Sunkissed skin may be a look that some people chase all year long, but it comes at a price that you'll pay later in life—perhaps in the form of wrinkled, leathery skin, dark spots, and increased risk for skin cancer.

This is why you should always wear sunscreen when you step outside, even at off-peak times. But if you're trying to get the best of both your sunscreen and the rays that give you that bronzed glow, you may be asking, "Can you get a tan while wearing sunscreen?"

The quick answer is yes, but there is actually much more to it. Here's what you need to know when it comes to sunscreen and tanning.

Sunscreen Only Prevents Tanning to a Point

It's a myth that sunscreen prevents tanning altogether. Although sunscreen provides protection against the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, there's still a chance you'll get some color on your skin.

As a refresher, sunscreen comes in chemical-based or physical-based formulas, which work to absorb or block incoming UV rays, respectively. They act as a filter to reduce your chances of skin damage, but it won't prevent exposure to 100 percent of the rays you catch. An SPF 15 sunscreen, for example, filters out approximately 93 percent of UV rays that hit you. Sounds good, right? Bear in mind, though, that this number assumes you have applied and reapplied exactly as directed—not always the case for even the most diligent sunscreen users.

Tanning, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, happens when the skin produces a skin-darkening pigment called melanin to prevent further skin damage when exposed to UV radiation from the sun or—even more dangerously—when you use a tanning bed. This bodily response can happen to anyone, at any age, and on any skin type.

So, Can You Get a Tan While Wearing Sunscreen?

Because no SPF product can protect you completely, you can still get a tan while wearing sunscreen. And given that any tan, no matter how slight, indicates the body's response to damaging UV light, this isn't necessarily a good thing.

You must be careful when outside for too long or when you notice skin tanning often. The FDA lists the following as negative side effects of tanning:

  • Sunburn
  • Premature aging
  • Skin cancer
  • Actinic or solar keratoses
  • Eye damage
  • Weakened immune system

The best thing you can do is avoid tanning when you can and, as always, wear a daily sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (or a stronger water-resistant option if you're going to be in the water or sweating).

Wear Your Own Skin Proudly

First and foremost, it's important to feel comfortable in your own natural skin—when you think about all your skin does for you, you'll soon realize it's an amazing, praise-worthy thing all on its own. Still, if you're looking to get some quick color, there are plenty of other options that aren't as harmful as excessive tanning.

First, try self-tanning products. Self-tan lotions and sprays give you tanner-looking skin without any of the aforementioned side effects. You can do it at home or even book a spray tan at a salon. Darker, well-blended makeup can have a similar effect for a night out. Or, for a subtle treatment, consider making your daily sunscreen a tinted one.

As far as non-product solutions go, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends doing aerobic or high-intensity exercises, drinking lots of water, and eating whole, unprocessed foods as other ways to get a healthy glow. You can even wear certain colors to make your skin tone pop a little more. For example, Who What Wear explains how bright colors, such as lemon yellow or expertly applied whites, can make your skin look more glowy than normal.

All things considered, it's best to explore these safer options rather than lay out. Your skin and health will thank you.


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.

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