Can You Tan With Sunscreen Spf 50?

can you tan with sunscreen spf 50
Sunscreen prevents sunburns, but some people mistakenly believe it prevents tanning. Check if sunscreen SPF 50 can help you tan!

We have always been told that we should wear sunscreen whenever we go out on a sunny day. This is because ultraviolet or UV rays can cause sunburns and even skin cancer! But people still get a sun tan on the beach or out in their backyards. Wouldn’t that be harmful to the skin? While it might be harmful, there are ways to keep your skin protected while doing so. That is where sunscreen comes in, with the most popular ones being SPF 30 and SPF 50.

But can you tan with sunscreen SPF 50? Contrary to popular belief, sunscreen isn’t able to completely block out 100% of the UV rays coming from the sun! And even then, different types of UV rays work on the skin differently, and not all sunscreens are made the same! That is why you should understand the different UV rays, the different types of sunscreens, and if tanning with SPF 50 sunscreen is possible or not!

Understanding UV Rays and Skin Reaction

The sun produces heat and light for the world and these go through space in the form of electromagnetic radiation. These radiations come in many forms but what we are interested in the most is the ultraviolet or UV rays that the sun gives off. So let’s take a look at how these UV rays are divided as they approach Earth.

Understanding uv rays-and skin reaction

UVA (315 to 400 nanometers)

These are the longer wavelength UV rays that are able to penetrate the ozone layer of the planet. UVA rays consist of the most amount of UV rays that reach the surface of the planet and onto our skin. Due to their longer wavelengths, they have lower energy levels than the other UV rays. However, this does not make them any better. In fact, UVA rays are more penetrating than other UV rays and cause tanning and photoaging. The low levels of radiation combined with their penetrating powers make the skin darker and cause more signs of aging to occur on the skin as a result!

UVB (280 to 315 nanometers)

The shorter of the two UV rays, UVB rays are more powerful but make up less of the sun’s radiation. When you think of skin cancer and skin burns like sunburns, it is mainly caused by UVB rays. Their higher energy levels make this possible, causing skin mutation to occur when it reacts with the skin cells. The next time that you are out in the sun and get burned by it, you have UVB rays to thank for the phenomenon!

UVC (100 to 280 nanometers)

The shortest UV rays available and the most powerful one of them, UVC rays are the most harmful out of all the UV rays! However, we can thank the ozone layers for being able to block all of them from coming. In special places where the ozone layers are thinner, you can expect some of the UVC rays to be able to penetrate through to the surface. Thankfully, we are safe from this type of dangerous radiation that can cause adverse effects on our skin!

Types of Sunscreens and Their Ingredients

Now that we got to learn a bit more about UV rays, let’s move on to the main components that help us fight and block these harmful rays: sunblocks and sunscreens! Even amongst sunscreens, there are variations among them so let’s look at them more closely.

Chemical sunscreen

Chemical sunscreen

These types of sunscreens rely on ingredients that are left on the face when applied to be able to change the chemistry of the UV rays. The main ingredients responsible for physical sunscreen protection are avobenzone and octinoxate. These come in various form that is listed as the active ingredients in the sunscreen.

What they do is absorb the UV rays before they have a chance to reach the skin. However, these are considered to be unstable so they need a stabilizer like Mexoryl SX which also provides UV filtration. Avobenzone is able to absorb the full range of UVA and octinoxate is able to absorb UVB! So make sure to watch out for a broad-spectrum tag on sunscreen to make sure you are protected from both types of UV rays! These are found both in lotion and spray sunscreens.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreen

If you have ever noticed people with a white patch of cream on their face or skin, then they have on them physical sunscreen. A physical or mineral sunscreen works by leaving the active ingredients on the surface of the skin where they are able to scatter the UV rays, preventing them from even approaching the skin!

The main ingredients in physical or mineral sunscreen are oxybenzone, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide. They are only found in lotion where the lotion part gets absorbed into the skin leaving behind the minerals on the surface to work their magic. All three of these ingredients are able to block all UV rays.

When choosing between physical and chemical sunscreen, you will have to think about what activity you are going to do. Chemical sunscreen provides more even protection that is sweat and water-resistant, making them perfect for a day on the beach. But the problem is the volatility as they wear off rather quickly. Chemical sunscreens are also banned from beaches because they cause adverse effects on marine life and reefs. That is why physical sunscreens, especially mineral sunscreens, are considered to be more stable and better overall.

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Tanning with Sunscreen SPF 50: Myth or Truth

Tanning with sunscreen spf 50 myth or truth

We have looked at sunscreens and we have looked at the UV rays and their types as well. Now, let’s focus on the main question at hand: tanning with sunscreen. At the end of the day, there is no way to completely block 100% of the UV rays from the sun. The sun protection factor, or SPF, is an indication of how long before your skin starts to burn. An SPF rating of 50 means that you are 50 times more protected against the sun than without it.

And even with 50 times the protection, you are not completely protected! An SPF 50 sunscreen is able to block out 98% of the UV rays from the sun. SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UV rays, SPF 30 is able to block out 97%, while anything above SPF 70 blocks out about 99%. Even with the 2% UV rays being able to penetrate your skin, you are still able to get a light tan! So in truth, you are able to tan with SPF 50 sunscreen! You might not get a deep tan with this, but you are still able to tan regardless!

However, it also depends on what type of sunscreen you are using and how long you are tanning for. If you are to tan for more than an hour with chemical sunscreen, they tend to lose about 20 to 30% of their effectiveness in blocking UV rays! That means that the longer you are tanning, the more chances of the tan being darker! It is also the same with physical sunscreens, which over time loses their effectiveness in being able to block UV rays. And if you accidentally rub off certain parts of your body or it washes away, then you can expect that area to be more tanned than other parts of the body!

So yes, you can tan with SPF 50 sunscreen, just that your tan will depend on the effectiveness of the sunscreen will depend on the type and how long you are out tanning in the sun!

Applying Sunscreen Correctly: Step-by-Step Guide

We have learned all that we can about sunscreens, UV rays, and tanning, so let’s now move on to how to apply sunscreen itself! Here are the steps to applying the sunscreen:

Applying sunscreen correctly step by step guide
  1. Put the sunscreen on the back of your hand and spread it across.
  2. Take a bit of it and then apply it to your forehead generously, rubbing well.
  3. Then apply more to your cheeks, face, nose, and neck, making sure to blend it well on the skin.
  4. Don’t forget to apply to the nape, behind the ears, and on your lips (if it is lip safe).
  5. Apply a thin layer over your exposed legs and arms and rub it thoroughly.
  6. Apply it to the skin under your clothes as well (clothing gives about SPF 10 protection from the sun!)
  7. Take a towel and wipe off any excess cream from your palms.
  8. Look at yourself in the mirror to see that you have applied it all over your face and the rest of your body.
  9. Wait 15 to 30 minutes for full absorption.
  10. Head out in the sun and get your sun tan!

When you are applying sunscreen on your body, there are certain things that you need to be aware of. First off, the sunscreen needs time to absorb into the skin and start working. This is usually 30 minutes at most. This is why every sunscreen you wear will direct you to use the sunscreen for 30 minutes before heading out in the sun. The next thing that you have to worry about is how long the sunscreen will be effective. After about 90 minutes, a total of 2 hours from the first application, your sunscreen will lose most if not all of its effectiveness. This time is much shorter if you are out sweating or swimming on the beach!

So as a general rule, you should reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours or so to be best protected against the sun!


1. Does sunscreen block vitamin D intake?

UVB carries vitamin D and because no sunscreen is able to block out all of the sun’s UV radiation, you are able to naturally get some vitamin D.

2. Is physical or chemical sunscreen better?

They are both good for different purposes. Chemical sunscreens are better because they are water and sweat resistant. Physical sunscreens are better because they are beach safe and don’t harm marine life.

3. Is SPF 70 better than SPF 50 sunscreen?

SPF 70 is only marginally better than SPF 50 sunscreen. SPF 70 and higher are only able to provide 99% to 99.7% protection from the sun so they are only slightly better than the 98% provided by SPF 50.

4. Does sunburn cause skin cancer?

It is not the sunburn but the UV radiation reaction with the skin that causes skin cancer. However, getting sunburn causes your skin to become more sensitive to sun-related damage so you are more likely to get melanoma skin cancer that way!

5. Can you tan when it is cloudy?

Clouds are only able to block about 20% of the UV rays from the sun so even under a cloudy day, you are still able to get a tan!

Final Thoughts 

As summer is approaching, most people would want a sun tan to make their skin look nice. However, it is important to know the dangers of UV rays and types of sunscreen to be able to best protect yourself from a nasty sunburn. Even with sunscreen on, you are still able to get a tan under the sun because no sunscreen available is able to block out all of the UV rays. But by applying sunscreen correctly, you can achieve a nice light tan while keeping your skin well protected from the dangers of UV rays in the process. So make sure you have sunscreen on and get that lovely tan this summer!

Key Points

  • Before finding out if you can tan with SPF 50 sunscreen, it is important to first understand the UV rays and their reaction to the skin.
  • The ingredients are the major thing that provides protection against UV rays, so you want to have a broad-spectrum sunscreen to fully protect yourself!
  • You can tan with SPF 50 sunscreen, but the effectiveness of the tan will depend on the sunscreen used and how long you are tanning for.
  • Applying sunscreen correctly is important as well as knowing when to reapply the sunscreen to best protect yourself from the sun.

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