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Can You Tan with Sunscreen? – Debunking 3 Tanning Myths

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD

It’s finally warm outside, and the sun is shining—this means it’s TANNING TIME, right?

Now, before you take that beach vacation and sunbathe all day, though, make sure to pack your sunscreen with you.

Yes, you heard that right: Even if you’re planning to get a tan, you still need to wear SPF. Sun damage is NO JOKE!

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered in this article. Find out how to protect your skin AND get a beautiful tan here!

Can You Tan While Wearing Sunscreen?

You can definitely still tan while wearing sunscreen

Most people think that sunscreen completely prevents tanning, but this is actually FALSE.

Although sunscreen shields you from UV rays, it doesn’t provide 100% protection from sun exposure.

In fact, when you wear sunscreen in the morning, it may not be able to give you full coverage throughout the day due to external factors:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Swimming and other water-related activities
  • Spending long periods outdoors under the direct heat of the sun (after 5pm)
  • Friction from clothes and other materials

Ask any dermatologist—you should reapply sunscreen EVERY TWO HOURS because its effects wear off after a while. 

And this is even if your product is already water-resistant.

UV rays will still permeate your skin, making it possible for you to turn a shade darker.

HOWEVER, because you have sun protection on, you won’t tan as quickly or effectively.

Chances are, you won’t achieve the darker color you’re after with SPF.

Tanning Without Wearing Sunscreen

Now that you know tanning is more difficult with sunscreen, you might be tempted to skip it altogether. 

DON’T DO THIS! UV exposure has many harmful risks and side effects that far outweigh the benefits of a good tan.

The lack of sunscreen use can lead to skin cancer.

Don’t believe us? Let’s debunk some MYTHS concerning tanning.

Myth One: Tanning is Harmless, Just Like Regular Day-to-Day Sun Exposure!

Myth One

Yes, it’s true that the sun helps your body produce more Vitamin D, which is essential for bone and muscle health.

However, most doctors will recommend spending ONLY 10-15 MINUTES under the sun each day while wearing sunscreen.

This short amount of time outdoors will not give you a sunburn nor will it cause significant sun damage.

And NO, a base tan doesn’t protect you from the sun.

If you spend a WHOLE DAY (or even just a few hours) outside trying to get a tan from sun exposure, though, you’ll be getting a lot of UV radiation exposure.

Without sunscreen or SPF to protect your skin, you’ll be AT RISK for serious DNA damage and even skin cancer.

Myth Two: Oils Will Speed Up Tanning and Protect Me From Skin Cancer

Myth Two

Tanning oils like coconut oil, sunflower oil, and almond oil may soothe and moisturize your skin, but they won’t protect you from skin damage.

In fact, natural oils INTENSIFY the impact of UV rays on your skin. 

Because they effectively refract UV light, they’ll also speed up the rate at which your skin burns.

At the end of the day, this may help you get a tan, but it’s also a FRIGHTENING skin cancer risk that’ll seriously affect your life.

Read how tanning oil works and how to choose the best ones!

Myth Three: My Sunburn Will Develop Into a Deep and Beautiful Tan

Myth Three

This belief is a very common (but dangerous) misconception. 

Most people don’t realize that sunburn is a physical sign of sun damage = NOT a good thing!

The reason why our skin burns?

Well, because ultraviolet light rays interfere with DNA replication, our skin cells can get overwhelmed with the damage and die.

When this happens, our body tries to help by increasing blood flow and bringing immune cells to the skin. 

All of these cause redness, swelling, and inflammation.

This process also causes melanin production—the tan you see after the redness has subsided. 

So YES, your skin will get a tad darker, but it’ll be through a PAINFUL and DANGEROUS method.

Is Wearing Sunscreen Really That Important?


The Serious Effects of UV Radiation on Your Skin

For all skin types, UV light rays can cause the following serious side effects:

  • Premature aging
  • Discoloration and hyperpigmentation
  • Dark spots and freckles
  • Sunburns
  • Wrinkles
  • Skin cancer or melanoma

When you get tan, your skin produces more melanin to prevent further damage to the skin. This is since ultraviolet light is very harsh.

However, compared to sunscreen, this provides very little added protection, especially if you constantly expose yourself to the sun’s rays day after day.

How Sunscreens Provide UV Protection


A product like sunscreen is highly effective because it contains Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which prolongs the amount of time you can safely spend outdoors.

You can choose a formula with SPF 15, SPF 30, SPF 50, or even SPF 100, depending on your needs and skin type. See ADA recommendation for skin cancer prevention.

A sunscreen with higher SPF will block more UVB rays (the ones responsible for those painful burns!), so it’s always best to pick a product with more protection.

Just make sure to reapply regularly, especially if it has a lower SPF.

Now, you may be tempted to forego the sunscreen and just use makeup with SPF, but we DON’T RECOMMEND this! 

A base tan will not suffice!

To get the highest sun protection, choose products with SPF!

Most cosmetics ONLY HAVE SPF 15 at best, so you’ll have to lather on a lot more for adequate protection from UVB rays.

Good Molecules

Some sunscreens also include ultraviolet-reflecting molecules and active ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

A broad-spectrum sunscreen will contain all of the above, making it the perfect shield against both UVA rays and UVB rays. 

(Ever wonder why you seem to be aging so fast? UVB rays could be the culprit.)

Now, although a broad-spectrum type will typically be more expensive, it’s also your best defense against the sun, so we think it’s well worth the splurge. 

It’s VERY IMPORTANT to look after your skin!

Other Sun Protection Measures

Besides using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, you should also follow some precautionary measures every time you’re out and about.

  • Wear protective clothing that covers your bare skin.
  • Accessorize with a wide hat to shade your face, neck, and ears.
  • Put on your favorite pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays! Wear ones with special blocking lenses for the best results.
  • Avoid going out between 10 AM and 3 PM, when the sun is at its hottest!

The Best (and Safest) Way to Get That Golden Glow

The Best (and Safest) Way to Get That Golden Glow

If you really want to tan, try out these SAFER options below:

Stay Out of the Sun!

Instead of exposing yourself to UV rays, have you considered self-tanning products like lotions and sprays?

The great thing about spray tans is they achieve the same golden effect without the real-life harms!

If you’re not confident enough to DIY it, try booking an appointment at your trusted salon.

Tan While Wearing Sunscreen

If you HAVE to tan, apply adequate broad-spectrum sunscreen before heading out to the beach. 

Save yourself from the risk of skin cancer!

You can use a lower SPF for your skin type and test out how it feels.

Remember: Tanning is STILL skin damage, so be very careful. It’s best if you can avoid it entirely!



Prevent health problems, skin complications, and other tanning horror stories with this simple solution: SUNSCREEN!

After all, getting a golden glow is NEVER more important than being safe and healthy.

Now, go and start your tan! Just be sure to get a tan safely and always use an SPF product for optimal protection against direct sunlight.