Safe Tanning Tips You May Not Know

How can you get that glow without so many health risks? Protect your skin. Look tan and healthy without putting yourself in danger.

How to Tan More Safely: Tanning Lotions, SPF, and More

Though beauty exists in so many forms, there’s something to be said for a beautiful bronze tan. Something about time in the sun brings a certain glow to our skin, if you will, whether it comes from "lying out" or using a tanning lotion.

With that said, tanning has earned a bad reputation over the course of the past few years, maybe even decades. Naysayers often point to the pain and misery of sunburn and warn tan fans of the very real dangers of skin cancer.

While you can have too much of a good thing — sunshine included — there are ways to keep that beautiful color without putting your health and quality of life at risk. Let’s talk about some tips and tricks to a tanner you all while staying as safe as you can be.

Why to Avoid Tanning Beds

It’s tempting to take a shortcut when it comes to sun-kissed skin. The ultraviolet (UV) rays that emanate from tanning beds are a different variant of UV rays from the sun. UV-B rays from the sun are healthy in moderation, helping the body produce vitamin D, and vitamin D, in turn, helps the body absorb calcium.

UV-A light, emitted by tanning beds, offer no such health benefits, and most tanning beds only have trace amounts of UV-B rays and much more UV-A rays.

Exposure to the wrong kind of UV rays can cause premature skin aging, damage to the eyes, and certainly most problematic, a 75 percent increased risk of developing melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

If you choose to tan via light exposure, your safest option is natural sunlight in moderation.

How to pick the best Sunscreen

Yes, you can still get a great tan and wear sunscreen. In fact, it’s highly suggested you do for several reasons — not the least of which is avoiding painful sunburns and potentially worse damage to the skin.

Look for broad-spectrum sunscreen if it’s available because it has different and possibly more health-beneficial factors than standard SPF (sun protection factor) lotions. SPF lotions are more for adding to the time you can spend in the sun without experiencing significant damage. Broad-spectrum sunscreen offers some protection from both UV-A and UV-B rays whereas SPF lotion usually only protects against UV-B rays.

Be sure to apply enough sunscreen to give yourself an even coat across all areas of exposed skin before going out into the sun.

It’s recommended to apply sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before going into the sun and about 15 to 30 minutes after you’ve been exposed to the sun. You should definitely be reapplying sunscreen as needed, particularly you’ve done something that could remove sunscreen, such as swimming, sweating, rubbing or drying off with a towel.

How to Know When You’ve Tanned Enough

Tanning works best when you’re out in the sun between 10 am and 2 pm. You should probably only stay out for 40-60 minutes at a time, about 20 to 30 minutes on each side to ensure an even tan.

Eventually, you may want to consider lengthening the time in the sun somewhat as your tolerance for the sun builds, but there comes a point each day where your skin reaches a limit for melanin and tanning isn’t productive anymore.

As you’re aware, too, having too much exposure to the sun at a given time can give you sunburn, too, so be careful!

Why You Should Wear Shades and a Hat to Tan

When you’re tanning outside, it’s important to remember to use a hat and a good pair of sunglasses. Your eyes can be easily overlooked when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun. Without some form of protection, there’s a greater risk of eye cancers, cataracts and other premature eye issues that could dramatically affect your sight.

Meanwhile, wearing a hat helps protect your ears, nose, scalp and other areas of your head that may not otherwise be protected. A hat with a two- to three-inch brim all around is ideal, but a baseball cap could work just as well; just be sure to keep your neck well protected if you go that route.

Is Self-Tanning Safe?

The answer is yes. Tanning lotions can be a good alternative to hours spent in the sun. There really isn’t any shame in applying a good self-tanning product to your skin. Unless you have a very specific allergy to DHA, or dihydroxyacetone (the active ingredient in self-tanners), it’s quite safe to use on your skin. It may be a better alternative than spending too much time in the sun and is definitely better than using a tanning bed.

The main disadvantage of self-tanning lotions and other products is needing to reapply it every few days to ensure a consistent tone. It’s important to select the right product for your particular skin tone and to properly prepare your skin before going ahead with self-tanning (shave/exfoliate beforehand, start small, wear tanning gloves if available, etc.), it’s a fairly simple process that gives you a good tan without necessarily exposing yourself to potential harm from the sun or tanning beds.

What are your tips for staying safe while getting a golden tan? What products do you use? What are your thoughts on sunless tanning? We hope with our tips, you'll now know how to stay safer in the sun.

Resources— Cosmopolitan, Mayo Clinic, Tips for Tanning, National Institute of Health, Consumer Reports