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Can You Tan Underwater? Tanning Myths Debunked

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
Can You Tan Underwater_ Tanning Myths Debunked

There’s nothing more relaxing than spending your summer cooling off in swimming pools and working that gorgeous tan.

But if you’re planning to stay under the sun for an extended period, you might want to know if it’s possible to tan underwater.

The quick answer? YES and NO.

It all comes down to how deep the water is. 

Whether you plan to continue tanning while swimming or chill under the shade, you can find everything you need to know about tanning underwater in this handy guide!

Is it Faster to Tan in Water?

Is It Faster to Tan in Water

There’s a misconception that people tan faster in water, but most experts would disagree with this.

Diving deeper allows fewer UVA rays to reach the skin. This means anyone will suntan FASTER when completely dry than when swimming. Here’s a full guide on how to actually tan faster.

However, water does not ensure complete protection from the sun!

There’s a certain distance needed for UV rays to get fully absorbed by water. In most cases, it should be more than a meter deep.

So if you’re just swimming on the surface, you’ll most likely still get burned

How about the appearance? Will you get the same results?

Interestingly, the skin’s appearance differs from an above-water tan when tanning underwater. The tanning difference is caused by light absorption, water type, and reflection. 

Studies show that people tan faster in clear bodies (e.g., unpolluted ocean and chlorinated pool) than in murky waters (pond or river).

Light absorption in cloudy ones is higher, thus resulting in weaker tan underwater.

It is also possible to get an underwater tan due to reflection or reflective rays.

  • Even if you’re a meter deep, UV rays bounce from the water’s surface to your skin.
  • It makes your upper body, which was exposed outside of the water, prone to the effects of the reflecting rays.

What’s the Best Way to Tan?

What_s the Best Way to Tan-

We all want that sun-kissed glow. But it’s crucial to remember that a tan indicates skin damage.

The MELATONIN production in your body increases as a natural response to protect your skin from serious damage caused by prolonged sun exposure.

As such, experts don’t encourage anyone to get a tan.

But, if you can’t say no to the allure of a snatched tan, here are some advice to protect yourself from UV rays and avoid serious sunburn.

1. Know Your Tanning Time

Your skin has a tanning cut-off or a physiological limit to create melanin under direct sunlight. 

It isn’t beneficial to spend all day lounging by the pool when you get to this point. You’ll overexpose yourself to harmful UV rays and risk causing serious damage to your skin.

Experts advise staying under the sun for two to three hours only. However, people with fairer skin are said to burn faster, so their exposure to the sun should be lesser.

2. Seek Some Shade

Take some breaks before you continue tanning!

Pauses from the sun reduce UV intensity and the risk of sunburn.

3. Exchange “Tan-accelerating” Creams for Supplements

Nothing you apply to your skin will increase melanin production (the protective dark pigment of the skin), but taking a daily 25g beta-carotene pill does.

Taking the supplement does not reduce the need for sunscreen, but it helps improve the skin’s natural protection against UV rays by enhancing its capacity to tan.

4. Time Check

The sun is at its harshest on your skin between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, so be extra cautious during those hours.

Take frequent breaks, seek some shade, and wear sun-protective clothing!

How to Protect Your Skin When Tanning Outdoors

Sunburns and overexposure to the sun can harm the skin’s outer layer.

If you have light or pale skin, this can cause redness, followed by inflammation, swelling, and shedding dead skin.

This may also develop into a serious illness like skin cancer in some cases.

However, you don’t need to stop yourself from doing some tanning underwater from time to time.

Here are a few things to keep your skin safe underwater.

1. Use The Right Sunscreen

1. Use The Right Sunscreen

Tanning underwater differs from tanning on land, so you need a special form of sunscreen (a.k.a waterproof sunscreen) when swimming to keep your skin safe.

Some sunscreens claim to be waterproof. However, you cannot rely only on this. Do your research and read reviews.

Waterproof sunscreen is preferable since the protection provided by applying sunscreen the usual way may be washed away when swimming in the ocean.

A waterproof one can last longer on your skin!

Another thing to note is don’t rely on sunscreen just because it has SPF! Not all SPF are created equal.

When you’re at a crossroads on whether to pick an SPF30 or an SPF50 sunscreen, we recommend choosing the former.

Going for a sunscreen with a lower SPF number might be counterintuitive.

While SP50 can screen 98% of UVB rays, it creates a false sense of security that you don’t need to wait for it to be naturally absorbed by your skin and reapply sunscreen.

PLUS, SP30 sunscreens can screen 97 percent of the UV rays, so it’s still a good bargain.

Also, start checking the label and look for “wide spectrum.” It does great to protect skin from aging and sun damage caused by UVA and UVB rays.

You can flip the bottle too and see its UVA star rating. This reflects the SPF rating of the bottle ranging from one, being the lowest, and 5, being the highest.

2. Wear Protective Clothing

2. Wear Protective Clothing

Most swim stores carry a wide range of sun-protective clothing. These include long-sleeved rash vests and leggings.

These items are PERFECT for protecting your skin underwater!

However, we suggest that you double-check the clothes and make sure they’re made from sun-protective material. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money for nothing.

3. Wide-Brimmed Hat

3. Wide-Brimmed Hat

A wide-brimmed hat is another must-have tanning accessory!

It protects the most vulnerable upper body areas at risk of being burned from reflective rays, such as your head, face, neck, and shoulders.

Another advantage of this item is its cooling effect as it serves as an instant shade for you.

It wouldn’t be tough to locate this item at most swim stores. But before purchasing one, make sure that it is made of a sun protective material and does not have any holes or gaps.

4. Stay Hydrated

4. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is critical when you’re out in the heat or on the water.

The sun is highly drying your skin and body, so drink plenty of water when you’re outside. Staying hydrated can also aid in your recovery from serious sunburn.

Hydrated skin also means that the tan you’ve wanted for so long will LAST!

5. Moisturize

5. Moisturize

After spending time in the pool or sun, make sure to hydrate your skin.

Your skin will require moisture after being exposed to UV rays, and a daily nourishing lotion will do the trick.

6. Eat Sun-friendly foods

6. Eat Sun-friendly foods

Certain foods are thought to increase lycopene (the natural SPF of the skin), a kind of antioxidant found in tomatoes and other red and orange fruits and vegetables that can boost your sun protection.

Experts also recommend taking anti-inflammatory products, such as green tea or oily fish, to help relax the skin after sun exposure.

Finally, food rich in flavonoids such as dark chocolate can help your skin against sunburn.

7. Don’t Combine Fake Tan with SPF

7. Don_t Combine Fake Tan with SPF

Mixing your fake tan and SPF may sound like a great idea, but this causes the SPF to disintegrate.

We recommend applying fake tan to your skin at least 24 hours before going outside.

It’s because placing SPF on top of freshly tanned skin may cause the formula to break down.

8. Check Your Aftersun

8. Check Your Aftersun

If you have burned your skin, you should soothe it to avoid blisters and additional irritation

Also, while it may be tempting to apply an after-sun lotion, many of these solutions have a high proportion of alcohol, which will dry out your skin even more.

This will result in irritation and thus cause you to lose your tan!

Final Thoughts

It’s absolutely possible to get an underwater tan! After all, the harmful UV rays can still reach the surface of the water.

But the deeper you go, the more light gets absorbed by the water reducing the chance of UV rays penetrating your skin underwater.

And that’s a wrap!

We hope we were able to help you tan the safest way!

Just a final word, always protect your skin even when you’re in the water—especially in clear bodies since they cause significant tanning.

Remember to wear sunscreen and sun-protective clothes to keep your skin away from harmful UV rays. Seek some shade to get that cooling effect and break from the sun’s scorching heat.