While sunscreen blocks most of the ultraviolet or UV rays that reach your skin, some of them get through to your skin. UVB rays, which are responsible for tanning, cause skin damage such as sunspots and wrinkles but also contribute to forming skin cancer. While some of those rays get past your sunscreen, you aren’t likely to tan as deeply as you would without sunscreen.
However, no intentional tanning is safe and comes with a risk of the negative effects of sun exposure.
Why Sunscreen Is So Important?
Sunscreen was created to prevent skin cancer, the most common form of cancer worldwide. Sadly, it is almost completely preventable with regular sunscreen use. If you can’t avoid sunlight, then sunscreen is your best defense to protect your skin.
Your skin naturally produces melanin to protect the DNA of your skin cells. When you tan, melanin rises to the surface of the skin to absorb the UV rays before it reaches the DNA. If you have more melanin, you are less likely to burn and have sun damage, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely safe from the damaging effects of UV rays.
Tanning with Sunscreen
Although tanning with sunscreen is possible, it is never safe to tan deliberately. The UV rays that make it through your sunscreen can cause the same damage as the rays that don’t.
If you have questions or concerns about tanning, sunscreen, or the health of your skin, speak with your doctor or dermatologist. They can give you individualized advice to keep your skin safe and healthy while you enjoy your time in the sun.
UV rays can make it past the melanin in your skin. When they do, they damage the DNA of your skin cells. While your body has the ability to repair this damage, not all of it can be repaired. The damage to the DNA in a cell triggers mutation over time, resulting in non-cancerous growths, and cancerous growths on the skin.
How Does Sunscreen Work?
Sunscreen includes chemicals or physical blocking agents to stop the sun’s rays from reaching the skin. The chemicals oxybenzone and octisalate are used in most commercial sunscreens. These chemicals absorb UV rays and neutralize them before they reach the skin, much like melanin. Zinc and titanium oxide work differently by physically blocking the UV rays, breaking them up, and bouncing them off of your skin.
Sunscreen can block two specific spectrums of UV light: UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are the most dangerous of the two. They don’t penetrate as deep as UVA rays but cause burns other damage to the skin and cause most forms of skin cancer, including melanoma.
Although UVA rays don’t cause burns, they aren’t harmless either. These rays penetrate deeper into the skin and contribute to the mutation of damaged skin cells. These are the rays that are responsible for your skin’s melanin production. UVA rays are far more numerous than UVB. In fact, there are 500 times as many UVA rays, meaning they have the potential to cause a lot of damage.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. This means that you will be fully protected from the sun’s most harmful rays. Each bottle of sunscreen is required to list the spectrum of UV rays from which it protects your skin. Be sure to check the label of sunscreen before you make your purchase.
How to Choose the Right SPF
The SPF or sun protection factor refers to the length of time it offers protection. For example, if you normally burn in one minute, an SPF of 30 means that it will take 30 times longer for you to burn.
Sunscreen comes in a variety of formulas and SPFs, but SPF 15,30,50,75, and 100 are the most common. Sunscreen in cosmetics is typically a lower SPF, meaning that it is not sufficient if you are going to be in the sun for an extended period of time.
The length of time it takes for your skin to burn varies by a number of factors. The first of these is genetics. Melanin production, which is a hereditary trait, is your skin’s natural barrier to UV rays. The more melanin you produce, the more time it takes for your burn or damage.
The other factor, the UV index, is completely environmental. The UV index represents how much of the sun’s rays are making it to the surface at any given time. The scale varies from 0 to 15 and is constantly changing due to factors such as the angle of the sun, cloud cover, and pollutants, among many others.
A UV index of 0 means that there is no risk of sun exposure and 15 means direct, unobscured sunlight. The higher the UV index, the more quickly your skin will burn.
When you consider these factors, it gives you an idea of which SPF you need to make it through your day.
For example, if you know you will be out in the sun for three hours and will burn in two minutes, you would need 100 SPF to make it through your day without reapplying sunscreen. On the other hand, if it takes you thirty minutes to burn and you will be outside eight hours, an SPF of 30 is what you will need to make it through your day.
When to Speak to a Doctor
If you have concerns about your skin, discuss them with your doctor or dermatologist. He or she can help you understand the SPF level and type of sunscreen that will work best for you and the members of your family.
Certain conditions such as albinism and vitiligo, for example, affect how the sun reacts with your skin. A dermatologist specializing in these conditions can best inform you on how to protect your skin from damage.
It’s also important to note that certain people are more at risk of developing skin cancer. It’s important to know your risks and pay attention to your skin. If you are fair complected, have a history of sunburns, or many moles, you should have regular skin cancer screenings by a dermatologist and use sunscreen consistently.
See your doctor immediately if the color, shape, or size of a mole changes or if you develop any growth on the skin or have a wound that won’t heal. Early detection improves the outcome and can save lives.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)
Can you get a tan with sunscreen?
Yes, but not as deep as you would without sunscreen. However, no amount of intentional tanning is safe. Tanning means that enough UV rays made it past your sunscreen for your skin to burn and produce melanin. If you plan on being in the sun, make sure to use the right SPF for you and plan for the length of time you plan to be in the sun.
Can sunblock stop you from getting darker?
To a degree. Any time you are in direct sunlight, some UV rays will make it past your sunscreen. If you don't want your tan to deepen, use the right sunblock, stay in the shade, wear a hat, and wear other protective clothing.
Can you wear sunscreen on a sunless tan?
Not if you want the sunscreen to be effective. Therefore, you won't find a product that combines tanning with sunscreen on store shelves. The chemical DHA that is used to develop a sunless tan deactivates the UVA blocking chemicals in sunscreen. You would only have partial protection, so it defeats the purpose of using the two together.
Should I reapply sunscreen if I swim or sweat?
Yes. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours if you have been sweating or in the water. While sunscreen is resistant to water, it isn't waterproof.
Can my baby wear sunscreen?
Infants under six months should not wear sunscreen unless their pediatrician says otherwise. Instead, use other means to keep your baby covered and in the shade. Infants over six months should have sunscreen applied half an hour before exposure.