Does a "Base Tan" Actually Prevent Sunburn?
Is there truth behind the "base tan?" Back in our high school days, the idea would arise around prom season through the summer, and even through the first week of school, Rebecca will proclaim throughout the hallways that her base tan was the sole reason she ended up with a deeper bronze color without any of the burn. The rest of the class would flock to the tanning beds across town the following year, claiming that a base tan was as essential as a TSA-approved travel kit before any big vacation. But is there any truth to that?
We spoke to Miami-based dermatologist S. Manjula Jegasothy MD to clear things up once and for all. "There is no medical evidence to show that a 'base tan' actually prevents sunburn, and therefore, dermatologists do not recommend it," she tells us. "In fact, getting small amounts of sun can activate sunburn cells—or, cells with DNA that have been damaged by UV —radiation in the same way that getting an actual sunburn would."
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Though you're likely to get a tan on your vacation anyway, pre-gaming for your time in the sun with a tanning bed or, you know, laying out in the actual sun, can only lead to further skin damage. "All of this does more harm than good, because even minimal amounts of UV radiation can cause sunburn cells," she continues. "This leads to DNA damage in the skin cells, which in the long term, can lead to skin cancer."
In a study cited in the Scientific American, the U.S. surgeon general found that a base tan provided an SPF of 3 at the very best, so if a person usually burned after roughly 10 minutes in the sun, a base tan would only buy them another 10 minutes, if that.
The takeaway? The only truly safe tan is one from a bottle you picked up at Sephora.