The Dangerous Reason Why You Shouldn't Use Sunscreen & Fake Tan Together

Photographed by Ashley Armitage
When the weather is this dreary, it is often reflected in our skin. Freezing temperatures coupled with central heating often leads to dry, dehydrated skin, characterised by parched patches, fine lines and dullness. You're probably already slathering on a hydrating winter moisturiser to counteract this and, of course, applying sunscreen every morning because UV rays have the ability to penetrate through clouds, even when it's grey outside. But there is only one product that is going to perk up your complexion almost immediately: fake tan.
Thanks to brands like Tan Luxe, St Tropez and James Read, tanning drops, sheet masks and flash treatments (to name but a few clever products) allow you to achieve a sun-kissed glow, even when the sun is nowhere to be seen. But according to beauty expert and founder of Ultrasun, Abi Cleeve, teaming your failsafe fake tan with your trusted sunscreen could actually be harming your skin.
"I’ve been asked many times to create a sun protection product with self-tan, which sounds very logical," said Abi. "You'd be able to put on your sun cream and develop a lovely even tan. But I won't do that because DHA (the active ingredient in fake tan which makes skin brown) really undermines UVA protection."
To break it down, a good sunscreen should consist of both UVA and UVB protection. UVB rays are responsible for burns, while UVA rays are the ones which cause things like fine lines, wrinkles and skin cancer. Abi elaborates: "The UVB filter (otherwise known as SPF – sun protection factor) would stay the same when combined with the DHA in tan, which means you might not necessarily burn, but the UVA filter (responsible for accelerated ageing and skin cancer) would not stay the same. By the time a product combining sunscreen and DHA got to the shelves, that UVA protection would be worth nothing and that’s the biggest worry for me."
In other words, the DHA has the ability to render UVA protection useless, which makes your expensive suncream ineffective. Not only is this a waste of money, but it means you're exposing your skin to the dangers of UVA without realising it. The solution?
"Because DHA is so aggressive, I would always advocate that you fake tan the night before," advised Abi, and be sure to wash it off come morning. "Some DHAs are very fast acting, so you get things like turbo tans which might work in 40 minutes or two hours. Some are slower – they might be shower-off products, for example. But it’s important to note that DHA is an active ingredient, and while it is active in your skin I wouldn't rely on an application of suncream."
But it isn't just your face. The exact same rules go for the skin on your body, too. How many of us have packed suncream and fake tan for a holiday and applied them together? Again, it's best to pick a fake tan which develops overnight, so that it doesn't cancel out the effects of your sunscreen, which should be 'broad spectrum' to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. R29 recommends Bali Body Self Tanning Mousse, £25.95, Sienna X Self Tan Tinted Lotion, £23.95, and Bondi Sands Self Tan Foam, £14.99, for a natural-looking glow that develops overnight and can be rinsed off come morning.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series