Is it a good idea to get a 'base tan' before you go on holiday? It’s one of those things I’ve heard knocking about for years, with the suggestion that going on a sun bed or sitting out in the sun sort of gets your skin 'ready' for prolonged sun exposure, but I’m doubtful these days. Should I try getting a 'base tan' before I go away?
Getting a 'base tan' is one of those old wives' tales you sometimes hear, like eating jelly is good for your nails or going to bed with wet hair will give you a cold. Unlike those two, however, this one is actively harmful and could lead to serious skin damage.
Essentially, no: nothing has the ability to prepare your skin for sun exposure other than liberal and consistent sunscreen application, and even then, it’s still not advisable to go chasing those rays. Dr Bav Shergill, a British Association of Dermatologists accredited specialist, told me: "This idea isn’t uncommon, but it gives negligible protection from the sun. Aside from the tan being a sign of skin damage, the protection it offers is equivalent to about SPF 4 – nowhere near the minimum of SPF 30 we usually advise."
There are two things to note here: 1) A tan is still a burn and 2) The 'protection' is SPF 4, which might as well be nothing. We all know that a sunburn is bad, both in the short term (ouch, red, peeling, sore) and in the long term (potential melanoma development, i.e. skin cancer, and accelerated ageing of the skin, which typically manifests in dark spots and wrinkles) but many of us still think that as long as we go brown and not red, we’re in the clear. Dr Shergill rubbishes this claim. "There’s a common misconception that it’s only sunburn that’s bad for your skin, as a tan is often associated with looking healthy. However, a tan is a sign of skin damage and that our skin is being harmed by UV radiation. The tanning is your body’s way of trying to defend itself against further damage."
This is still important if you never ever burn and your skin is naturally olive or warmer toned. "Getting a 'base tan' can lull people into a false sense of security, because they think that if their skin is already brown, it can’t then burn," added Dr Shergill. "Sadly, this is not the case, and having a tan, especially a dark tan, is a sign that your skin is already damaged."
I know that a lot of people will roll their eyes at this, especially anyone who only needs to look at the sun to shift into a golden tan, and believe me, even as a beauty editor, I have many stubborn refuseniks in my Italian family who refuse to believe a tan is anything other than a glorious holiday treat. But when you understand what the sun can do to your skin, and really understand how irreparable that damage is and how your skin really remembers every minute of sun it gets, you’ll start slapping on the SPF.
Your best route to a glow is picking up a fake tan. If you still like to be golden, and Lord knows I do, you have to try pro skin finisher Amanda Harrington’s range. She’s buffed and bronzed the limbs of countless A-listers over the years with her signature sculpting technique, and she’s finally bringing her wisdom to the masses with her at-home kits. There’s a primer to help your skin grip the tan without patches; the genius mousse, which is totally foolproof; and her specially designed buffing brush for an even, contoured finish. I’m hooked.
Sunscreen-wise, my all-time facial favourite is SkinCeuticals Mineral Radiance SPF 50, £41, which doesn’t pill or leave behind a white cast. For my body, I fell in love with Sun Bum (available at Amazon) on a recent trip to the States, but the whole La Roche-Posay Anthelios range is great.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.