Can Tanning Cure Acne?

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For many, summer just isn't summer without lying out in the sun, getting a deep, golden tan. And with tanning salons on nearly every corner, you can keep up that sun-kissed glow year round.

So, when you hear that tanning is a simple way to clear up acne, you’re ready to ditch your acne creams and cleansers and soak up the rays instead. 

But before you go lay out in the sun, let’s take a look at what that tan really is doing to your skin.

Tanning Has Never Been Proven as an Effective Acne Treatment

Considering the prevalence of the idea, would it surprise you to know that there are no clinical studies showing that tanning is an effective treatment for acne?

Tanning may make your skin look better—temporarily. This is because a tan can camouflage spots and blemishes. But you aren’t going to get long-term results. 

Simply put, tanning doesn’t cure acne. And because sebaceous glands are influenced by, among other things, heat and humidity, lying out in the sun or in a tanning booth may actually cause the skin to become oilier. More oil equals more breakouts.

There Is No Such Thing as a “Healthy” Tan

While sun exposure can provide vitamin D, an essential nutrient, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends strict sun protection and argues that the best way to get vitamin D is through supplementation. This is because ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and from tanning beds have been proven to cause skin cancer, including melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer. The vast majority of skin cancer cases are directly caused by excessive sun exposure.

The main worry is, of course, sunburn. Not only does a sunburn make life super uncomfortable for several days, but the damage lasts long after the sting fades.

But even if you never burn, your skin isn’t safe from sun damage. A tan is actually the skin’s way of protecting itself after it has been damaged. So tanned skin equals damaged skin.

Tanning also makes your skin look much older than it should. Wrinkles, age or liver spots, large pores, and sagging skin can all be attributed to too much sun.

Tanning Beds Aren’t Any Safer Than the Sun

And if you think you’ll just hit the tanning bed rather than laying out in the sun, know this: Tanning beds don’t clear acne either.

In truth, there is no such thing as a safe tan. Those tanning booths and beds are just as damaging to the skin as the sun’s rays. 

Both excess sun exposure and tanning bed use ages your skin and raise your risk of developing skin cancer, particularly melanoma.

Certain Acne Medications Make Your Skin More Sensitive to the Sun

Tanning is never a good idea, but even more so if you are using acne medications. Many common acne treatments cause photosensitivityMeaning while you’re using these medications your skin is more sensitive to the sun’s rays, or the ultraviolet rays from the tanning booth. You’ll be much more prone to sunburn and sun damage.

A Word From Verywell

While tanning isn’t the acne treatment it seemed at first glance, it doesn’t mean you’ve got to just deal with zits. There are plenty of acne treatment options available that will actually work (without damaging your skin).

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  • Zhang M, Qureshi AA, Geller AC, Frazier L, Hunter DJ, Han J. Use of tanning beds and incidence of skin cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2012 May 10;30(14):1588-93. 

  • Acosta KA, Hunter-Ellul L, Wilkerson MG.  “Commercial tanning bed use as a medical therapy.”  Tex Med.  2015 Jun 1;111(6).