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Can You (and Should You) Get a Tan While Wearing Sunscreen?

If your sun protection regimen makes you look (and feel) like you’re bundling up for an Icelandic winter while wearing spackle on your face instead of a day of beach volleyball, you’re not alone. There’s no shame is warding off fine lines, wrinkles, age spots and the C word. But summer is meant to be FUN if nothing else – light, easy, and most definitely sunny. Covering up every inch of skin sure takes the pleasure out of long, lazy beach days. Add to that the expense of sun protection (on-trend hats and sunglasses aren’t cheap, and neither is great sunscreen), and you can forget the short shorts and those summer vacay plans. But what if you could have that sun-kissed summer glow while staying protected? Can you tan while using sun protection?

The short answer is: Yes.

While sunscreen, especially the natural kind that reflects the sun’s rays instead of absorbing them, is designed to minimize the damage to your skin, you can still rock a pretty decent tan while being protected from burning, which is where the real damage occurs – not just increasing the aging process, but also the cancer risk.

One of the best benefits of sunscreen is that it allows you to spend more time in the sun than you could without it, which means you’ll tan without the burn-peel-then-tan method of the 1970s and ‘80s. Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects you from both the “burning” rays (UVB) and UVA rays (although there’s no standardized protection rating for those yet). This will help you stay in the sun longer while reducing the burning. Stack your skincare layers with an SPF moisturizer as well, and pay special attention to delicate skin around the eyes (especially those eyelids).

Skin exfoliation is also helpful in achieving your tanning goals. By removing the dead skin cells, your “fresh” skin will not only tan more quickly and evenly, but it will last longer, too. Exfoliating can be done with products like scrubs or cleansing grains, or with fruit acid-based products, which are generally used on the face.

But even though wearing sunscreen allows for more time in the sun, don’t overdo it. Gradual exposure to the sun reduces the risk of sunburn and helps the body boost its own melanin production to help prevent burning in the future (meaning you can stay in the sun longer each time you go out). And no matter how long you’re going out for, be sure to protect your skin every single time.

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