UK heatwave: the ultimate guide to getting a safe and long-lasting tan

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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Factor 50 or gtfo.

Should probably get this out the way first: there is no such thing as a safe tan. If you really want a 100% totally safe tan, the only way is to reach for unnatural means (no, NOT sunbeds). Sorry! 

But that knowledge isn’t going to prevent anyone basking in the sun – especially with a heatwave on the way – so here’s the next best thing: the Stylist guide to the steps you can take to provide maximum protection while you’re out there – and make your tan last as long as possible.     

Factor 50, forever 

I need you to do something: forget any positive correlation you’ve unconsciously made between lower SPF (sun protection factor) and a better tan. You need to protect your skin with the most powerful tools possible, whatever your ethnicity (yes, darker-skinned people burn too). After all, what’s the point in a 10-step skincare routine if you’re just going to go hogwild as soon as the temperature hits 20C?

There’s two things on any bottle of suncream to look out for: the SPF rating and the encircled letters ‘UVA’. We’ll get to the latter later.

The SPF rating can range from 2 to 50+ and refers to how effective the suncream is at blocking UVB rays – aka the ones that make you burn. Now, pretend no products offering an SPF rating below 30 exist. Delete that knowledge from your brain. As far as we’re concerned, only SPF 30 upwards provides anything near the sort of protection needed.

And even at Factor 50, only 98% of those pesky UVB will be blocked out, no matter how much cream you slather yourself in – so bear that in mind when you’re busy cooking. 

The only way is UVA

As promised, there’s another important factor (sorry) to consider when selecting a sun cream for tanning – the UVA (ultraviolet A radiation) protection it offers. These are the rays that penetrate the top layer of the epidermis and cause the most havoc, including a higher risk of cancer and premature skin aging (UVA rays are what sunbeds use to produce a synthetic tanning effect).

In European countries, what you need to look out for on any sun products is a circle with ‘UVA’ inside it. This means that the UVA levels meet EU recommendations and is at least a third of the SPF value. If the circle’s not there – don’t buy the bottle.

UK sun creams also use a ‘star system’ but this is essentially meaningless if there’s no stamp of approval from the EU. Don’t believe the hype! 

Stash the tanning oil

Please put away the tanning oil – not only does it offer zero protection against UV rays, it’s actually a self-defeating act. By not creating a barrier against UVB rays, your skin – and any tan you’ve managed to attain – is going to peel off far quicker than if you’d kept it shielded using the right products. Is that the future you want? Is it?!

On that note, please also dispel the myth that any sunburn ‘turns’ to tan. Any burned skin should be covered up immediately. Do you hear that?
I m m e d i a t e l y. 

Burning is your skin responding to the sun damage you’ve inflicted on your poor little cells. If you do somehow go a shade of brown afterwards, I can promise you, the harm that’s been done has not been worth it, even if you can’t actually view it without a microscope. Burning to tan is like punching yourself in the face to sort out a perceived fault in your nose. Foolish! 

Know your literal limits

At a certain point in a tanning session, the skin makes like your brain on a Friday afternoon and simply can’t take anymore. After around three hours, it stops producing melanin (the pigment that precipitates a tan) and physically can’t rustle up any more. 

There’s only so dark you can go in a day so you’re losing nothing by covering up when the sun’s at its peak between 1pm – 3pm. 

Boost with aftercare 

This is where shit gets real. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise is the main message to take away. Think of your tanned skin as the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. It is hungry and it needs feeding. Slap on the vitamin E every hour. 

If you want even more of a boost in richness, plenty of cosmetic companies are now producing aftersun lotions that combine self-tanning with hydration or simply enhance the natural tanning process for a more intense glow. 

Experts also advise taking supplements to increase ability to tan and reduce sunburn risk simultaneously. Top of the list are betacarotene (30mg a day) and copper (4mg), while popping top up pills of Vitamin B6 (50mg), C (2000g) and E (1000IU) can assist further with skin recovery. 

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Summer skincare: how to protect your skin during a heatwave

Armed with this knowledge, you should now prepared to go forth and tan. Take regular breaks, drinks lots of water in between tinned mojitos and remember: you can’t see the damage you’re doing. So don’t push it.

Images: Getty/Unsplash


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Moya Lothian-McLean

Moya Lothian-McLean is a freelance writer with an excessive amount of opinions. She tweets @moya_lm.

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