Ask the Expert: Can You Still Get a Tan Wearing SPF?
Ever wonder if you can still tan while wearing SPF? We’re here to tell you, you can. This may come as a shock to sun-worshippers who swear off the use of sunscreen for the sake of maintaining their bronzed skin. (We don’t recommend this.) Or, this may simply be the best news they’ve heard all day. When used as directed, broad spectrum SPF of 15 and above can help you keep the glow without all the sun damage—read: sunburn, early signs of aging such as dark spots, wrinkles—and the added risk of developing skin cancer. It almost sounds too good to be true. Don’t believe us? We turned to Vanda Serrador, facialist and body care expert at The Body Shop, to dispel the myth.
“Of course you can still get tan while wearing sunscreen,” Serrador says. “It all depends on the strength of the SPF.” (Need a little SPF refresher? Read this.) Simply put, the SPF number is a measure of how long your skin can be in direct sunlight without beginning to get red or sunburn. Side note: SPF only measures protection from UVB rays—the type that cause the skin to burn—and not UVA rays—the type that age the skin with over-exposure. That’s why it’s important to reach for a sunscreen with broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation, while an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks nearly 97 percent. There is no sunscreen that will block 100 percent of UV rays, so your skin—especially if it burns easily—may still get some color even with it on, just at a slower rate.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR SKIN FROM SUN DAMAGE
Now that we’ve answered the question “can you tan with sunscreen,” let’s talk specifically about exactly that: your sunscreen. Adequately protecting your skin from sun damage should be the goal, since there’s no such thing as a safe suntan. “Sun exposure causes changes at the DNA level of the skin cells, triggering the cells that produce pigment to increase their output of melanin,” board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Ted Lain (@DrTedLain) says. “Therefore, if you consider that a tan represents damage to your DNA, how could any tan be safe?”
That’s not to say that you should stay locked up indoors all the time, but rather take adequate sun protection measures when you do step outside. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reaching for a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen—it has to be labeled as such—that includes some combination of the following UVA-blocking ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule, and oxybenzone. No time to check the label? We did the work for you. Some of our favorite sunsreens at Skincare.com include:
LA ROCHE-POSAY ANTHELIOS 50 MINERAL
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the two active ingredients in this ultra-light sunscreen. Designed for sensitive skin and formulated with Cell-Ox Shield technology, the formula boasts a powerful antioxidant complex to help protect the skin from free radicals caused by UV rays.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral, $33.50 MSRP
VICHY IDÉAL CAPITAL SOLEIL SPF 45
For broad-spectrum protection and anti-aging antioxidants—specifically, white grape polyphenol and vitamin E—for the face and body, reach for this fast-absorbing sunscreen by Vichy. The formula practically melts into the skin without leaving a greasy, sticky, whitening residue.
Vichy Idéal Capital Soleil SPF 45, $28.50 MSRP
SKINCEUTICALS PHYSICAL FUSION UV DEFENSE SPF 50
This weightless, tinted sunscreen—formulated with transparent zinc oxide, artemia salina, and translucent color spheres—adapts seamlessly to various skin tones and provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. The formula features a breakthrough technology where iron oxide spheres evenly disperse within the fluid to provide sheer surface coating, UV protection, and skin radiance. What’s more: It’s paraben-free and non-comedogenic, which makes it an ideal choice for all skin types, even sensitive.
KIEHL’S SUPER FLUID UV MINERAL DEFENSE BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 50+
This titanium dioxide sunscreen is 100 percent mineral based, and boasts UVA/UVB technology, antioxidant vitamin E protection, and a universal sheer tint. Thanks to the lightweight consistency, it’s an ideal choice for sensitive and acne-prone skin types.
Whichever sunscreen you choose, make sure to apply it directly onto your skin at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. Don’t forget to reapply the formula every two hours at minimum; if you’re swimming or excessively sweating, reapply sunscreen immediately. For a better line of protection, pair your sunscreen use with additional sun protection measures, such as wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and avoiding peak sun hours—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.—when rays are strongest. If you want to get the safest sun tan, avoid the sunlight all together and opt instead for self tanners or spray tans. Trust us, you’ll be just as golden!