Can you still tan with SPF?

Committing to your sunscreen doesn’t mean waving goodbye to any hopes of a golden glow. It is still possible to tan with SPF.

Can you still tan with SPF?

Lounging by the pool, sipping on an ice-cold drink as condensation drips from the glass, watching the sun climb hazily higher and higher into the sky – these are the moments that holiday dreams are drenched in. Meticulously slathering your face and body in SPF? That part might not make the montage.

We get it. For the sun-worshippers among us, for whom the feeling of scorching beams on their skin and the satisfaction of tan lines is hard to beat, wearing daily SPF feels like admitting defeat when it comes to taking a tan back with you through passport control. But what if we told you that not only can you still tan with SPF, but that it will actually help your glow to linger for longer?

“Wearing SPF won’t stop you from tanning,” says Consultant Dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall. “In fact, by protecting the skin and preventing sunburn and peeling, your tan is more likely to last.” The key to shielding your skin? A high factor sunscreen (at least SPF 30, ideally SPF 50) that’s broad spectrum – meaning it will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Whether or not you develop a tan isn’t an indication of how well you’re protecting your skin, but avoiding sunburn is. “Even with the most effective SPF, a tan is still likely if you’re getting significant sun exposure,” adds Dr Hextall. “But if there is sunburn despite regular application of a high-factor SPF, then I would question its efficacy.” It’s worth noting that sunscreens, just like your cosmetic products, can expire. Check the label to ensure yours are still in date before jetting off.

What happens if you don’t wear SPF?

Thinking about forgoing your SPF? Trust us when we say it’s one summer activity you don’t want to miss out on. “If the skin is not protected from UV then over time collagen and elastin (our skin’s scaffolding) will be damaged,” advises Dr Hextall. “Skin will start to lose its firmness and bounce, with visible wrinkles and sagging. The skin’s texture will also change with more visible pores and a loss of smoothness. Finally, UV will over time cause uneven skin pigmentation – especially in those with a darker skin tone.” All of these factors come into play when assessing how fresh and healthy our skin looks and feels, and can make our complexions appear depleted ahead of time. On the gnarlier side, there’s also the risk of sunburn and skin cancer to consider when not wearing sunscreen.

Do you still need to wear SPF if you don’t burn?

“But I don’t burn!” is a common summer refrain heard from the likes of natural tanners and SPF-dodging partners. While it’s true that everyone’s skin is different (and not everyone will burn) it is also true that everyone still needs to wear sunscreen.

“There is a common misconception that if skin tans easily it doesn’t need sun protection,” explains Dr Hextall. “Of course, sunburn is the main concern when protecting against skin cancer (especially melanoma) but we also know that cumulative skin exposure is important. Skin cancer aside, skin that tans easily will still develop significant photodamage with UV exposure. In fact, anecdotally I often notice that those who are more sun sensitive tend to have better skin with age as they have naturally tended to avoid UV exposure.” A clear-cut case for wearing SPF and sitting in the shade if ever we heard one.

Should you still wear SPF in the winter?

You might only notice their impact on your skin tone during the summer months, but UV rays are actually present all year round. “During the summer there are higher levels of UVB rays,” says Dr Hextall. “These have higher energy than UVA rays and cause sunburn. They tend to be absorbed by clouds and are much less prevalent in winter.” UVB rays are short, sharp and obvious – you can see that they’re present by the sunshine in the sky, feel them on your skin as heat and notice their immediate effects in the form of tanning and burning.

UVA rays, on the other hand, are a little quieter, and can sneak around without us noticing. “UVA rays have a longer wavelength that penetrates deeper into the skin,” explains Dr Hextall. “They are around all year, albeit to a lesser extent in winter, and can travel through glass. As they travel deeper into the skin, they will damage collagen and elastin.” By impairing these important proteins that give skin its bounce and spring, UVA rays can accelerate the rate at which our skin ages. You might not notice their impact straight away, but you will over time.