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Does Sunscreen Prevent Tanning?

Sujata Iyer
Does sunscreen actually prevent tanning or does it serve as just a screen for a short period of time? Let's discuss here.
Our skin is one of our most prized possessions. It is our responsibility to keep it from harm and to ensure that it remains healthy and fresh all the time. The sun, however, has other plans. The bright, and often harsh, UV rays that emanate from the sun can do a lot of damage to our skin from the outside as well as from inside.
We resort to sunscreens to provide us some respite and protection from these rays. But do these sunscreens actually prevent tanning? Well, the answer to that is slightly complicated.
When the appropriate sunscreen is used for a long time and in the required quantity, it provides excellent protection from the sun, but does not really prevent the tanning process.This is because tanning is a process that take place within the skin cells, a place that the sunscreen does not reach.

How Our Skin Gets Tanned

Every time you go out in the sun, whether with sun protective cream or not, you are exposed to the sun's ultra violet (UV) rays. These rays can be classified into UVA and UVB rays. Both the kinds of rays are responsible for making our skin tan.
How does this happen? Well, when you go out in the sun, and expose your skin, it automatically works up a defense mechanism in the form of the production of excess melanin. Melanin is a pigment in our skin that is produced by the melanocyte cells.
Melanin is already present in our skin, but when we go into the sun, the production gets accelerated and as a result of this protective maneuver by our skin, the melanin content increases and our skin appears darker. Though this is a natural, healthy and necessary process for our skin's protection, there is a slight shortcoming.
The melanocyte cells can produce only a limited amount of melanin at a given time when exposed to the UV rays. Hence, after a while, you will begin to feel the burning effects of the sun's rays. This is what a sunburn is; overexposure to the sun's rays and the shortfall of melanin to protect you from it.

How a Sunscreen Protects You

Now we know how our skin gets tanned. Other points worth noting about tanning is that whether you use a tanning machine or are exposed to the sun's UV rays, your skin can withstand only short periods of direct exposure.
The duration that you can remain in the sun gets defined by the type of skin you have and the potency of the melanocyte cells to produce melanin in your body. If you have extremely sensitive skin, then you're likely to get tanned very quickly, and you may also run the risk of developing skin problems.
Enter, sunscreens! The first thing that you need to know about sunscreens is that they do exactly what their name suggests. They provide a screen between your skin and the sun.
This means that when you slather a generous amount of sunscreen and go out in the sun, it acts as a shield against the UV rays for sure, but it remains active and effective only for a limited time, after which you need to replenish your skin with a new coat of sunscreen again.
If that is not done, then, unfortunately, your skin is again exposed to the UV rays and has every chance of getting tanned due to the production of melanin. Another factor that affects the effectiveness of the sunscreen in protecting your skin is the SPF (sun protection factor) of the sunscreen that you're using.
As the SPF increases, the sunscreen provides you better protection against the sun's rays by keeping them from getting into the skin. There are a lot of reputable companies that have numerous sunscreens with varying SPF levels.
Choose one that suits your skin type, according to the level of sunshine and the duration of your stay in it. Remember that only regular use of a suitable sunscreen will be able to protect your skin from the sun's rays.
It will just reduce the effect of the UV light for a while, but when its effects wear off, it will offer you no protection, nor will it prevent tanning.
Once you choose a sunscreen according to the parameters mentioned, be sure to test it in one area of your body before you apply it all over. It is possible that you may develop an allergic reaction to the sunscreen and not be able to use it. In such a case, it would be wise to consult your dermatologist for advice on what you can use to protect your skin.