Q: I've always heard that you should lay out for short periods of time and get a base tan before spending any significant time in the sun so you don't burn. Is that true?
A: The simple answer is no. If you're going to be out in the sun, you will need to use a good sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
The concept of the "base" tan has been tested by numerous scientists and physicians, and the results have been the same. The base tan offers no protection again sunburn and can even lead to more problems. Some of the researchers on these studies have found that people who abide by the base-tan theory are more likely to engage in riskier behaviors like tanning without sunscreen or reapplying sunscreen less frequently because they feel their base tan is protecting them.
Hitting the tanning bed early in the season doesn't help either. The body doesn't protect itself very effectively against the UVA rays that are used in most tanning beds, so indoor tanning can cause serious damage to your skin. Recent estimates suggest indoor tanning causes about 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. every year, which is almost double the number of cases of lung cancer linked to smoking.
If you like the look of a tan, consider using a sunless tanning product. If you enjoy being outdoors, make sure you protect yourself with a good-quality sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or above, and avoid being in direct sunlight between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
— Sabrina Uddin, M.D., Skin Cancer & Cosmetic Dermatology Center; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society