Will Sunless Tanning Products Protect You From a Sunburn?

Summer’s here and we’re all about having a gorgeous glow. A great tan can boost your confidence, but getting a tan the wrong way... Will Sunless Tanning Products Protect You From a Sunburn?

Summer’s here and we’re all about having a gorgeous glow. A great tan can boost your confidence, but getting a tan the wrong way can leave you with a painful burn. Instead of relying on hours in the sun or time in the tanning bed for a sun-kissed look, opt for sunless tanning products, which give you the tan you crave without the harmful effects of UV rays. But what if you still want to lie out in the sun? Will sunless tanning products protect you from a sunburn?


Do sunless tanners prevent sunburns?

The short answer is no, spray tans and other sunless tanners do not protect you from getting a sunburn.

Sunless tanning products are designed to darken your skin without the use of ultraviolet light, which your skin absorbs while sunbathing or tanning in a tanning bed. This means you don’t need to spend time in the sun to get a tan when using sunless tanners.

However, sunless tanners are not designed to protect your skin from getting a sunburn. Most do not contain a sun protection factor, or SPF, and are not specifically designed to be used as a sunscreen. Self-tanners that do have an SPF rating often have a low one, and serving as sunblock is still not their main purpose.

What causes sunburns?

Sunburn is caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light or UV light. UVA, UVB, and UVC are the main types of UV rays produced by sunlight, but only UVA and some UVB rays make it through the Earth’s ozone layer and reach your skin.[i] There are also artificial sources of UV light, such as tanning beds and tanning lamps. 

When you’re exposed to UV light, your body ramps up the production of melanin in order to protect your skin. Melanin is located in the outer layer of the skin and gives your skin its usual color. This extra melanin causes a tan to form. The tan acts as a shield, blocking UV rays in order to prevent your skin from burning. However, a tan can only provide so much protection, and continued UV exposure can lead to sunburn.[ii]

The UV rays damage cells in the epidermis of your skin. Your immune system reacts by increasing blood flow to those areas, resulting in the familiar redness and warmth that come along with a sunburn.[iii]

Whether you have a noticeable sunburn or “just a tan,” both are signs of skin damage.[iv] 

How do sunless tanning products work?

Sunless tanning products give your skin a darker shade without relying on harmful UV rays. The active ingredient in most self-tanners is a type of sugar called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. DHA produces pigments during a reaction with the protein keratin on the surface of the skin.[v] These pigments give your skin a temporary tan appearance that usually lasts for a few days then fades away as your dead skin cells are shed. DHA is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in externally applied cosmetics, which include sunless tanners.[vi] 

CLEANTAN, our concentrated sunless tanner, also provides gorgeous color with the help of plant-based pigments. Our self-tanner drops feature natural ingredients like cocoa powder, beetroot, caramel, and blue-green algae, which work together to create a stunning golden shade that looks natural, not fake. You can even customize the tan to your ideal shade by using more or less tanning concentrate. 

Does sunless tanner prevent you from getting a real tan?

Getting a spray tan or using other forms of sunless tanner won’t prevent you from getting a real, natural tan. Since most sunless tanners don’t have an SPF rating, they don’t contain the protective elements necessary to block UV rays from reaching your skin. You can still get a tan while using sunless tanners. However, this also means that you can get a sunburn while using sunless tanners. If you are planning to spend an extended amount of time in the sun, be sure to use sunscreen or cover up with protective clothing. We love a good (sun-free!) tan, but no one wants to look like a lobster. Ouch.

How to prevent a sunburn

Sunburns and tans are visible signs of skin damage, and they’re not healthy. Tanning causes DNA injury that can result in premature aging, which includes dark spots, wrinkles, and leathery skin. It can also cause skin cancer. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they’re 70, and there are more skin cancer cases worldwide due to indoor tanning than there are lung cancer cases caused by smoking.[vii] Sunless tanners are not designed to be used as a sunscreen. Since they don’t protect your skin from harmful UV rays, sunless tanners will not protect you from cancer.

A popular myth says that getting a base tan will keep your skin from burning. However, this is false. Getting a base tan will not help prevent sunburn, it just exposes you to more UV rays.[viii]

To prevent getting burned, always wear sunscreen. It’s also helpful to avoid the sun in the middle of the day when the UV rays are the strongest. Wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs can also help protect you, as can a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that filter UV light.[ix]

The great thing about using sunless tanning products is you can get a gorgeous tan without exposing yourself to UV rays. And if you do plan on spending time in the sun, be sure to slather on that SPF!

Curious about CLEANTAN?

CLEANTAN is a concentrated sunless tanner that helps you achieve that fresh-off-the-beach glow without baking in the sun. Simply mix a few drops of the concentrate with your favorite body lotion, moisturizer, serum or oil and evenly apply to your skin.


Made with a 100% plant-based formula, CLEAN is non-toxic, odor-free, and doesn’t streak. It also provides a dose of antioxidants thanks to the TEATAN complex, which features green, black, and white teas, among others. Visit Cleantan.com to learn more.

[i] https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/tanning/ultraviolet-uv-radiation


[ii] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sunburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20355922#:~:text=Sunburn%20is%20caused%20by%20too,gives%20skin%20its%20normal%20color.


[iii] https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/tanning/risks-tanning#1


[iv] https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/tanning/risks-tanning#2


[v] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5838383/


[vi] https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/sunless-tanners-bronzers


[vii] https://www.skincancer.org/risk-factors/tanning/


[viii] https://www.skincancer.org/risk-factors/tanning/#base-tan


[ix] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/5240-sun-damage-protecting-yourself

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