Many of us really enjoy a summers day spent in the pool, cooling off from the hot rays of the sun. It is common knowledge to avoid extended periods of exposure to the sun where possible, but is your skin safe from tanning when underwater?
The answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. It all depends on how deep the water is.
Whether you look to continue tanning while taking a dip in the pool or try to find shelter from the sun underwater, here is everything you need to know about the possibility of tanning through the water.
Tanning Through Water
Sunlight cannot penetrate fully through water, but can it still tan skin underwater?
UV rays which are responsible for sunburn, are absorbed by water, but it is not absorbed fully until a few meters down. This means that your skin can become burnt or tanned when at the surface of the water.
Water reflects around 30% of UV rays from the sun, but just at the surface, there is an intensity of 70% of UV rays left. Sitting at the surface of the water with no protection can lead to sunburn, just as it would sitting out of the pool in the sun.
Water which is half a meter deep will still let in 40 percent of UV-B rays, which can still cause some serious sunburn. You might not be aware of the sunburn as it happens, as the water will have a cooling effect on your skin and it won’t feel as hot as it would outside the water.
Why You Might Tan Faster In Water
At times it might seem as though you tan faster in water than sitting next to the pool, completely dry. This might seem like a myth, but it is true that at times you might suntan faster when in water. There are two reasons for this – loss of efficacy of sunscreen and the reflection of the sun on the water.
There are sunscreens available which claim to be waterproof, but you cannot always rely on this. When out in the sun, you need to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours, depending on the factor of the sunscreen, to ensure it effectively protects your skin.
However, this protection might weaken or wash off when you get into the water. You might not have waited long enough for the sunscreen to set in, or the sunscreen might not be waterproof enough.
This could lead to your skin being less protected when in the water, which is why it might seem that you burn easier in water. It just has to do with your protection wearing off more when wet.
It is completely possible to be sunburned by the reflection of light on water. Not only will your skin be exposed to direct UV rays, but it will also be hit with UV rays reflecting from the surface of the water. This is almost like double damage done to your skin.
Your upper body will most probably be exposed outside of the water, and your face and shoulders will more likely be hit with the effects of the reflective UV rays from the top of the water. This can cause serious sunburn to your skin, so try to stay in the shade in the water if any is available.
Can You Tan In Any Water?
The tan you get from tanning underwater differs due to the type of water you are tanning under. Clean, clear bodies of water, free from pollution, such as swimming pools, will be easier to tan under. This is because there is not much in the way of stopping the UV rays from penetrating down beneath the surface of the water.
Murky, dirty bodies of water, such as lakes or dams, are harder to tan through. The excess mud and debris stop the sun from penetrating deep into the water, which means your skin will not be exposed to too many UV rays which could cause a tan.
The light absorption of the water plays a big role in the tanning difference experienced in varying bodies of water. UV rays are absorbed less in clear bodies of water, whereas UV rays are absorbed more in murky waters.
The deeper you are in the water, the less likely you are to develop a tan. This is due to the light absorption of the water, the further down you go, the less light there is available.
This does not mean that you can ditch the sunscreen. You should always be strict with applying a liberal amount of sunscreen to your skin throughout the day, even if you are spending time in the water. There is still a good chance of you being sunburned, whether from UV rays reaching down into the water, or from the reflection of UV rays at the top of the water.
UVA rays and UVB rays can both do serious damage to the skin, especially if there is no protection on the skin.
How To Protect Your Skin Under Water
There is no need to shy away from swimming just because you are worried about tanning underwater. There are some really effective ways to protect your skin from tanning underwater.
The most obvious protection for the skin is sunscreen. Make sure that you choose a high SPF sunscreen and one that has been created to be used underwater as well. Sunscreens that are not suited to water will wash away the moment your skin gets wet, and with it will wash away all the protection for your skin.
You are able to purchase protective clothing for swimming. There is quite a wide range of sun protective clothing available at most swim stores, such as full-sleeved rash vests and leggings. These do great to protect skin from the sun but make sure to check that the clothing has been made from sun-protective material.
It is important to remember the most vulnerable parts of your body that are likely to be burned – your head, face, neck, and shoulders. Your upper body most probably won’t be underwater too much, but it is at risk of burning from the reflective rays from the water.
A wide-brimmed hat will offer much-needed shade and protection to your shoulders and face. Once again, be sure to check that the hat has been made from protective materials and does not have any holes or gaps. A wide-brimmed hat is much better than a peaked hat, as it offers protection all around.
There are actually some pretty cute sunhats on Amazon to choose from!
Hydration is so important when out in the sun and in the water. The sun is great at dehydrating your skin and body, so remember to keep a steady intake of fluids when outdoors. Keeping hydrated will also help you recover from a sunburn much quicker.
Be sure to moisturize your skin after spending time out in the pool and sun. Your skin, exposed to UV rays, will be in need of moisture, and a daily nourishing lotion should give it the extra care it needs to recover from sun exposure and to minimize the damage done from sunburn.
Can I tan in the shade?
It is possible to tan in the shade. You do not have to be in direct sunlight to tan. Your skin can still be affected by UV rays that are reflected from the environment around you.
These secondary radiation rays from surroundings such as sand or snow can still damage and tan your skin. You can even tan when sitting underneath an umbrella if the material is not sun protective fabric.
Can I tan while wearing sunscreen?
Yes, you can tan while wearing sunscreen. The amount you tan will depend on the strength of the sunscreen you are wearing and how often you reapply the sunscreen.
It is important to note that SPF protection refers to the protection given to UVA rays, which are responsible for causing the skin to burn, and not UVB rays which cause the aging of the skin with overexposure.
Can I tan in the evening?
Tanning in the evening, after 4 pm, is recommended for those who are prone to severe sunburn or skin damage. It will take a bit longer to tan in the evening, but it is less likely to damage your skin when tanning at this time of day, as your skin won’t be vulnerable to direct, strong UV rays as it would earlier on in the day.
It is completely possible to tan underwater, as long as you are not too deep under the water. UV rays can penetrate a certain distance down into the water, weakening the further down they go. However, these UV rays can still tan the skin, and cause sun damage.
Remember to protect your skin, even when in water, as clear water can allow for some serious tanning. Wear waterproof sunscreen and sun-protective clothing to make sure your skin does not suffer too much damage, even while underwater.