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Does sunscreen stop you from tanning?

Does sunscreen stop you from tanning?

Published: 6th August, 2019 in: Sun Care

Sunscreen will not stop you from tanning completely; It is specifically designed to let a small number of UV rays through, and that will allow your skin to tan. However, because sunscreen is inherently designed to protect your skin, it does prevent tanning to an extent.

A lot of people want to get a tan but it’s important to understand that, even if you don’t burn, tanning damages your skin. You may think a tan looks nice, but the fact is that tanning is your body’s response to UV damage.

The SPF (sun protection factor) is one thing you should consider when you are thinking about which sunscreen to wear. Yet, an equally important factor is how well - or how badly - you apply sunscreen to your skin. As discussed below, it’s important to apply sunscreen effectively to make sure you are protected; the risks of not wearing sunscreen and not applying it effectively include skin cancer and melanomas.

Can you tan with sunscreen SPF 50?

SPF 50 filters out approximately 98% of UV rays, which means that around 2% (one-fiftieth) of UV rays get through. In comparison, SPF 30 filters out 96.7% of the UV rays, meaning that 3.3% (one-thirtieth) get through. In other words, SPF 50 only protects you 1.3% more than SPF 30.

While this may make the difference in Sun Protection Factors seem insignificant, those additional percentages can be all the difference in protecting those that are light-sensitive or have a history of skin cancer.

Because sunscreen doesn’t block all UV rays, this means you can still tan while using it, no matter what the SPF is - so you can still tan wearing SPF 50 sunscreen. The more protective alternative to sunscreen would be to wear sunblock, which is designed to block all UV rays.

Sunblock vs sunscreen

Sunscreen is designed to prevent most UV rays from reaching your skin, yet as it lets some rays though you will still get a tan wearing sunscreen. Sunblock, however, is designed to stop all UV rays from reaching your skin, it contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and often appears white on the skin. These ingredients are generally less irritating than sunscreen ingredients, making it a good choice for people with sensitive skin.

How to apply sunscreen

Most people do not apply sunscreen thoroughly enough, and this means your skin is not as protected as it should be. A lot of the time people apply sunscreen too thinly, or miss parts of their body.

It is vital to let sunscreen sink into your skin for at least twenty minutes before going into the sun. You should then re-apply a second layer. Your skin is full of contours and lines making applying sunscreen a bit like painting a wall; one coat is not enough to cover it properly, so make sure you layer up.

To cover your whole body, you should use around a shot-glass full of sunscreen. For just your face, ears, and neck, you should use at least a teaspoonful. When applying sunscreen you should be mindful of areas which may be easily forgotten and neglected, these include bald patches on the top of the head, the ‘v’ of the chest (especially when wearing low cut tops and swimwear), the back of the neck, and the ears.

Reapplying sunscreen

Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, because it loses its effectiveness over time. The SPF of your sunscreen is only guaranteed for two hours, after that time the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the protective layer and damage your skin.

For this reason, medical professionals have raised doubts about sunscreen products which claim they only need applying once-a-day, so much so that once-a-day sunscreens are banned in Australia. Washing, sweating, and other everyday activities mean that sunscreen can get removed from the skin, leaving patches vulnerable to the sun’s rays.

The best sunscreen for tanning

Sunscreen is fundamentally designed to protect you from the sun, so no particular sunscreen is ‘best’ for tanning. As the risks of sun exposure are so high, sunscreens must pass rigorous tests to ensure that they do in fact provide the protection which they claim. As long as you choose from a respected brand, the best sunscreen is simply one that is applied correctly.

Why you must wear sunscreen

The sun’s UV rays cause irreversible damage to your skin that will not only age it but will also increase the risk of skin cancer and melanomas. In the summer, you should apply sunscreen every morning as part of your routine, and you should carry it with you to re-apply throughout the day. 

If you really want to tan then it’s extremely important that you are mindful of wearing sunscreen, so that you do as little damage to your skin as possible.

Browse our selection of sunscreens