Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?

There’s no better feeling than coming off the beach after a day spent basking in the sun. Your hair has that natural beach wave to it and your skin is sun kissed. The tan you get after a day in the sun is like none other.

That is, until that tan turns into a sunburn and that sunburn turns into permanent skin damage. Yikes. Tanning isn’t all that it’s made out to be. Tanning can seriously damage your skin, which is why it’s so important to put on sunscreen every single day.

But how much sunscreen should you apply? And does sunscreen prevent tanning? In order to keep your skin healthy and glowing, it’s important to know how sunscreen works and how it affects your ability to tan.

Sunscreen works like a shield for your skin. It blocks out UV rays before they can reach your skin. Wearing sunscreen is the best way to protect your skin from sunburn and skin cancer, as well as skin aging and wrinkles that can also come from sun exposure.

But while sunscreen does a great job protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, it also affects your ability to tan. Sunscreen protects your skin, but you can still achieve a tan to some degree. It just won’t be as dark as if you didn’t wear any sunscreen. However, it should be more a concern that you’re protecting your skin from harmful UV rays than it is that you’re getting bronzed. You can still achieve that sun kissed look, while still protecting you from sun damage.

In this blog post, we’ll answer your questions, like “does sunscreen prevent you from tanning?”, “how does sunscreen work?”, and “what happens to your skin while you tan?”, so that you can make the right choices when it comes to protecting your skin.

Does Sunscreen Prevent You from Tanning?

So, does sunscreen prevent you from tanning? Essentially, the answer is yes. But if you’re asking “does sunscreen prevent tanning at all?” The answer is no. That’s because it doesn’t protect you 100%. Sunscreen acts like a shield for your skin, but that doesn’t mean it’s impenetrable. UV rays can still reach your skin and cause a tan, even when you’re wearing plenty of sunscreen.

In order for your skin to be effectively protected from UV rays, you have to apply your sunscreen correctly, reapply it often, and wear a high enough SPF. Even SPF 100 only blocks 99% of UVB rays. So basically, it’s virtually impossible to achieve total and complete protection from the sun. There’s always a risk of sun exposure, which is why putting on sunscreen every day is so important.

SPF fact provided by Environmental Working Group

Any amount of tan is technically considered sun damage, so the goal of sunscreen is to actually prevent you from getting a tan. Fortunately, there are other ways to achieve that golden glow that don’t involve damaging your skin.

In the next section, we’ll go into more detail about exactly how sunscreen works.

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreen works by absorbing the sun’s UV rays and reflecting them before they can affect your skin. There are two types of UV radiation that can affect your skin: UVA rays and UVB rays.

UVB rays can lead to sunburn and damage on the outermost layer of the skin. UVA rays have longer wavelengths, which can penetrate deeper into the skin and can lead to more serious damage, like skin cancer.

UV rays are always present, rain or shine, which is why it’s important to wear sunscreen all year round.

The SPF ratings of sunscreen typically only relates to UVB rays, but you can find broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects you from both. The SPF number tells you what percentage of UVB rays the sunscreen blocks. The higher the SPF, the more sun protection you’ll have.

So, you’re better off skipping on the tan and opting for SPF 30 or SPF 50. You may not get that sun kissed look, but your skin will be much more likely to stay healthy and wrinkle-free for years to come.

woman applying sunscreen on her leg

In addition to wearing sunscreen, it’s also important to take additional measures to protect your skin from UV rays, especially during times when they’re most intense. There are also two different types of sunscreens you can choose from: mineral sunscreens or chemical sunscreen. We’ll cover more on the differences between these two formulas in the “How to Choose a Sunscreen” section.

What Happens to Your Skin When You Tan

Does wearing sunscreen prevent tanning? Essentially, yes, but you’re probably wondering, “what’s so bad about what happens to your skin while tanning that you’d want to prevent it?” and we’ll tell you.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tanning is caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun that causes genetic damage to cells on the outermost layer of your skin. As a result of this exposure, your skin produces more melanin to prevent further injury, thus resulting in a tan.

Basically, a tan is really just your skin trying to protect itself from sun damage. So you can see why getting any sort of tan isn’t good for your skin. There really is no such thing as a healthy tan.

You can get sun damage from the sun or tanning beds. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, using tanning beds before age 35 can increase your chances of developing melanoma by 59%. You might not be able to avoid sun exposure at all times, but you can definitely avoid going in a tanning bed.

Tanning bed use and melanoma fact from the American Academy of Dermatology

There are many reasons why tanning is harmful, including:


Although you might feel more confident with a tan, tanning is one of the worst things you can do to your skin. It’s not worth permanently damaging your skin just so you can get that sun kissed look. Putting on plenty of sunscreen when you’re young means your skin will be youthful and healthy for many years to come.

Can You Still Tan with SPF 50?

The higher SPF your sunscreen is, the more sun protection you’ll get. So does SPF 50 sunscreen prevent tanning? Technically, yes.

With SPF 50, 2% of UV rays are able to penetrate the skin. That’s how you’re still able to get a tan even with a high SPF. So in order to prevent yourself from sun damage, you need to reapply at least every two hours.

According to the American Skin Association, a sunscreen’s SPF number determines how long it will protect you before you need to reapply. In order to get the most protection from your sunscreen, apply it at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapply after swimming or sweating heavily.

Why It’s Essential to Wear Sunscreen

There are countless reasons why it’s essential to wear sunscreen, such as:

  • Lowers your risk of skin cancer
  • Prevents sun damage
  • Prevents early signs of aging and wrinkles
  • Protects against painful sunburn
  • Promotes an even skin tone


UV rays can easily penetrate glass and clouds. So even if you spend a cloudy day inside, there’s still a risk of sun damage. Summer or winter, rain or shine, inside or outside—you should always wear sunscreen.

Tanning and skin damage facts

7 Tips for How to Wear Sunscreen for Optimal Protection

Putting on sunscreen doesn’t mean lightly applying some on the way out the door. For optimal protection, you have to wear sunscreen properly. Here are some tips on how to put on sunscreen the right way:

  1. Sunscreen should be worn daily, no matter the weather, inside or outside.
  2. Sunscreen should be applied to the face and any other areas that will be exposed to the sun.
  3. You should wear sunscreen with at least 30 SPF.
  4. You should apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside.
  5. You should reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours.
  6. You should wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat when outside.
  7. You should put sunscreen on your lips as well.

How to Choose a Sunscreen

So now that you know how sunscreen works and why it’s so important, you just have to choose the right sunscreen that will properly protect you.

First and foremost, you want to wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30, if not SPF 50 or higher. If you have fair skin, highly sensitive skin, or a family history of skin cancer, then you might even need to go higher. You can never be too careful when it comes to skin protection!

Sun protection items and towel on top of bed

We also know that there are two different types of sunscreen: mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreen is the recommended option for many reasons. Mineral sunscreens use only natural ingredients and don’t penetrate your skin, so they don’t need to be absorbed into your skin in order to work. Mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and deflect UV rays, so they do a great job of protecting you, without exposing you to chemicals.

So, does mineral sunscreen prevent tanning? While it may not protect you 100%, it’s more effective than chemical sunscreen. So when in doubt, always opt for mineral sunscreen.

Since it’s so important to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day, you want to choose one that’s easy to bring with you on the go. Colorescience carries a myriad of sunscreen products, from sunscreen primers to sunscreen foundations, so you can easily find one that fits your lifestyle. And if you want to achieve that summer glow all year round, you can use a sunscreen with bronzer for an effortless sun kissed look—sans the sun of course. Putting on sunscreen doesn’t have to be difficult, as long as you have the right product. With Colorescience, you can find a sunscreen that you can easily store in your bag to reapply throughout the day for optimal sun protection.

Keep Your Skin Healthy & Glowing with the Right Sun Protection

Does wearing sunscreen prevent you from tanning? Technically yes, but not entirely, which is why it’s crucial to reapply your sunscreen often. There’s no such thing as a healthy tan—any amount of tan is considered sun damage. The key to keeping your skin healthy and glowing throughout your lifetime is to use the right sun protection. Make putting on sunscreen a part of your daily routine and follow the recommendations above, you’ll start practicing optimal sun care without a second thought!

Your health is so much more important than that golden glow. You might feel good in the moment, but when you start to see wrinkles at a young age, you’ll regret having not worn enough sunscreen. But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve that look of a sun-soaked summer, that’s what sunscreen with bronzer for.

Find the right sunscreen for you with our diverse selection of high-quality sunscreen options that can keep you protected.

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