Sunscreen, Does It Stop You Tanning And Will It Block Vitamin D?

Depending on when you read this, Summer is probably on its way, and it’s that great time of the year when everything is starting to warm up and we think about sunscreen and sun protection, or at least I hope you do!

But what exactly is sunscreen, how does it work, will it stop you tanning and most importantly does sunscreen block Vitamin D production?

Well, our expert pharmacist Mr Andrew Walton has the answers for you so that you can enjoy the sun safely, but before we do I’ll let you in on a little secret Sunscreen won’t stop you tanning!

What is Sunscreen?

Sunscreen, also known as sunblock or suntan lotion is a cream, gel, liquid or spray applied to the skin to prevent damage to the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light.

No doubt you have all been out in the sun before and not put on some sunscreen, only to find out later you’ve got sunburn, I know I foolishly have!

There are two types of UV light, UVA and UVB. It is UVB light that is responsible for the burning and reddening your skin, whilst UVA light is associated with damage deep down in your skin which leads to leathery, wrinkled skin and the development of skin cancers like melanoma and carcinoma.

How does Sunscreen work?

Sunscreen works by reflecting or absorbing UV light which will then reduce damage to your skin from prolonged sun exposure.

I’m sure you’ve all seen a bottle of sunscreen before and seen the ratings on the bottle. In the UK these ratings are stars and they show out of 5 how effective the product is at blocking the effects of UVA light which causes the hidden damage you won’t see day-to-day. Always make sure you buy a product that has a minimum of 4 star UVA rating. Thankfully Travelpharm only sells sunscreens with a 4* rating!

But how long can you spend in the sun?

This is where the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) comes in!

An SPF rating indicated how effective the product is at managing UVB light which causes skin reddening and ultimately sunburn. A high SPF like SPF50 is the strongest, whilst SPF2 is the lowest. Travelpharm, along with many other leading organisations, wouldn’t recommend a sunscreen with an SPF rating of less than SPF30.

A quick recap to help you remember how Sunscreen work and the type of UV light:

UVA – causes Aging. 5 Star rating to show how effective the product is at absorbing/reflecting UVA light. Always buy 4 stars or higher.

UVB – causes Burning. SPF rating to indicate how long the product will protect you from harmful UVB light. Always buy SPF30 or higher. Does Sunscreen stop you from tanning?

Does Sunscreen stop you from tanning?

The all-important question! The answer is No! Sunscreen will NOT stop you tanning.

To understand this we have to first understand why we tan when exposed to sunlight.

Why do you get a tan when exposed to the Sun?

Tanning is an unfortunate outcome caused by exposure to UV light, ie the sun. This exposure causes the body to deposit a dark pigment, known as melanin to try to prevent further damage to the skin and over the proceeding days, the skin will darken.

So you can see that a tan is not healthy but exposure to the sun for short periods of time can be a good thing, in fact vitally important.

Why it is that you can tan whilst wearing sunscreen?

Well, no sunscreen is 100% effective at filtering out UV light meaning your skin will always be exposed to some UV light even if you use SPF50. This means you will still be able to get a tan even if using high SPF sunscreens. All the SPF rating means, is how long you can spend in the sun before you burn. You will still be exposed to UV light whilst out in the sun so you will develop a tan but in a much gentler and safer way.

It is important to note that no tan is a safe tan as the tan is produced as a result of damage to your skin. A “good” tan will not protect your skin from UV light. Always wear sunscreen!

Will sunscreen block Vitamin D?

Let me set the scene. Its 2020 (at the time of writing) and the Corona Virus pandemic is in full flow around the world causing chaos for the tourism industry and many other businesses alike. Many products were touted as being miracle cures or preventative treatments but very few were proven effective. Evidence has grown though to support the use of Vitamin D supplements and our guest pharmacist Amy Knowles recently wrote an excellent Guide to Vitamin D and the Coronavirus.

Low Vitamin D has always been an issue in the UK. With short summers, and long winter periods Vitamin D deficiency has become more and more prominent over the last few years particularly in groups of the population who spend a lot of time indoors.

Will sunscreen block Vitamin D production?

Yes and No. The production of Vitamin D is reliant upon exposure to UVB light, the same UV light that causes your skin to burn. So yes sunscreen will reduce the ability of your body to manufacture Vitamin D, but hold up.  Remember I mentioned that no sunscreen is 100% perfect? Well, it turns out that this little bit of imperfection is all that is required to produce the Vitamin D you require.

Studies have shown that even people who apply high SPF to their skin every day still manage to maintain adequate levels of Vitamin D because the body naturally disposes of excess Vitamin D anyway. The benefits of this should be obvious as there is:

  • Less chance of damage to the skin caused by UVA which could result in skin cancers
  • A reduced risk of burning caused by UVB
  • You will still get a tan
  • It’s been proven that even if you apply high SPF regularly you will still produce enough Vitamin D to maintain healthy levels in your body

So what are you waiting for, summer is (probably, nearly, hopefully?!) upon us and even if you are in the UK why not get into the habit of protecting your skin from the sun every day.

Click here to view our full range of sun protection and sun aftercare products in our store.

Written by Andrew Walton MPharm (Pharmacist)
GPhC Reg: 2063964

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