Comment: You don’t have to give up on tanning to protect yourself in the sun

Jay Brewer Jay Brewer Former Professional Head of Clinical Wellbeing at Nuffield Health
As the sun starts to shine Jay Brewer, Professional Head of Clinical Wellbeing, provides advice on the sensible way to achieve a golden tan.

People in the UK are living an increasingly jet set life. Coming from a sun-deprived country like the UK, many of us use our annual leave to travel to warmer climes and drench ourselves in the sun several times a year, hoping to achieve a golden tan.

This lifestyle shift has meant that incidences of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, have increased swiftly in the UK - by around 360% since the late 70s. So it’s important we protect ourselves from the sun.

Tanning happens when exposure to UV light causes our bodies to produce a protective substance called melanin, that is thought to dissipate harmful UVB rays. It’s also the pigment that gives our hair, skin and eyes their colour, and the reason our skin darkens after sun exposure.

Of course the most sensible thing to do is cover up or remain in the shade, wear factor 50 and reapply regularly. But for many people the lure of a ‘healthy glow’ is too desirable and off to the beach they go, with a bottle of oil in hand.

There are safer ways to get a tan than basting and baking, which is likely to lead to burning that will peel and leave you pasty anyway. Following these guidelines will help you achieve a longer lasting tan and reduce your risks in the sun.

1. Take it slowly

More sun exposure encourages more melanin production and a deeper tan. However, too much exposure too early won’t result in a deeper tan, it will result in burning. Burning is a clear sign that your cells have mutated, dramatically increasing your risk of skin cancer.

Give your body time to ‘acclimatise’ by starting holidays with factor 50, then factor 40 and reduce until you find a healthy balance between tanning and sun protection. If at the end of the day you burn, tingle or itch, go back up to a stronger sun factor cream.

2. Never go in the sun between 11am and 2pm

High noon is when the sun is at its strongest and is most likely to burn you. Relax in the shade between 11am and 2pm and you’re much less likely to burn. Use this time to rehydrate, cool down and get some food to boost up electrolytes.

3. Protect your sensitive parts

The face, nose, eyes and ears are more sensitive to the sun than the body, so wear a stronger factor on these areas and put a hat and sunglasses on especially 11-2. Make sure the hat covers the neck, which is often overlooked.

4. Stay smooth and moisturised

Exfoliate to remove dead skin and use aftersun to keep your skin moist at the end of the day.

5. Fake it

The safest way to tan is to fake it. Using a spray tan that you apply yourself at home or by a professional will give you a golden tan without any of the health risks. You can tan gradually using tinted moisturisers or go for an instant hit with a fake tan spray or mousse. 

Last updated Friday 14 December 2018

First published on Friday 6 May 2016