Can you tan with sunscreen on?

Each year as summer rolls around, many of us jump at the first opportunity to achieve that perfect, glowing tan. It’s only natural to head for the nearest sunlounger or deck chair, with the aim of soaking up those glorious rays of sunshine. However, if you’re after that sun-kissed glow, should you still wear sunscreen? In this guide, we will give you all the answers as to whether you can still tan whilst wearing sunscreen.

How does sunscreen actually work?

Sunscreen works by blocking and absorbing UV rays through the use of physical and chemical particles. Physical ingredients, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, sit on the surface of your skin and reflect the UV rays, before they have the chance to penetrate your skin. Chemical ingredients, such as avobenzone and octisalate, are included to absorb UV rays, to prevent them from damaging your skin.

Whilst basking in the heat on a sunny day can make us feel good, allowing UV rays to hit unprotected skin is in fact dangerous. When UV rays hit your skin cells, they can disrupt body processes that affect the growth rate of these cells. This can lead to severe sunburn along with longer term consequences such as wrinkles, premature ageing, skin damage and even skin cancer.

Is it possible to get a tan with sunscreen on?

In short, the answer is yes. Whilst sunscreen works to reflect and absorb the majority of UV rays, it is designed to let a small number through. No sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UV rays and this enables you to still tan whilst wearing it. For example, SPF 50 blocks 98% of UV rays, meaning that approximately 2% will get through to your skin.

Obviously you may not achieve the deepest, bronze tan if you have applied sunscreen, as its fundamental purpose is to protect you from those harmful UV rays. However, tanning with sunscreen applied is the safest way to achieve the healthiest look, with minimal risk of skin damage.

Although a tan can look nice, the risks of long-term harm to your skin and health should not be ignored. When we get a tan, it is our body’s way of trying to protect itself from UV light damage, by increasing melanin production. Tanning with sunscreen on allows you to gain colour, whilst having that added layer of protection. It also significantly decreases the risk of sunburn — which is definitely not the greatest look for the summer!

Can you still absorb vitamin D with sunscreen on?

Most of us are aware of the benefits of vitamin D for our health and skin, so sunbathing with no sunscreen on can seem like the perfect way to absorb this important vitamin. Yet in reality, there is no evidence that sunscreen blocks or decreases vitamin D concentration.

As previously mentioned, those small amounts of UV rays that sunscreen lets through are more than enough to maintain good levels of vitamin D. Unfortunately, being out in direct sunlight for too long without any form of sunscreen, is not going to significantly increase your vitamin D supply, and will only induce longer term damage.

Find out more about which sunscreen is best for tanning