Warmer weather is finally here, which means more time outside and more fun in the sun. This is also the perfect time to review your sun protection strategy and get the answers you need to keep your skin healthy. For example, does sunscreen prevent tanning?

The short answer is no—wearing sunscreen when tanning minimizes damage, but it can't protect you fully. Read on to learn why this is and how you can promote skin health, reduce sun damage, and minimize skin cancer risk.

How Does Sunscreen Work?

Sunscreen helps prevent damage to your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Wearing sunscreen decreases your risk of developing skin cancer and helps prevent signs of premature aging, like dark spots and wrinkles.

There are two main types of sunscreen: chemical and mineral (or physical). Chemical sunscreens include ingredients like Oxybenzone and Avobenzone, which absorb into your skin and then absorb UV rays before they can cause damage. Mineral sunscreens include two key active ingredients: Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. While mineral sunscreens absorb some UV rays, they mainly act as a protective barrier, physically shielding your skin from damage.

Take a moment to soak it up. A young man reclining in the summer sun.

Does SPF Matter?

A sunscreen's SPF (or sun protection factor) measures how well it protects you against UVB rays, which cause your skin to burn. Higher SPFs have more protection, but not by much. For example, SPF 50 blocks about 98 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 100 blocks about 99 percent of UVB rays.

And remember: SPF only blocks UVB rays. To protect yourself from UVA rays, which are associated with skin aging, look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen like EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46.

What Happens When You Tan?

Some people may think tanning looks attractive, but it's actually a sign of skin damage. When your skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun or a tanning bed, it produces more melanin pigment to try to protect itself. This increased melanin activity causes your skin to tan. Tanning is a less severe reaction to the sun than a sunburn, but it's still a visible sign of DNA damage.

This is also true for people with darker complexions—even a slight tan means sun damage. So no matter who you are, getting a "base tan" to prevent sunburn is never a good idea.

Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?

Wearing sunscreen when tanning protects against skin damage to a degree, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun's UV rays. So, while sunscreen can minimize tanning, it can't entirely prevent it. To get the most protection from your sunscreen, follow sun care best practices. This means applying sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going out in the sun, using enough for full body and facial coverage, and reapplying every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

Sunscreen is just one part of a good sun protection strategy. Seek shade when possible and wear sun-protective clothing, like broad-brimmed hats. Just remember: When it comes to your skin and the sun, there's no such thing as a safe tan, and the best sunscreen is the one you'll use every day. Follow these two mantras to maintain beautiful, vibrant skin all year round.

Author

  • MARIA ROBINSON, MD, MBA

    Maria Robinson, MD, MBA is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with over ten years of clinical experience. Dr. Robinson has a passion for nutrition and integrative dermatology, and is the co-founder of www.integrativederm.org, where people can explore holistic dermatology treatments. Through her writing, she strives to empower people with accurate health information so they can make positive decisions that lead to healthy and vibrant skin.

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