Does Peeling Sunburn Remove Tan?

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Enjoying your time on the beach exposed to the sun could result in a beautiful tan and great benefits. However, too much exposure could also cause your skin to have a painful, unhealthy sunburn. 

When you have sunburn, your skin is also likely to peel. But what happens to your tan when your skin peels? Does peeling sunburn remove tan?

There’s no direct yes or no answer to that question. That’s because peeling sunburn could remove tan. But it doesn’t necessarily remove all of it. 

To understand that further, we have to get to know the process of tanning and how your tan gradually fades. We’ll also talk about how you develop a sunburn which results in the peeling of the skin. 

The Process Of Getting A Suntan

The process of developing a suntan happens when you expose your skin to the ultraviolet rays of the sun or through other artificial UV light sources like tanning bed bulbs. This exposure to the UV rays starts the process of tanning the skin.

The skin getting a tan is a natural response of the skin to the presence of UV light. Tanning affects the outermost layer of the skin called the epidermis. 

In this skin layer, there are melanocytes. Upon exposure to ultraviolet light, specifically UVB, the melanocytes produce melanin.

Melanin is a pigment that makes the cells appear darker.

The melanin is absorbed by the skin cells so it can darken the skin and act as a protection. When the melanin is exposed to UVA light, it oxidizes and darkens. 

The increase in the production of melanin is the body’s way of protecting the body from further exposure to UV light. Constant exposure of the body to UV light will encourage the skin to produce melanin and keep the skin tan. 

When the body detects that there isn’t much threat anymore due to the UV rays, the heightened production will also gradually slow down. When the melanin isn’t exposed to UV rays, as much, it will also not oxidize as fast. And the tan will eventually fade. 

The tan eventually fades because the skin is constantly shedding off the top layer. This is a natural process that we typically do not notice.

The tan eventually fades because the skin is constantly shedding off the top layer. This is a natural process that we typically do not notice.

As the skin cells that have oxidized melanin are shed off, the tan also gradually fades until new skin cells are exposed. 

When Does A Sunburn Develop?

Upon exposure to UV light, your skin will naturally have a get tanned to help protect it from the exposure. However, if the exposure is too great, you will get a sunburn.


Whether you expose your skin to natural sunlight or to artificial UV light, you could still end up getting a sunburn if you forgot to use your sunscreen.

When the UV rays damage the skin cells (and cause mutations in the DNA), you will get a sunburn.  

Too much exposure to UV rays will do this but how easily a person gets a sunburn will vary from one to another, and you can still get it even if it’s cloudy, or you’re underwater. Exposure to UV does damage the skin cells, and too much can cause the cells to die off. 

In such cases, the blood vessels become dilated to bring cells that clean up the dead ones. That is why your skin can feel inflamed, and look reddish, and swell. Typically these sunburns do not turn into a tan.

After a few days, you’ll likely observe that the skin where you got a sunburn is peeling. That’s because the top part of your skin is already damaged. 

Although the skin cells naturally shed off over time gradually, the damage caused by the sun makes that process a whole lot faster and affects a greater area. So you get to see a more visible peeling.

That peeling skin may appear darker than what is showing underneath.

That could be the reason why some people would think that due to peeling, their tan is being removed.

Does Peeling Sunburn Remove A Tan?

Does your tan really go away if the sunburn peels? Well, the answer is yes… and no. First of all, the peeling part of the skin is the topmost part. 

The cells there could have already had the melanin oxidized so they changed into a darker color in the hopes of protecting your body. However, too much UV exposure damages them even further. 

Peeling is the body’s natural reaction to getting rid of the damaged part of the skin. The skin that is peeling off is too damaged already that it cannot be saved. 

As we’ve mentioned, there is damage to the DNA of skin cells that have been exposed to the UV, in case it doesn’t peel, there is a chance that it could be cancerous. 

However, that doesn’t mean that your entire tan goes away as your skin peels. Although some of the darkened skin cells are removed, you will notice that your skin is still not as fair as you originally were. 

That’s because the effects brought about by the exposure to the UV rays are still there. There is still melanin in the other skin cells and they might have been oxidized too as protection. 

The tan you get doesn’t instantly disappear if your sunburn peels. It will still gradually fade out until the melanin levels in your skin aren’t that high anymore and the cells affected by that are gradually shed off. 

The tan you get doesn’t instantly disappear if your sunburn peels.

In order to get a tan without harmful burns on your skin, you should limit your sun exposure. You can still tan with sunscreen on!

Take a look at our outdoor tanning tips for more information!

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).