5 On Your Side

In summer sun, no such thing as a 'safe' base tan

Posted July 2, 2019 6:10 p.m. EDT

When summer hits, everyone spends more time in the sun, especially those who head to the beach or lake for vacation. And many prepare for that vacation by getting a "base tan."

The idea of gradually easing the skin into sun exposure has been around for decades. Many people see it as a good thing, but Consumer Reports warns: it may actually be more harmful than helpful.

"A tan is actually a sign of skin damage," says Consumer Reports Health Editor Trisha Calvo. "The sunlight can injure the DNA in skin cells, and that causes them to darken to prevent further damage. However, a base tan will give you far less protection than using sunscreen."

A better idea for the best vacation is to take multiple steps tp protect yourself from the sun's harmful rays.

"It's always a good idea to cover up with sun-protective clothing and a hat," Calvo says. "And always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin. Be sure to apply it 15 minutes before you go outside, and every two hours or after swimming or sweating heavily."

Two of Consumer Reports' top best buy sunscreens are Equate Walmart Ultra Lotion SPF 50 and Trader Joe's Spray SPF 50-plus.

If you decide to tan the safer way, with a temporary self-tanner, know that it does not protect you from UV damage. You still need sunscreen!

Also, Consumer Reports says most sunscreens stay stable and remain effective for 3 years. If your sunscreen does not have a use-by date and you can't remember when you bought it, don't rely on it to keep you from burning!