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Can You Go Tanning Before Vacation? – Answers from Experts

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

Some say tanning BEFORE your beach vacation is the way to go, not as it begins!

Is a tan before the vacation worth it? The short answer: we DON’T recommend you tan before vacation. 

Even if you’ve heard friends say it’s healthy to get a tan before winter vacation.

Why? We explain it in detail below.

Verdict: Steer Clear of the Tanning Bed


Many articles advise vacation-goers to “use a base tan, prevent burning;” but Doctor Lawrence Gibson from the Mayo Clinic says that there is actually LITTLE evidence to support this claim.

Even Dr. Peter Katz agrees and says “There’s no such thing as a healthy tan.”

Experts estimate that getting a base tan from a tanning bed only protects you with the equivalent of a sun protection factor (SPF) of around 3 to 4.

While you could say a base tan is better than no protection at all, it doesn’t really match up when most recommended sunscreens usually contain SPF 15 or 30.

Now that we’ve established that sunscreen use is better at UV protection than a base tan, would a tan in advance for a little color be worth the effort?

Should You Get a Base Tan?

If you’re a tanning veteran, you may have heard of “base tan.

The term refers to an initial layer of tan meant to provide an added benefit: protection from UV radiation.


Similar to how darker skin tones don’t ordinarily burn as easily as lighter ones, many believe that being tanned before your vacation will help you avoid sunburn.

But really, you just look more summer-ready with a warmer skin tone right at the beginning of your trip.

However, as suntans become more popular, there is growing interest to find out how effective the base tan REALLY is, since skin cancer is an urgent concern when one has a few tanning sessions too many.

Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer

According to research from the American Academy of Dermatology, you probably SHOULDN’T have a base tan ahead at all.

You see, any changes in your skin color increases the risk of skin cancer. Yes, even the use of tanning beds!

It’s because as your skin burns due to UV exposure, you DOUBLE your chances of getting melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer.

Moreover, though tanned skin is meant to make you look younger, you are actually increasing your risk for brown spots and premature skin aging!

Although the sun gives us a healthy summer glow, sun-kissed beach vibe, and essential vitamin boosts, too much never ends well. 

You’re also more susceptible if you have fair skin.

So… How Should We Get Tanned?

So... How Should We Get Tanned

Before you lament the loss of your yearly trip to the tanning salon, there ARE safer and healthier alternatives for tan-lovers.

Don’t worry. Your pasty white self can still get that bronzed effect! Even during your winter vacation.

Here’s How:

Instead of tanning beds, shed your winter skin using a spray tan or self-tanner.

SPRAY TANcan take a bit longer with a trip to spray tanning salons but this type of tan can stain your skin long enough to last the entire trip.

In addition, you can be confident your whole body gets an even tan with the help of a specialist at the salon.

On the other hand, a self-tanner is a “sunless” tanning lotion that darkens skin over time.

You can conveniently find them at a drugstore but keep in mind you may have to splurge if you want a product that lasts longer and tans faster.

Still, you need to apply sunscreen to avoid burning. Spray tan and tanning lotionare NOT ENOUGH to provide sun protection from UV rays.

Smart Summer Tanning Tips

  • Avoid exposure to the MOST INTENSE of the sun’s rays. The most harmful rays appear from 10 AM to 4 PM.
  • Liberally use broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect from UVA and UVB radiation with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes BEFORE sun exposure and reapply every two to three hours. If you’ll be swimming or sweating, reapply your sunscreen more often.
  • When outside, wear dark tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs. Cover your head with a broad-brimmed hat and protect your eyes with sunglasses that have a high UV protection rating.
  • Wear loose clothes after a spray tan session!
  • Schedule your tan! NEVER tan in short intervals.
  • There’s also a right way to tan if you regularly workout!

Ready for the Big Trip?

Ready for the Big Trip

The next time someone tells you that getting a base tan protects from UV exposure, use your (newly updated) common sense!

Remember there’s NO such thing and getting in the tanning bed won’t prevent a burn. It’s still a tanning bed!

If you really want tanned skin on the first day of vacation, discover the benefits of using a spray tan or a bottle of self-tanner

Skip that so-called base tan, people!

Don’t increase your risk for skin cancer every time you go on vacation and do a SPRAY tan instead of damaging your delicate skin.

Now you’re all set for a well-deserved vacation. Flaunt your summer bod and enjoy the trip to the fullest!