A natural tan looks better on virtually all types of skin than an artificial tan. Is it millions of years of evolution talking? There’s just something special about the sun-kissed tint of a natural tan that makes the skin glow and feel amazing.
Natural tans usually last for a longer time than spray tans will, and don’t require continuous spray applications to keep up.
But how to get that beautiful, natural, even suntan? What is the best time of day to get a tan, and will focusing on tanning during those peak hours significantly improve the quality of your tan?
In this article, I’ll dig into the details on how to get the best tan you can.
What is the Best Time To Tan?
Determining the best time to tan for your skin color and complexion is fairly simple. However, there are nuances, and the science is evolving.
Generally, people should be tanning in the morning hours when the sun is at its weakest and their circadian rhythm is at its optimal time. This is especially important for those with lighter skin. Regular exposure will build a base tan.
Is Tanning Safe?
Most Cancer Societies simply plug their ears when they hear the word “suntan” and say “LALALALALA” as loud as they can.
I can clearly understand this position, but there are a bunch of real-world issues with it that cancer societies ignore. If you take it to their extreme and follow the position that no amount of sun exposure is safe, then we might as well all pack it in and sit on the couch all day and watch TV. Maybe drink some soda, as well, since we’re in front of the TV already. This is not a good thing!
There is some data that suggests suntanning isn’t such a bad thing, when carefully controlled.
A few quick benefits of tanning are:
- Being outside is good
- Outdoor time frequently involves exercise and other healthy habits
- You get Vitamin D
- Sun exposure can elevate the mood
- Many people who tan feel better about their bodies
- Many feel psychological benefits from having a tan
What are the Best Hours to Tan?
The sun is at its most powerful between 12pm and 3pm, when it is at its zenith and its rays are the strongest. But for many people, the sun during this time is too strong, and sensitive skin will burn and get immediately damaged.
Due to this circumstance, it can often be smart to avoid tanning during this time and instead choose a time when the sun is less intense.
Can you get a tan at 9am? And can you get a tan at 3pm? Which is better?
Either time will work, but for humans, it seems that early morning tanning is better than late afternoon. This is because of the body’s circadian rhythms and how they react to sun exposure. (Note: that study is on mice, and hasn’t been replicated in humans at this point).
Early morning sun can be extremely valuable to those of us with fair, light, sensitive skin. Focusing your suntan schedule on the morning hours where the sun is relatively weak, and the body is ready to fix DNA damage, will allow you to build the all-important base tan as safely as possible.
Is it safe to tan during peak sunlight times?
Essentially none of the scientific bodies recommend tanning during peak sun times. The sun is too powerful, and even for those who have dark skin, can and will cause DNA damage. You should avoid suntanning during these times if at all possible, and wear a healthy amount of high-SPF sunblock.
However, the reality of living in the world is that many of us want to be outside during the peak times of the day, whether it be at the park, the beach, going for a run, playing a game at the golf course, etc. All of these activities can bring great health benefits, but they involve sun exposure. For this reason, it’s wise to be cautious about sun exposure, and do your best to prevent injury during peak times.
When you’re out in the sun during the peak sunlight hours, do not use any accelerators or oils on the skin, as this can damage the skin quickly. Yes, those tanning lotions can help give the skin that luminous deep tone that is so strongly desired, but during the high-power time of day, you should be putting on sunblock instead of an accelerator!
You may be tempted to choose a sunblock with a low SPF to lessen the impact of the suns rays while still providing protection. However, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen when putting it on, so often an SPF50 ends up providing about the same protection as a fully-applied SPF-30. It’s best to at least an SPF-30.
You should also be quite careful about the length of time you’re going to be exposed to direct sun during peak times. If you’re going to be out for a significant period of time, don’t mess around. Use sunblock!
Types of UV Rays
Let’s go through a quick primer on the types of rays the sun produces so we can see how they react in various circumstances. There are three major categories of sunlight: UVA, UVB, and UVC Rays.
UVB Rays are the notorious skin-cancer causing rays. This approximately 5% portion of the ultraviolet spectrum causes skin burns and damage and is the primary target of all sunblocks and sunscreens. They impact the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) only.
UVB Rays are the rays that cause sunburns.
However, they also help the body produce Vitamin D, which is a significant benefit to health.
UVA Radiation makes up almost all of the light of the sun. UVA Rays impact the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) and travel down into the dermis. These rays cause skin tanning, as well as premature aging and wrinkles.
For a long time, the scientific position has been that UVA Rays don’t contribute to skin cancer, but they do cause wrinkles. This is changing, and now the understanding is that both UVA and UVB contribute to cancer.
For this reason, be sure to get full spectrum sunblock that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
UVC rays are generally broken up by the atmosphere and are not considered harmful or beneficial. They’re also not particularly important in the sunlight spectrum.
Consider Your Skin Color
Those of us with pale skin, perhaps with northern European family origins, will tan and burn at very different rates than those with Olive skin or brown skin. In order to determine the ideal time to tan, start with your current base tan level and your skin type.
Light Skin Tones
If you’ve got extremely light skin, start your tanning in the early morning before the sun gets too intense. By starting out early, you’ll get less of a tan each time you sit out, but the tan will slowly build.
Dark Skin Tones
If you’ve already got a great base tan, or you have relatively dark skin, you may be able to approach the higher-power sun times between noon and 3pm. This time of the day is when the sun is at its most powerful, and the impacts on the skin will be more rapid and intense.
You should only be out at this time if your skin is quite dark, and you should be careful of exposure. Always listen to your body, and if you feel that the sun is too intense, immediately seek shelter.
Take Into Account Your Complexion
If you have sensitive, fair skin, again, it is wise to get a solid base tan in the early mornings and avoiding the sun during the peak time between 10am and 3pm. Yes, it will take longer to get that look, but the slow, methodical layers will ultimately produce a beautiful look.
Fair skin is much more likely to burn, so be cautious and treat your skin with care.
Tan slowly, and keep your skin looking great!
Keep Your Tanning Time on Schedule
Try to tan at the same times each day so that the skin gets regular, natural exposure to similar amounts of light each time. Of course, this can be difficult when the weather changes and clouds, but you should do your best to stick to a schedule for tanning, day in and day out.
You won’t be over-exposing your skin at any given time, and you’ll slowly build that healthy-looking base tan.
Position Your Body to Maximize Sun Exposure
During the time you’re tanning, you generally want to position your body to achieve the maximum exposure to the sun’s rays. Avoid any shadows if at all possible, and keep the center of your body “aimed” at the sun. This will ensure you get an even tan across your body, and you’ll just need to flip over in order to get a balanced tan on your front and back.
Tanning on Cloudy Days
Just because the clouds are obscuring the sky doesn’t mean no light and no UV Rays are getting through! Depending on the thickness of the clouds, up to 75% of the suns UV rays can be blocked. But in some cases, thin clouds can block very little UV rays, and can even enhance the UV levels due to the scattering of the light.
For these reasons, many people find that they tend to get sunburns on cloudy days more frequently than on sunny days. People may underestimate the power of the sun on these days and skip any sort of sunblock, resulting in significant burns and skin damage.
You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth attempting to tan on a cloudy day.
Tanning in Winter
It may sound funny, but it’s absolutely possible to get a tan in the winter (unless you live somewhere where the sun literally doesn’t come up during the winter).
If you’re in an area that gets decent sun in the winter, you’ll still get a tan, just milder.
If you’re in an area with lots of snow, you’re probably not going to want to be out in a bathing suit. But you should still respect the sun in winter!
In fact, snowy conditions will reflect additional sunlight, causing the sun to be relatively more powerful in the winter than it is in the summer. Should you be planning to go skiing, snowmobiling, winter hiking, etc., you should still put on some sunscreen, if you’re going to be out in the wintertime.
Can You Tan with Sunscreen On?
Absolutely you can and should tan with sunscreen on. This is almost always the way to go with suntanning, and you can even use a sunscreen with an SPF30 or 50+.
Most people who use sunscreen don’t end up applying as much as they should, and the end result is that a real-world application of SPF50 sunscreen ends up resulting in actual protection of about SPF30.
You should be using a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection.
Building a Base Tan
By sticking with your routine, you’ll eventually get a solid base tan which you can then build on to achieve beautiful bronze skin.
The base tan is critical and will help prevent burns and get a good balance of color on the skin.
How Long Should You Lay in the Sun?
It’s best to start out by spending about 10-15 minutes per morning getting sun exposure. You should be wearing sunblock during this time, at least SPF30.
After about one week of exposure, you can up your exposure to 15-20 minutes per morning.
Once your body is used to that, you can jump up to 30 minutes as your maximum. You should halt any heavy exposure to the sun at 30 minutes, and put on a strong SPF50 sunblock at that time.
Sun Tanning Tips
Apply Lip Balm When Tanning
Don’t forget those lips! Your lips can get sunburned as easily as the rest of your body when exposed to direct sun. Be sure to wear lip balm with sun protection in it!
Protect Your Hair
Those of us who have sensitive, fair skin are more likely to have sensitive, fair hair as well! Be sure to consider how your hair will be exposed to the powerful sun while tanning. For safety, use a hair conditioner with UV-protectant in it.
Don’t Forget the Shade!
As I mentioned above, you don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes of maximum exposure to the sun each day. And that’s for those of us who have already spent a couple of weeks building up a base tan.
Plan to have a beach umbrella with you, or some other sort of shade, when you’re out during the day. You should be spending the vast majority of your time in the shade, not in the sun, so take advantage of that time by bringing a comfortable hat, a beach umbrella, etc.
The Sun is More Intense at the Beach
Just as the winter snow reflects sunlight back from the ground, the lovely warm sand and water at the beach do as well. Treat the time at the beach with care, and remember that the sun exposure ramps up quickly.
Regularly reapply your sunblock, especially if you’re in and out of the water.
Conclusion: Don’t Rush the Tanning Process
Getting that perfect bronze luminous tan is an exercise in patience and determination. It can be soooo tempting to just skip right to the high-power sun, and attempt to get as much exposure as possible during those powerful noontime hours. This method will almost always result in burns, uneven tans, and skin damage.
Instead, for most skin tones, it’s far better to stick to a schedule and get your sun exposure in the morning when the amount of sun is relatively mild. Let the tan slowly build up over time, and it will look its best.
If you really want to speed things up, you can supplement your outdoor tanning schedule with some lotions, sprays, and perhaps some indoor tanning. This regimen will likely allow you to speed up the overall process. You should wait 3-4 hours to shower after tanning using these chemicals, to allow them to fully set.
Your skin will look luscious, deep, and luminous in no time!