The lighter your skin is, the more you are at risk for burning and sun damage. Fair skinned people have a tendency to burn in a matter of minutes during harsh sun. On the other hand, tanned individuals appear to be able to stay in the sun much longer without burning. It is not uncommon for people going on vacations to countries with a great deal of sun to try to get a base tan first simply to reduce their likelihood of burning on the vacation.
Why Do Tans Help?
Though they may appear healthy, tans themselves ARE sun damage. When your skin receives too much sun, it releases a chemical known as melanin that turns your skin a browner color that reduces the heat caused by ultraviolet rays.
Melanin is your tan. The more melanin you have, the darker you appear, and the more of the protection you have against burning. That is why those with naturally tan skin do not have a history of burning – their natural skin is already designed to reduce their burning risk.
Do Tans Prevent Burning?
Though tans reduce the likelihood of burning, tans do not prevent burning altogether. Everyone, regardless of skin color, has the potential to burn. Even Darker skinned African Americans are at risk for burning. Too much exposure to harsh UV rays can burn all skin types.
The difference is going to be the degree. The more tan you are, the less harsh the burn will be. But the burning risk is still there, and the resistance to burning does not make it safe to spend a great deal of time in the sun. In addition, darker skin can make it hard to realize that you are in the process of burning (because you may not see the pink hue to your skin), which may put you at further risk for an even greater burn.
Base tans will make you less likely to burn with light to moderate sun exposure. But if you spend a great deal of time outdoors, you are still going to burn, no matter how tan you are.
Not Completely Protected
It is also important to note that melanin does not protect you against sun damage – the UV rays receive are still doing just as much damage to your skin as they would if you had fair skin – however, they are less likely to cause burning, which is the primary source of discomfort and can increase your risk of developing skin cancer even more.
Good base tans are useful for reducing your risk of burning. It may also reduce the extent of your burns if you do stay out in the sun to long. But you are always at risk for burning if you spent time in the sun, and even if you do not burn you are still receiving skin damage that may affect your skin’s health. It will always be safer for you to stay out of the sun if possible.