The Truth About "Base Tans"

the truth about base tans

As July marks UV Awareness Month, it is crucial to shed light on the topic of base tans and their potential risks. Many individuals believe that obtaining a base tan before sun exposure can provide protection against sunburn and reduce the risk of skin damage. However, dermatologists and medical experts, including the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and Harvard Medical School, caution against this practice. In this article, we will explore the reasons why base tans are not beneficial and delve into healthy alternatives to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun.


The Myths Surrounding Base Tans: Base tanning refers to the practice of gradually building a tan by exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation either from the sun or artificial tanning devices before a vacation or prolonged sun exposure. Some people believe that this pre-tanning process can provide a protective barrier against sunburn and potentially reduce the risk of skin damage.


Harmful Effects of Base Tans:

1. Increased risk of skin cancer: Base tanning does not provide substantial protection against the damaging effects of UV radiation. The tan developed during base tanning is a sign of skin damage rather than protection. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, the most aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer. Base tanning offers minimal defense against harmful UV rays and can lull individuals into a false sense of security, leading them to neglect proper sun protection measures.

2. Premature aging: UV radiation has a detrimental effect on the skin's collagen and elastin fibers, which are responsible for maintaining its elasticity and firmness. Base tanning accelerates the aging process, leading to the formation of wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin, and age spots. The cumulative damage caused by UV radiation from base tanning can make the skin appear prematurely aged, robbing it of its youthful vitality.

3. Heightened risk of sunburn: One of the misconceptions surrounding base tans is that they provide significant protection against sunburn. However, the truth is that the level of melanin produced during base tanning is not sufficient to shield the skin effectively. Relying solely on a base tan for protection can lead to severe sunburns, which are not only painful but also increase the risk of long-term skin damage and skin cancer. Sunburns should always be avoided as they indicate excessive UV radiation exposure and skin injury.

4. Uneven and patchy tanning: Another drawback of base tanning is the potential for uneven and patchy tanning results. The tan developed during base tanning may not distribute evenly across the skin, resulting in an uneven appearance. This can be particularly noticeable when wearing swimwear or clothing that reveals different areas of skin. Achieving an even and natural-looking tan through base tanning can be challenging, leading to dissatisfaction with the overall aesthetic outcome.


Healthy Alternatives to Base Tans:


1. Regular and proper sunscreen use: Sunscreen is a crucial component of effective sun protection. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Apply it generously to all exposed skin, including the face, neck, arms, and legs, at least 15 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you are sweating heavily or swimming. Sunscreen helps to block harmful UV rays and reduces the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

2. Seek shade: When the sun is at its strongest, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., seek shade as much as possible. Take breaks from direct sunlight by staying under trees, umbrellas, or other forms of shade. This helps to reduce your overall UV exposure and lowers the risk of sunburn and skin damage.

3. Wear protective clothing: Covering up your skin with appropriate clothing is an effective way to shield yourself from the sun's harmful rays. Choose lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, long pants or skirts, and wide-brimmed hats that provide shade for your face, neck, and ears. Additionally, wear sunglasses with UV protection to safeguard your eyes from potential damage caused by UV radiation.

4. Use self-tanning products: Self-tanning lotions, sprays, and creams are safe alternatives to base tans for achieving a sun-kissed appearance without exposing your skin to harmful UV radiation. These products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical that reacts with the outer layer of your skin to produce a temporary tan. Self-tanners can help you achieve a natural-looking tan without the risks associated with UV exposure. Follow the instructions on the product and exfoliate your skin before applying self-tanner for the best results.


American Academy of Dermatology (
Harvard Health Publishing - Harvard Medical School (
"Are there benefits to a base tan?" - Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. [Link to the article:]