Skincare experts provide the answers you won’t find on the back of the bottle.
Whether you’re chasing a glow or keen to keep your skin away from the sun, you know you’re supposed to apply SPF before you head out. But does sunscreen prevent tanning completely? Or will you inevitably end up with tan lines, whether you want them or not?
To shed some light on the subject, we spoke with two skincare specialists: biochemist and This Works CEO Anna Persaud, Ph.D., and board-certified dermatologist Maryann Mikhail, M.D. of Waverly DermSpa.
Both sun protection experts agree that if you use sunscreen correctly, it will and should limit tanning. But they also highlight that even when using the best sunscreen for face and body, there’s no such thing as a safe tan.
Here’s How Sunscreen Actually Prevents Tanning
“Tanning is the skin’s injury response,” explains Dr. Mikhail. “When it senses UV damage taking place, it stimulates pigment-producing cells to ramp up production of melanin for protection”
Although you might love the look of a fresh tan, it’s really your skin’s cry for help. Truth hurts—and so does sunburn.
However, sunscreen can soften the impact. “Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays while mineral sunscreens reflect them away,” Dr. Mikhail says. Both work to “protect skin from harmful UV rays that can cause premature aging, hyperpigmentation, sunspots, and wrinkles.”
In other words, SPF is on your side if you want to preserve a more youthful and clear complexion. Because it blocks or absorbs harmful UV rays, Dr. Persaud says that “correct application of sunscreen should, therefore, limit your tanning—but it won’t stop it completely.”
Even if you’re wearing a high-quality, high-SPF product, it’s still only a protective layer. It’s not impenetrable armor, and it will wear off.
That said, sunscreen is still an essential first line of defense against damaging sun exposure.