Should I go to a tanning salon before a sunny vacation to help prevent sunburn?

Answers from Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.

There's little evidence to support the idea that a base tan protects you against sunburn. A few sessions of indoor tanning will not prevent you from burning in the sun. A base tan is no substitute for good sun protection. Plus, the risks of long-term tanning outweigh the unproven benefits of a base tan.

Tanning under the sun or a sunlamp gives protection that is equivalent to a sun protection factor (SPF) of 4 or less. But the larger issue is that any change in skin color from tanning is a sign of damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Repeated exposure to UV radiation — whether from the sun or a tanning bed — increases your risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer.

Use these methods to prevent sunburn and other skin conditions:

  • Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The sun's rays are strongest during these hours.
  • Cover up. Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs. Consider wearing clothing specially designed to provide sun protection. A broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses with a high UV-protection rating also will help.
  • Use sunscreen frequently and liberally. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

    Reapply sunscreen every two hours — or more often if you're swimming or perspiring.

Some people have medical conditions that may require a few short exposures to UV light before summer or a sunny vacation, to prevent flare-ups. Talk with your doctor before doing this.

Aug. 13, 2014 See more Expert Answers