Does Wearing Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?

Going out without wearing sunscreen is like walking straight into hellfire. Whether you are going out for a sunbath or not, sunscreen is a shield to your skin from the burning sun rays. What about tanning?

Written by Manal Yahya

On Mar 24, 2023 – 11 minutes read

Do You Think Wearing Sunscreen Prevent Tanning

A bronze body sounds ideal. Right?

Isn’t that what all of us wish for? Having a bronze body with the perfect and right amount of suntan without having the sun rays harm us? Ah, wishful thinking! Because, sadly, most of us come out of the sun like a badly fried human body. Almost all the time. In fact, stepping out of home comes at the expense of having your exposed body tanned to the point you regret going out in the first place.

Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?

The ideal solution for this particular problem all of us face comes in the name of sunscreen. The flawless, topical solution protects our body from sunburns due to the harsh sun rays. Unfortunately, not everyone is too keen on applying sunscreen before going out in the sun.

does spf 50 prevent tanning

Do You Step Out In The Sun Without Sunscreen? Here’s Your Bad News.

Too often, we disregard the importance of wearing sunscreen whenever we go out. You are either too lazy (like I am) to use sunscreen, or uninformed about the effects of sun exposure on your body. If you knew how adversely overexposure to the sun affects your body, you would think twice before neglecting sunscreen and leaving your body unprotected.

Did you know that sun exposure causes 80% of the wrinkles and fine lines on your body? Did you know that up to 90% of premature aging is due to UV radiation? (1) Yes, although sun rays give you an impressive dose of Vitamin D, sun exposure causes us more harm than good. To enumerate, sun exposure can result in premature aging, skin discoloration (which we call “sun spots”), wrinkles, fine lines, saggy skin, and even skin cancer (which can be deadly!).

how to prevent tanning in the sun

The ultraviolet radiation from the sun is invisible to the naked eyes of human beings because it has shorter wavelengths than the light we can see. There are two types of rays within the spectrum that can damage the DNA in your skin cells (albeit in slightly different ways) and could lead to even skin cancer. The two rays are UVA rays and UVB rays and both are harmful to your body.

Aging Rays

UVA or “aging rays” can prematurely age your skin, cause wrinkles, and can pass through window glass. But it is the UVB rays, or “burning rays” that are responsible for sunburn,(2) skin damage, skin cancer, and melanoma. Window glasses are capable of blocking these. UVB has a shorter wavelength than UVA and hence has more energy, which means it can penetrate the outer layer of the skin called the epidermis. This can cause damage to DNA and causes the skin to burn.

UVA has a longer wavelength and hence less energy which means that it can penetrate even deeper into your skin. It could cause the production of free radicals which damage DNA and break down collagen and elastin. Both rays are extremely harmful. Melanoma, which is caused by these UV radiations, kills more than 10,000 Americans every year(3).

If you expose your body to either of those often enough, you may start developing cancerous moles. So, how do you protect yourself from the sun? Here is where the sunscreen comes and saves the day! We hope you have realized that skipping sunscreen was a mistake!

The Golden Glow of Tanning is Not Healthy 

What?! Yes.

Both UVA and UVB rays stimulate the production of melanin in the skin which leads to what we call “suntan”. Given these damages by sun rays, do you think tanning is good for your body? Does sunscreen prevent tanning? Is tanning healthy? No, it is not. When we get a tan, our body is of trying to protect itself from the sun and helping our body to tolerate the sun without getting a sunburn.

To put it simply, tan on our skin is trying to build a shield. The epidermis releases a pigment called melanin to give the skin its natural color. Melanin is only produced when the skin is exposed to UV rays.

spf 30 for tanning

When our skin responds to sun exposure by becoming inflamed and pumping out more melanin, it is to protect the DNA from UVL (ultraviolet light) damage. Damage occurs when the UV rays damage the skin’s cellular DNA, thus, creating genetic mutation. So, it is not just a golden glow, it is something that causes the glow (which is actually skin damage). A suntan is a sign of skin damage because our skin adapts by tanning.

Melanin And Sunburn

People with less melanin (fair or light-skinned people) have the highest chance of getting burned more easily as the skin is not protected from UVB rays. They can get tanned within minutes. Whereas those with more melanin in their skin take typically longer to get tanned and can usually spend hours in the sun without burning their skin. Given that reason, there is a misconception that people of color are not at risk because of their skin color and that skin cancer is usually diagnosed much later in them.

Ultimately, the amount of time spent in the sun to get a burn or tan depends on each individual’s pigmentation. As Australians are exposed to the highest levels of UV radiation in the world, Australia also has the highest number of skin cancers reported in the world. So, how to prevent tanning? Does sunscreen prevent tanning? Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen to avoid these radiations from entering the skin and to prevent tanning.

Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning? A Defence Mechanism!

While this may come to you as a surprise, sunscreen is the answer to protect yourself from the harsh UV rays. Can this product actually protect your skin? Yes, wearing sunscreen can help reduce your risk of all of these issues mentioned above which are caused by the sun rays alone. You can almost entirely avoid these severe damages with adequate sun protection; sunscreen! When you are outside, you are constantly exposed to UV radiation. Does sunscreen prevent tanning? Sunscreen can screen your skin from UV rays. How?

Sunscreen Types

There are two kinds of sunscreens; physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. Both the sunscreens absorb UV rays and turn the energy to heat before that energy can be absorbed by DNA and cause damage. While physical sunscreens work like a shield, chemical sunscreens work like a sponge. Physical sunscreens sit on the surface of your skin and reflect and scatter the sun rays, particularly the longer UVA rays.

does sunscreen prevent you from getting darker

On the other hand, chemical sunscreens absorb the rays without letting the skin absorb them. Physical sun protectants usually contain titanium oxide (4) or zinc oxide as their main active ingredient. Evidently, it is best to opt for this sunscreen if you have sensitive skin. Sunblock is one such physical sunscreen.

Does Sunblock Prevent Skin Tanning?

Yes, being the physical kind, it is normally opaque and leaves a white cast on your skin. Once applied, it works as a barrier against the damaging UV rays by scattering and reflecting them away from the skin. Chemical sunscreens contain organic chemical compounds such as octocrylene, oxybenzone, Octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, avobenzone, homosalate, ecamsule as their ingredients.

These formulations are easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue. Fortunately, several sunscreens contain a combination of both physical and chemical filters now. You don’t have to choose between the two anymore. Now that you know how exactly sunscreen works, we come to our next question. As tanning is not healthy, does sunscreen prevent tanning? Is applying sunscreen that good? Let’s see!

Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning? The Facts!

Yes and no. Wearing sunscreen does prevent tanning, but only to a certain degree. Because no sunscreen can protect you 100% from UV rays and some rays are still going to be absorbed into the skin. But it is important to know that it can prevent tanning to a great extent if you use a broad-spectrum (which protects you from both UV rays) sunscreen.


If you don’t wear sunscreen, you will be making it worse! So, how does sunscreen prevent you from tanning? By giving you protection from the UV rays.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) determines the amount of protection a sunscreen provides.

Normally, you can see an SPF number on sunscreens. It is the estimated maximum amount of UV radiation that the sunscreen can protect your skin from for two hours. You can evaluate how much UV rays the sunscreen will block when applied. An SPF 15 indicates, when all exposed skin is covered with sufficient sunscreen, only 1/15 of the rays will reach the body. Similarly, an SPF of 30 and 50 indicates that only 1/30 (3%) and 1/50 (2%) of UV rays will reach your skin.

To figure out the SPF number you will need, use the formula:

SPF number x exposure time without protection = minutes protected

Imagine a scenario here. You are in Fiji, the sun will burn you within 10 minutes, and you are using a sunscreen of SPF 15. This means, (15×10=150 minutes) you will be protected for 150 minutes (two and half hours) with the sunscreen on your skin. After that, you will get burned. The ideal SPF depends on your exposure level to the sun, but dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen of at least 30 to be on the safer side. SPF ratings between 6 and 14 offer low protection, SPF ratings between 15 and 29 provide medium protection, and SPF ratings of 30 to 50 offer high protection.

Can You Tan With Sunscreen Of SPF 50?

Yes, because even the sunscreen with the highest SPF factor lets 1% of UV rays reach your skin. An SPF of 50 will let 2% of UV rays reach your skin. But you will only be tanned with the perfect glow because the rest of 99% is protected from your skin. Some say, if you are not directly under the sun, you don’t need to wear sunscreen with SPF factor, which is completely wrong. UVB rays, the most harmful part of sunlight, can reach the skin indirectly too (even from under the shade).

It is also important to know that sunscreen works as a filter. It does its job pretty well!

The Wh’s of Sunscreen Usage 

It is important to wear sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days. Clouds block infrared rays and you don’t feel hot during winter days. However, 80% of the sun’s UV radiation reaches the earth. So, the sun can still affect you! If you don’t lather up with sunscreen while going out, you could be doing severe damage to your skin cells’ DNA! (5) Now let’s get more into its usage!

Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning? When To Use It?

Every day. Whenever you go out. While using chemical sunscreens, you need to give your skin time to absorb the sunscreen before you go out in the sun. The general rule of time is 30 minutes. After applying, wait for 30 minutes to give the product enough time to penetrate the skin.

What Amount To Use?

For an adult, use one ounce (2mg, meaning one shot glass) of the product for each application (for the entire body). Most people don’t use enough and later complain of not having the sunscreen work its magic. People usually use only 20% of the recommended amount required for sufficient protection. For kids, buy sunscreens that are specifically formulated for kids.

Where To Apply?

Anywhere that is exposed. Most people usually miss the back and sides of the neck, tops of the ears, tops of the feet, behind the knees, and temple. Pay more attention to the “v” of your chest (damage there is hard to reverse) and the top of the ears, nose, cheeks, and forehead (areas prone to skin cancer and burn). Lip balms with SPF sun protection is available these days, to avoid tanning of lips. Your lips also need protection from the sun.

Who Should Use It?

Anyone who is going out in the sun. Even kids.

Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning? When To Reapply?

You don’t need to reapply physical sunscreens every few hours as they can stay on the top layer of your skin for a prolonged time. But reapply chemical sunscreens every two hours. Sunscreens guarantee effectiveness only for two hours. If you are wearing a combined one, reapply every two hours! Especially after being in the water. There are a few water-resistant sunscreens but they are tested to be effective for only up to 40 or 80 minutes in the water.

How Can You Choose A Good Sunscreen?

Although sunscreens are rigorously tested to ensure their safety and effectiveness, you must choose from a reputed brand and apply it correctly(6).

how can you choose a good sunscreen?

You can choose a good sunscreen that prevents tanning by looking for the following factors:

  • Broad-spectrum: protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
  • A UVA star rating denotes UVA protection, and SPF on the product denotes UVB protection.
  • SPF 15 is ideal for occasional exposure like driving to work.
  • SPF 30 and higher are necessary for outdoor activities.

In addition to good sunscreen, maintain sun-safe practices such as seeking shade whenever possible, wearing sun-safe clothes, using UV-blocking sunglasses, wearing a wide hat, and avoiding the midday sun (11 AM – 3 PM).


Does sunscreen prevent sunburn?

Yes, sunscreens block UVB rays that burn your skin.

Does sunscreen prevent you from getting darker?

Yes, because they block UVA rays and prevent the production of melanin.

Does sunscreen prevent freckles?

Freckles are caused by excess levels of melanin in the skin and when your skin absorbs UV rays, they become more apparent. While sunscreen won’t get rid of existing freckles, it can prevent new ones as they won’t let the skin absorb UV rays.

Finally, do you still get tan if you wear sunscreen?

Yes, but only with the golden glow that you would love.

So, does sunscreen prevent tanning? When the sun is glowing with its welcoming warmth, none of us can resist a relaxed tan session in the sun, especially after just getting out of winter clothes and our skin is all dry and flaky from the chilly air. But, a sun-soaking session without slathering sunscreen will damage your body. So, tote a bottle of sunscreen everywhere you go!

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2020) .Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin. [Online] Available at:
  2. Province of British Columbia. (2020). Ultraviolet Radiation. [Online] Available at:
  3. The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2020). Melanoma Overview. [Online] Available at:
  4. Elsevier B.V. (2020). Titanium Oxide. [Online] Available at:
  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2020). Sunscreen FAQ. [Online] Available at:
  6. American Cancer Society. (2020). Choose the Right Sunscreen. [Online] Available at:
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Manal Yahya

Manal Yahya

Manal is a lifestyle influencer who has spent years delving into the world of beauty, fashion, and wellness- a pro when it comes to anything woman.

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