns right away if their skin is too sensitive. 

We know that the sun has two different types of UV radiation, mainly, UVA and UVB, and both affect the skin differently. These rays tend to break collagen in the skin, causing premature aging. UVB rays can only reach the outermost layer of the skin, also called the epidermis. These rays are responsible for sunburns.


How do sunscreens work? 

Let’s understand how it works on a molecular level. Note that the sunscreens work on both chemical and physical levels, ensuring your skin gets less exposure to harmful rays. 

When the sunrays hit your skin, chemical filters like homosalate, avobenzone, etc., initiate a photochemical reaction by absorbing the light energy and converting it to heat (harmless). And then the physical barriers like ZnO create an additional reflective surface above your skin for scattering the rays. 

Due to this continuous action, the sunscreens lose their efficiency, and the users have to reapply them. 

The importance of SPF for your skin

SPF refers to the sun protection factor. A high SPF implies more sun protection. For instance, if the skin burns within 15 minutes of UV radiation exposure, SPF 30 will protect the skin for 15–30 minutes. The sunscreen will wear off due to sun exposure and sweating; therefore, this protection may be reduced. 

Other things, such as strong daytime sun rays and sitting in direct sunlight, will impact the level of SPF protection. Therefore, it’s important to reapply to get the most coverage. Using a sunscreen that is high in SPF and has a broad spectrum will ensure your skin stays protected. 

All SPFs are not the same as cosmetics; for example, compacts and foundations with SPF do not offer the same protection. So, it’s ideal to layer such products over a good sunscreen. Using such products alone will not suffice for the needs. 


Using sunscreen for maximum protection

Applying sunscreen the right way is a crucial step in getting the right sun protection. Many people apply a pea-size amount, which is not enough. One hack to apply the right amount of sunscreen is to spread it on two fingers and apply that to your face. You may not be able to measure the sunscreen with a spoon, but this hack is convenient. Increase the amount for applying on other exposed body parts. 

Here are some other useful tips when applying sun protection. 

  • Apply sunblock even on cloudy days, as overcast may only filter 20% UV radiation. 
  • Use sunscreen even if you stay indoors, as sunlight may come in through windows. 
  • For extended hours in the sun, reapply every two hours. 
  • If you are swimming, reapply each time after coming out of the water. 
  • Pair sunscreen with scarves and hats to increase protection. 

Choosing the right sunscreen 

Choosing a sunscreen can be easy with some tips and knowing your skin type. 

  • Always choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UVB.
  • Go for sunscreens that are marked SPF 30 and above.
  • When going swimming, choose a water-resistant variant.
  • If you live in a humid place, pick a sweat-resistant sunscreen.
  • Choose a formula that’s easy to spread in less time.
  • Skip ingredients such as oxybenzone, fragrance, and paraben

Selecting the right sunscreen formulation

Another big factor to consider while choosing your sunscreen is figuring out what your skin needs. For instance, dry skin needs moisture and some gentle ingredients. In such cases, choosing a mineral-rich sunscreen is a wise choice. 

Those with oily skin will benefit from matte sunscreens, as they do not make the skin oily. 

These sunscreens have ingredients that are oil-absorbing in nature. If your skin is sensitive and acne-prone, look for gel sunscreens. The formulation does not have oil and comedogenic ingredients; hence, they will not clog pores or cause new breakouts. 

Also, search for labels such as hypoallergenic and dermatologically tested. Some sunscreens are developed with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide. These are great for dehydrated and aging skin. 

Lightweight sunscreens with less greasy formulations are the best fit for people with combination skin (oily T-zone but dryness on cheeks and other areas). 


Parting comments

So now you have the answer—yes, you can still tan with sunscreen. You also have all the details on how to pick the right sunscreen for your sun exposure. Using sunscreen in the right quantity is crucial. It’s recommended to apply 1/4 of a teaspoon or 1.25 ml to your face. Add more when applying to other exposed areas. Taking these preventative measures to protect yourself from UV damage is better than treating sunburnt and tanned skin.

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