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Vacation is fun until you realise your skin has turned two shades darker due to sun tan. While tanning feels like a hassle, there are effective methods to get rid of the tan. 

With the right skin care approach, you no longer have to worry about stepping out on the beach.

What is tanning 

Tanning is the process of an increase in melanin (skin pigment) due to sun exposure. This is body's natural way of shielding the skin from sun damage.

Areas prone to tan

  • Face
  • Arms
  • Hands
  • Legs
  • Feet
  • Back
  • Neck

Causes of tan

The solar spectrum consists of UV (ultraviolet) rays at different wavelengths. UV radiation has three wavelengths:

  1. UV A
  2. UV B
  3. UV C

When UVA rays penetrate the layers of the skin, they signal the melanocytes to produce excess melanin, which further darkens due to oxidation and causes tanning. [1]

Types Of Tan

There are different types of tan and reaction to sun based on your skin color. 

Skin color

Reaction to sun exposure

Level of tanning

Pale white

Always burns

No tan

White to light beige

Burns easily

Minimal tan 

Beige

Burns moderately

Tans to light brown

Light brown

Burns minimally

Tans to moderate brown

Moderate brown

Rarely burns

Tans to dark brown 

Dark brown or black

Never burns

Tans profusely


Sun tan removal treatments 

It is important to treat sun tan as it can lead to further skin damage, skin ageing, skin cancer, negative impacts on the immune system, etc. Sun tan removal treatments focus on 

  • Exfoliating dead skin cells
  • Washing out excess melanin

Laser toning: A dermatologist uses a laser device to break down the melanin pigment and to get rid of the tan. [2]

Lasers (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) are sources of high-intensity monochromatic coherent light. This light has narrow wavelength and high energy. 

This light energy converts into heat energy when used on the skin – to target a specific chromophore, which is the skin pigment-melanin without harming the surrounding tissue. They penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin to get rid of the excess melanin and remove tan. 

Chemical Peels: These are used to remove the superficial dead skin layers that have accumulated excess melanin.

Chemical peels use glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, or carbolic acid (phenol) and are applied to the tanned skin. The skin might feel a burning sensation during the first 5 to 10 minutes of application but this subsides later. Based on the intensity of the peel, chemical peels are classified as: [3]

  1. Superficial peel
  2. Medium peel
  3. Deep peel 

Microdermabrasion: Microdermabrasion [4] exfoliates the dead skin cells that contain excess accumulated melanin pigment from tan. 

It promotes new cells to regenerate more quickly than they would ordinarily. The result is skin that looks firmer, more toned, and more youthful.

Microdermabrasion methods are of the following two types. 

Crystal microdermabrasion: This method involves tiny particles being directed at your face through a wand.

Diamond-tip microdermabrasion: This involves an applicator that makes direct contact with your skin as it exfoliates.

Tan removal creams : Most tan removal creams available in the market to lighten the upper layers of the skin. A good tan removal cream or serum penetrates into the deeper layers of the skin to inhibit the enzymatic activities causing melanin production.

Lightening actives: Lightening actives are chemical ingredients that promote skin lightening by fighting tan. Licorice, niacinamide, vitamin C, Kojic acid, are some of the lightening actives that are effective tan removal ingredients. 

Licorice

Licorice root contains two ingredients that help with tanning issues: glabridin and liquiritin. Glabridin helps to retrain tyrosinase [5], an enzyme that produces melanin which leads to pigmentation. Liquiritin breaks up and removes melanin and tanning  in the skin.

Vitamin C

An enzyme known as tyrosinase assists the skin in melanin production, and melanin is responsible for darkening the skin. Vitamin C works as a tyrosinase inhibitor, thereby reducing melanin and tanning. 

Kojic acid

Kojic acid is derived from mushroom-like fungi during fermentation. It prohibits the production of melanin and penetrates the upper layers of the skin causing a lightening effect.

Niacinamide

Niacinamide, or vitamin B3, can be used to remove tan and lighten the skin. It is effective since it decreases the number of melanin transferred to pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) to skin cells by more than half. It doesn’t inhibit  the production of melanin, but it reduces the amount that is transferred to the skin.

Face pack, wax, face wash : De-tan face packs help in removal of the tanned skin and cells accumulated in our body after its exposure to the sun’s UV rays. They don't make the skin fairer but enable in making the skin even-toned. 

The ingredients in these skincare products help in lightening the upper layers of the skin. Tan removal face packs, waxes and face washes contain natural ingredients like papaya, lemon and tomato or chemical ingredients like lactic acid, niacinamide, willow bark extract etc.  

Home remedies:

Lemon juice and honey : Lemon juice has a bleaching property which is effective in removing the sun tan. Honey keeps the skin soft and supple. Take one tablespoon of lemon juice and add some honey to it. Apply it to your skin and keep it for half an hour. Wash off. 

Note: Lemon juice has to be applied in a diluted form and  must be washed if used topically. Going out in the sun with lemon or other citrus fruits can cause skin irritation. 

Turmeric and bengal gram face pack:  This is our grandmother's tip to get of the sun tan. Mix a tablespoon of bengal gram powder with a teaspoon of turmeric, some lemon and curd to form a thick paste. Apply on the face and neck, leave it on for half an hour and wash off. All the ingredients are natural detanning ingredients. 

Papaya and honey: Papaya contains papain enzyme known to lighten the skin while honey helps to keep the skin supple. Mash a handful of papaya with honey and apply it on the face. leave it on for 20 min and wash off. 

Other natural ingredients to get rid of tan

  • Tomato and yogurt
  • Orange juice and yogurt
  • Oatmeal and buttermilk
  • Potato juice
  • Aloe vera
  • Ice cubes
  • Bitter gourd
  • Multani mitti

How to prevent Sun tanning [6]

  • Apply a sunscreen lotion with an SPF above 30 once every 3 hours. Apply it at least 20-minutes before stepping out.
  • Cover yourself fully while going out in the sun.
  • Use a hat, sunglasses, stoles, etc. when you are out in the sun.
  • Avoid going outdoors during peak hours of sunlight.

The above preventive measures are not scientifically proven but people hold a firm belief in them since ages. 

How Sunscreen can be an anti-tan weapon 

Sunscreen protects your skin from harmful UV radiation. They contain physical filters like zinc oxide and titanium oxide or some chemical filters like benzophenone-3, octocrylene, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid.

If you are usually indoors with minimal sun exposure, SPF 20 with broad spectrum protection would be sufficient. If you are always outdoors, SPF 50 with broad spectrum protection and constant reapplication is necessary. [7]

If you have a sensitive skin, a physical sunscreen is better than a chemical sunscreen which might aggravate your already sensitive skin.  

Why do I tan so easily?

If you have a darker skin tone (more melanin), you tend to tan easily. The melanin (brown pigment)-containing melanocytes spread out across the sun-exposed skin in an attempt to cover and protect the skin from further damage. 

Why do I tan red?

Sun exposure leads to tan and some people turn red, which is a sign of a sunburn. The redness comes from the body flooding the area with blood to treat the damage and from inflammation of the skin. [8]

How long does it take for a tan to go away?

It takes 1-4 weeks for the sun tan to fade away, depending on the intensity of the tan. 

Is tanning a sign of skin damage?

Tanning increases the risk of developing cancer. It is a myth that tanned skin will protect your skin against sunburn or other skin damage. The extra melanin in tanned skin provides a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of about 2 to 4; far below the minimum recommended SPF of 15. [9]

Putting together a skincare routine for tan

A good skin care routine can go a long way in fighting against tan and keeping the skin healthy. The following skin care routine is a simple 3 step process to repair and renew your skin. 

Skin Care Product

What is does

Ideal Properties

Cleanser 

Washes away the dirt, dust, excess oils and makeup residue. 

Gentle, deep cleansing action

Moisturizer

Repairs and maintains the skin barrier by offering hydration.

Non-greasy, non-occlusive, should not clog your pores

Skin lightening serum

Removes tan, lightens the skin and improves overall skin complexion.

Must remove the tan from within 

 

Your skin is unique. So should your skincare be. Customized skincare has products made only for your skin. 

Skinkraft customized skin care customizes your skincare regimen based on a unique SkinID™ questionnaire. 

Based on your responses, Skinkraft recommends 

  1. Your customized cleanser
  2. Your customized moisturizer
  3. Your active to treat tan 

Looking for a skin care that suits your skin and removes your stubborn tan? Switch to customized skincare today. 

Begin by knowing your skin