Can you get a tan with sunscreen? How to get a tan while still protecting your skin.

Jul 214 min read

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  • The sun emits UVA & UVB rays which have different effects on your skin
  • Sunscreen doesn't block UV rays, some sunlight will always pass through
  • You only need a little bit of UV to reach your skin in order to tan
  • You can amplify your tanning results by using a tan-boosting lotion and sunscreen

Ask anyone who likes to tan and they’ll most likely tell you that they never use sunscreen because tanning is always the number one goal. They might even suggest using tanning oils or hitting the tanning bed before ever admitting to using an SPF. But is it possible to tan with sunscreen? Can you still get a dark tan while protecting your skin with SPF? Read on to learn a little more about the sun, UV and tanning with sunscreen on.

The Sun’s UV Rays

First a little science lesson! The sun emits a spectrum of radiation toward earth but the two major wavelengths that affect us the most are the ultraviolet rays, particularly UVA & UVB. UVA rays have a longer wavelength, which means they penetrate deeper into the skin and are generally responsible for the long-term agings effects of the sun. UVB rays on the other hand, have shorter wavelengths and are typically the cause of upper-layer skin irritation such as sunburn. 

How does a tan happen?

When your skin is hit with UV radiation, it sends signals to your skin to ‘suit up’ and protect the precious nucleus of your living skin cells. It does this by triggering your melanocytes (the cells responsible for producing pigment) to start pumping out granules of dark pigment called melanin. This melanin forms a protective shield to the deeper layers of your skin in attempt to mitigate the damaging effects of the UV radiation. This darker ‘shield’ is what appears to you as a tan, and it continues to develop long after UV exposure has ceased.

The importance of SPF

For most people with lighter skin tones, or for those of us who have accidentally spent just a little to long in the sun, the protective natural melanin that your skin is capable of producing is not nearly enough to ward off the intense UV radiation. This results in a damaging sunburn and can have long-lasting inflammatory effects on the skin (you see this as redness, pain and peeling). In fact, studies have shown that one of the single greatest risk factors for developing skin cancers like melanoma is a history of severe sunburn1 and it should be avoided at all costs. 

Sun protective products contain UV filters which act as a barrier between your skin and the potentially harmful UV rays of the sun. When applied evenly and frequently, even low SPF sunscreens can offer plenty of protection and prevent your skin from burning. 

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Can you get a tan with sunscreen?

So all of this to say - is it possible to get a tan with sunscreen? The answer is absolutely YES. Even though sunscreen is a protective product, it’s not a suit of armor. It’s important to remember that sunscreen does not block UV rays, it screens them! Depending on the SPF rating, a small portion of UV light is still let through to the skin. 

For example, blocks approximately 93% of all UV rays, meaning about 7% of UV sneaks its way past. An SPF 50 on the other hand, blocks about 98% of all UV rays but there’s still that remaining 2% making its way through. And this is all in a perfect lab setting, which doesn’t take into account real-life sunscreen usage that typically involves, sweat, swimming, sand and toweling dry to weaken the protective layer of sunscreen even further. 

So what does this mean for your tan? Now that we know that some UV rays are still making it through to the skin, and any UV exposure triggers your skin's tanning response - you’ll see that it's definitely possible to get a tan with sunscreen. In fact, we recommend that you always apply SPF, especially if you are aiming to get a golden tan. Your skin really doesn’t need a lot of UV to get bronzing and it’s better for the long-term health of your skin to keep it protected and avoid any possibility of burning. 

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Wanna get your best bronze?

Start by preparing your skin with a melanin-boosting body lotion like Base Tan. It provides your skin all the amino acid fuel it needs to maximize melanin production when stimulated by UV. It will also help to prolong your tan and keep your melanin production going strong long after your time in the sun is over. When you are out in the sun, you know by now it’s crucial to use a sunscreen - but that doesnt mean you can’t keep supporting your tan! It’s precisely why we created Smart Screen, a mineral tanning sunscreen that uses that same Tan Boosting Technology found in Base Tan to accelerate the tanning process all while keeping your skin protected. 

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