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
- Young AR, et al. Sunburn. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 14, 2014.
- Quatrano NA, et al. Current principles of sunscreen use in children. Current Opinion in Pediatrics. 2013;25:122.
- Baron ED. Selection of sunscreen and sun-protective measures. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 14, 2014.
- Diaz JH, et al. Sun exposure behavior and protection: Recommendations for travelers. Journal of Travel Medicine. 2013;20:108.
- FDA sheds light on sunscreens. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm258416.htm. Accessed March 14, 2014.
- The risks of tanning. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/radiationemittingproductsandprocedures/tanning/ucm116432.htm. Accessed March 14, 2014.
- Elmets CA. Polymorphous light eruption. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 5, 2014.
- Sunscreens. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreens#.UbdQaJzm9lP. Accessed March 17, 2014.
- Vogel RI, et al. Exposure to indoor tanning without burning and melanoma risk by sunburn history. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2014;106:e1.
- Elmets CA. The dark side of indoor tanning to prevent outdoor sunburns. New England Journal of Medicine. 2014;370:e1.