Learn the Truth About Pre-Tanning

pre tanningSummer is coming and we are all making vacation plans to get away for some fun in the sun, but the same question arises from at least one friend every year: should I try to pre-tan in a tanning bed before going to the beach to forestall a serious sunburn or not?

In a few paragraphs I will share with you the information I shared with her about pre-tans, tans, tanning beds, the effects of all of these on our skin and the important things to do in summer to protect it from damage. Then you will have the skin care information you need when planning your own trip to the tropics or the beach.

What is a Tan?

First we need to understand what a tan really is. When there is damage to the DNA in the skin’s cells, they darken. The result is a tan. So a tan is really just cooked skin cells. In order to achieve a tan, either in a tanning booth or bed or by stretching out on the beach, you have to damage your skin. Because of this, there is actually no such thing as a “healthy” or “safe” tan. The idea of pre tanning, to get a layer of tan started to protect your skin from serious sunburn at the beach, is mixed blessing. On one hand, a sun bed tan can provide a sun protection factor (SPF) of four but on the other hand, as previously stated, at the expense of already causing some damage to your skin.

An SPF of four means it will take you four times as long to get any sunburn than it would if your skin has not been exposed to sun. However, by tanning your skin even a little damaged has occurred so your risk of skin cancer is already increased. Of course sunburn also raises your risk of skin cancer, especially deadly melanoma, so both tans and sunburns should be avoided. The UV rays in sunlight (both UVA and UVB) are the culprits that inflict the skin damage. Tanning beds contain a great deal of UVA radiation. It will not burn the skin as fast as the UVB rays, but its penetration into the skin is deeper. This results in irreversible aging of the skin: sagging, loss of its elasticity, brown spots, wrinkles, crow’s feet and more. As it penetrates deeply into the dermis it can also lead to suppression of the body’s immune system.

Better Safe than Sorry

My own advice to my friend was based on the way I have learned to prepare for the beach myself since I have had several skin cancers removed from my arms. Do not even try to get a tan. Instead of tanning, follow these pre tanning tips to have safe fun in the sun. First, carefully smooth on a full ounce (that is approximately two tablespoons) of sunscreen with an SPF of a minimum of 15 or more 30 minutes before going outside. Make sure your sunscreen choice contains UVA protection also. Sunscreens containing UVA protection usually are labeled as multi-spectrum, broad spectrum or UVA/UVB protection. The label will indicate zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, Mexorylâ„¢ SX (ecamsule) and avobenzone as ingredients.

Protection is key

Second, wear protective gear and clothing in the sun. Protect your eyes with UV-blocking wraparound sun glasses. Protect your face, ears and neck with broad brimmed hats. Wear long sleeves and loose fitting shirts. Third, visit the beach before eleven in the morning and after three in the afternoon to avoid the brightest, hottest hours of sunlight. Keep in the shade in the middle of the day. Enjoy your vacation without the burn and itch that sun overexposure brings. Heed the advice of the PSA Campaign to promote embracing our natural skin hues and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.


A recent study reported in the JAMA Dermatology (see www.skincancer.org) found that world -wide there are more skin cancer cases caused by indoor tanning bed users than there are lung cancer cases attributed to smoking. Indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely than non-tanners to develop melanoma. There are over 400,000 new skin cancer cases from indoor tanning diagnosed each year. For all these reasons, the only pre tanning that I and many dermatologists recommend is sunscreen and lots of it.