It’s one of the highlights of the year, you've packed your bags, tickets are bought and you’re jetting off for some well deserved sun. Or maybe you’re at home and the sun happens to have come out. Which, in spite of normal British weather, can happen and acts as an instant call to action for sun worshippers everywhere! Either way, you’re naturally going to want to take advantage of it. So here are some tips on how to get the perfect (and safe!) tan in a bikini.
Tanning in a bikini is all part of the holiday, and after you've picked your favourite, (one from Simply Beach's great selection no doubt!) there are a few tips in this post to help you get the most out of your time in the sun. One of the most simple rules is remember to apply sun cream appropriate to your skin type, after all a tan is what we want, no one wants to burn here! Preparing yourself by shaving a few hours before, while also exfoliating and nourishing your skin pre-sunbathe will remove any hair, dead skin cells etc.. and help you tan more evenly.
Before you head outside though, understand why you tan in the first place, because this will definitely help when it comes to making the most of the sun, safely.
Over exposure to the suns rays can cause burning, freckles, wrinkles, age spots, and changes in texture. There are two types of ultraviolet light: UVB, which causes sunburn, and UVA, which penetrates the skin more deeply and can cause wrinkles. Both UVB and UVA rays can also lead to skin cancer and it's prolonged exposure can greatly increase the likelihood of cancerous cells growing in your skin.
The Science-y Bit
When your skin tans this is actually the process that works as a shield from these kinds of radiation - Like thousands of umbrellas gradually opening the longer you are exposed to the sun - making your skin appear darker. This is because when UV lights strikes cells in your skin, they produce something called Melanin which darkens the skin as it is brownish in colour. Generally the darker your tan, the more exposure you've had - so the more your body has reacted. Whilst a tan itself doesn't cause cancer (in fact it helps to protect you) it is a sign that you've been exposed to the damaging rays that do.
Melanin actually protects the DNA in skin cells against the damage of UVB rays, but this doesn't mean that if you already have a tan, you shouldn't wear sunscreen, as even tanned darker skin can burn. Contrary to popular belief - you will actually tan whilst wearing sunscreen. This isn't the same as sunblock though, as this contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which blocks the rays altogether, whereas sunscreen still allows a small amount through - allowing your body to produce Melanin and raise it's own small natural protection against further exposure.
It's a very good idea to find a 'broad spectrum' sunscreen which protects against both UVA and UVB thus preventing burning, skin ageing and the development of cancerous cells. SPF or 'Sun Protection Factor' normally relates to the level of UVB protection (rays that make you burn) but not UVA. There is currently no standard for measuring UVA protection but UVA rays actually penetrate deeper in the skin and can be more harmful that UVB to some extent.
In order to work on your tan, you'll need to find a SPF that works for you. If you don't burn easily it is possible to use lower SPF products but a good level to choose at least is SPF 20. Naturally fair skin, typically that of natural blonde or red haired people, naturally produces lower amounts of Melanin that is also less rich in colour, so it is more vulnerable to harmful rays and less likely to tan (So if you're fair skinned, it's actually your cells stopping you from tanning, so roasting yourself won't help at all). For those with naturally darker skin, it is worth bearing in mind that Melanin can offer the equivalent protection of about SPF 13.4 but only about SPF 3.4 in pale skin as mentioned by the Skin Cancer Foundation. It is also better to wear sunscreen for a great tan, because it enables you to spend longer in the sun without suffering the additional skin damage you'd encounter if you didn't wear any.
Myths, be gone!
At first you should build the time spent in the sun up gradually, giving your skin a chance to produce melanin and gradually build your summer glow and aid your protection next time you tan. Baking yourself all day at first will give you a turn, but you'll find that you're burned by the end of the day and this is detrimental to the tanning process. Many believe that once you burn you go brown afterwards, when actually you're damaging your skin and it will peel away. Plus burning looks horrible, is painful and is exactly what you should be avoiding if you don't want to age or increase your risk of skin cancer. Be cautious in between 10am and 4pm as in this time the sun is at it's most powerful and is likely to be more harmful.
There is a also another myth that you should tan before going on holiday to somewhere hot because it will prevent you from getting burnt, this is not true. Also if you're using a tanning bed to achieve this, it's worth knowing that sun beds use huge amounts of UVA rays to darken the skin quickly, in comparison with natural sunlight, so this kind of tan isn't as protective as a natural tan (from sunlight with natural levels of UVA AND UVB combined). In fact using a sun bed, especially when you are young, increases your risk of skin cancer by up to 75%.
Avoid tanning oils, unless they offer a SPF which is 15 or higher, as these can intensify the UV rays, which darkens your skin faster but also causes more damage.
So now you are more clued up about what is actually happening to your body when you tan, you can make the most of it!
Getting out in the sun
You should lay a towel out, along with a pillow to rest your head and arrange your straps to suit the type of tan you want. Tanning in a bandeau or strapless bikini will reduce your tan lines, however if you prefer a traditional bikini or halter neck, make sure the straps are arranged evenly and cover any lines (You can always tuck the straps in if you're concerned about tan lines but don't have the right style). If you have previous tan lines and you are trying to even them out to match the rest of your skin tone, remember that these areas will be more sensitive to the suns’ rays and more prone to burn. So sun yourself in little doses at first and let your skin acclimatise. The lines will start to get used to the sun, while the already tanned skin won’t react too much as melanin levels are higher and shorter periods of sunlight won’t cause as much of a response.
To ensure you tan evenly it is also important to turn at regular intervals and reapply sun cream as necessary. If you have a fairer complexion, you can still enjoy basking in the sun and working on your sun kissed look, but you should not spend a lot of time doing so at first. A handy little tip to gauge whether or not you may be burning is to press your finger against your skin. If the imprint is white it means your skin is coping with the sun and you are tanning away but if there is a faint, pink glow you are starting to burn and you should come out of the sun and apply after sun lotion to re-moisturise your skin as quickly as possible. Your skin will also benefit if you stay hydrated and supplement with fish oil, as it is rich in Omega 3 which is a key nutrient for healthy skin, hydrated skin is less likely to burn. To avoid falling asleep or spending too long on one side you can set an alarm to remind you.
After sunbathing, to help you achieve that beautiful, soft, sun kissed look, it is best to exfoliate again, shower and moisturise. Using a loofah or your favourite body scrub is fine but another little trick is, if you are tanning at the beach, or at least tanning at a beach with fine sand, to walk a little into the water and use the sand and seawater to exfoliate and cleanse your skin both before and after sunbathing. The seawater will also have a nourishing effect on your skin and tanning with wet skin attracts and directs sunlight which will help you tan evenly. You can then apply either your favourite moisturiser or after-sun product to help your skin recover. To add a little boost you might like to try an after sun with a soft tint.
Another thing to be aware of is that if you are and out and about in the sun, to avoid over doing it, you should cover up when not sun bathing. There are some gorgeous sun dresses and kaftans as well as hats and sun glasses that you can browse and add to your beach wardrobe so that you can protect your skin in style and not have to worry about missing out on getting the most from your time in the sun.
To maintain your tan when your back from holiday or when the seasons change, use a self tanner or if the above sounds like too much trouble! We hope we have helped explained the mysterious world of tanning a little more, so you can make the most of your time in the sun.