A bronze body sounds ideal. Right?
Isn’t that 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.
Do You Think Wearing Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?
The ideal solution for this particular problem all of us face comes in the name of sunscreen. The flawless, topical solution to protect 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.
Do You Step Out In The Sun Without Sunscreen? Here’s Your Bad News.
The importance of wearing sunscreen whenever you go out in the sun is too often disregarded. You are either too lazy (like I am) to use sunscreen or misinformed 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 unattended.
Did you know that 80% of the wrinkles and fine lines on your body are caused by UV exposure to the sun? 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, it 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!).
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.
While UVA or “aging rays” can prematurely age your skin, cause wrinkles, and can pass through window glass, UVB rays, or “burning rays” are responsible for sunburn,(2) skin damage, skin cancer, and melanoma, and are blocked by the window glass. 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, cause damage to DNA and cause 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! Now you are aware of the mistake you are making by skipping sunscreen, right?
The Golden Glow Of Tanning Is Not Healthy
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? Is tanning healthy? No, it is not. When we get tan, it is actually our body’s way of trying to protect itself from the sun and helping our body to tolerate the sun without getting a sunburn, to be precise, a tan in our skin is trying to build a shield. The epidermis releases a pigment called melanin to give the skin its natural color and melanin is only produced when the skin is exposed to UV rays.
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 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? Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen to avoid these radiations from entering the skin and to prevent tanning.
Sunscreen: 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? 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 being exposed to UV radiation. Thus, sunscreen can screen your skin from UV rays. How?
There are two kinds of sunscreen; physical 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.
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, it comes to our next question. As tanning is not healthy, does sunscreen prevent you from tanning? Is applying sunscreen that good? Let’s see!
Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?
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)
The amount of protection a sunscreen provides is determined by its Sun Protection Factor (SPF).
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 sun. 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. Because 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!
Does sunscreen prevent sunburn?
Yes, they don’t let UVB rays burn your skin.
Does sunscreen prevent you from getting darker?
Yes, because they won’t let UVA rays produce more 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, you would love.
The W’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, you can still get affected by the sun! 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!
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, one ounce (2mg, meaning one shot glass) of the product must be used 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.
Where to apply?
Anywhere that is exposed. The places most people usually miss are 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).
Who should use it?
Anyone who is going out in the sun.
When to reapply?
Physical sunscreens don’t need to be reapplied every few hours as it can stay on the top layer of your skin for a prolonged time. But, it is important to know that chemical sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours. Your sunscreen is only guaranteed 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 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 respected brand and apply it correctly(6).
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.
- UVA protection is denoted by a UVA star rating and UVB protection is denoted by SPF on the product.
- SPF 15 is ideal for occasional exposure like driving to work.
- SPF 30 and higher are necessary for outdoor activities.
In addition to a good sunscreen, keep the sun-safe practices such as seeking shade whenever possible, wear sun-safe clothes, UV-blocking sunglasses, a wide hat, and avoid midday sun (11 AM – 3 PM).
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!