A sunburn is different from a tan. But, since the rays that give you a sunburn are responsible for a tan, when you treat the inflammation, you’re left with skin a shade darker.
Whether your skin will burn or tan at all depends on your skin type. Some people get a tan without a burn, and the unlucky ones get a sunburn and no tan.
So, does sunburn turn into a tan? Let’s answer this question as we look at what happens when you’re out in the sun.
How Sunburns Occur on Different Skin Types
When we expose our skin to the sun, the UV rays in this light reach the DNA of our cells and damage them. Melanin prevents this situation. That’s why, as a defensive mechanism, the skin produces more melanin when you experience more sun exposure.
It covers the cells to fight back excess rays from the sun. So when this natural sunscreen called melanin cells reaches your skin, it absorbs and turns UV light into heat for expulsion from your body. This extra amount of melanin is what makes your skin darken or tanned.
But, for some, instead of a tan, their skin turns red as the body sends more blood to counter the inflammation after extensive sun exposure. We call this reddening ‘sunburn.’
The speed and extent of the sunburn depend on the skin type and the duration of exposure.
The Fitzpatrick Scale, which is the scientific classification of skin types, shows the reaction to sun exposure.
Let’s look at this classification briefly.
Skin Type 1
If you’re in this group, you have pale skin that burns fast and doesn’t tan. It burns with minimal, unprotected exposure, which means in about an hour, you’ll be feeling it’s time to go indoors.
Skin Type 2
This fair skin burns easily but gets a poor tan despite the time you spend under the sun.
Skin Type 3
It’s darker than Skin Type 2, and it first burns, then tans. That’ll have you staying out in the sun waiting, and you risk getting inflammations.
Skin Type 4
This category includes light brown skin with minimal burns and a good tan.
Skin Type 5
Here, it’s about brown skin tone that tans fast and rarely gets a sunburn. After basking, there’s a healthy-looking brown glow without the reddening effect of overexposure.
Skin Type 6
It’s dark skin that tans well, but you may not notice since its rich melanin makes it dark already. This skin type never gets sunburns. However, it doesn’t mean there’s no need to use sunscreen.
Reasons a Sunburn Turns Into a Tan
When we talk about a sunburn becoming a tan, it means either having the wound (inflamed skin) healing and leaving a tan on the spot or the wound peeling off to reveal tanned skin. In most cases, peeling reveals lighter skin than the surrounding sun-exposed areas.
Therefore, it’s not a sunburn that gives you a tan. Let’s explain this from another angle. You see, sunlight reaches your skin as UVA and UVB rays. The effect of the former is immediate, visible with a dark glow on your skin. The latter takes up to two weeks to show its true colors, which means you may notice a tan days after you stay out in the sun.
A tan isn’t the outcome of a sunburn. It’s the body’s response to the damage on the DNA of cells by the sun’s rays. Without this protective mechanism, the skin burns severely.
How Can a Sunburn Become a Tan?
A sunburn is the last stage of overexposure. That being so, it can’t turn into a tan. However, you can restart the process and control the sun’s effect on your skin. Why?
Moderation is key to tanning under the sun. Therefore, first, stop further exposure, or you risk getting worse burns. If the burn is severe, you can soothe it by cooling the skin with a cold press, ice cubes, or by taking a cool shower.
Additionally, apply sunscreen so your skin can start healing. Your sunscreen should have a high SPF (sun protection factor). Also, moisturize with aloe vera gel to stop the burn from peeling. Rub the skin gently to ease reddening and to reduce the discomfort. You may have to do this routinely until the skin heals or the swelling subsides.
As it heals, your skin may appear a few shades darker. That’s the only way a sunburn can tan.
After treating the sunburn, then you can bask for a few minutes daily to get a tan. We’ll explain how to do that below.
After How Long Can a Sunburn Turn Into a Tan?
A sunburn can’t turn into a tan because once you get inflammation, your skin may peel off as it heals. The only way to tan is to control sun exposure.
First, determine how long it takes before your skin starts reddening or burning. It’s the best way to define whether your skin can tan safely in the sun.
If you get sunburns after spending 30 minutes under the sun, spend about a third of that time the next time you’re outdoors.
That way, your skin will tan slightly without burning every day. If there’s still some reddening even though you’ve reduced sun exposure, let the skin heal for a few days, then go back outside daily for less time.
Even though it’s intentional basking to get a tan, you’ll still need to apply sunscreen to prevent burning. Remember, if your skin type doesn’t tan, you may want to reconsider sun exposure.
A tan doesn’t come from a sunburn. These are two different effects of sun rays. They both represent the body’s reaction to sunlight. A tan comes after your body increases melanin production to shield cells from the damaging effects of UV rays.
Therefore, if your body produces more, you get a darker tone, and if it gives less melanin, you have a lighter skin tone and a higher risk of sunburn. After the sunburn heals, you may notice you have a darker shade, but that’ll be the effect of the same UVB rays that burnt your skin.
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