Can You Get a Tan and Wear Enough Sunscreen to Protect Your Skin at the Same Time?

Unfortunately, this really is a one or the other situation.


As you brave the coronavirus pandemic by staying indoors, streaming endless videos and establishing a large depression in your couch, you might be daydreaming about relaxing outdoors, soaking up some sun and getting your bronze on. And while you might decide to do exactly that when your quarantine period ends, surely, you already know that the sun can ravage your skin, a danger that dermatologists have warned us about time and time again.

Sunscreens and sunblocks come in an assortment of strengths, though, which could lead you to believe that you can get a tan and protect your skin at the same time. And while partially true, in the sense that any sunscreen is better than none, according to dermatologist Anthony Rossi, you can never really have the best of both worlds. “As dermatologists, we definitely advocate for sunblocks and sun protections that wouldn’t get you tan,” he says, which means you should essentially always opt for the highest SPF available. “Any time your skin tans, biologically, that’s your skin’s way of protecting itself. The melanocytes create protective caps of pigment on your cells to shield the cell from DNA damage, hence your skin becoming red (inflamed) and then tan. Once the skin becomes red initially, that means you’re already damaging your cells.” That damage can eventually result in skin cancer.

Likewise, even though having a base tan might provide a small, small bit of extra protection against the sun, Rossi maintains that you should always go all out with your sun protection — no matter your skin tone. “If you’re getting pink, you’re getting too much UV exposure,” he says. “For darker skin types, this is harder to gauge, so they should wear protection as well.”

In other words, when it comes to hanging out under the sun, you need to make a choice: Regularly slather yourself with sunscreen and learn to love your natural skin color, or opt for the weak stuff so you get a tan and risk developing skin cancer down the road. The bottom line is, if you care about your health, there’s no such thing as too much sun protection.

Now hopefully things get better soon, and you actually have a chance to heed this advice by going outside.