Black Girls Tan–But is It Worth the Risk?

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Yes the rumors are true; Black women of all skin tones can tan too! Despite what we’ve been told about tanning for years, Black women look amazing with an extra dosage of melanin goodness and a dewy glow. It’s no wonder the hashtag #blackgirltan has been gaining so much popularity on TikTok — 900,000 views and counting. But, is tanning worth the risk?

So before you book that vacation to Mexico to soak up some sun or make an appointment at the tanning salon, read through our Black girl tanning guide so you can get your glow on safely! 

What is a tan exactly?

Tanning is simply the darkening of one’s skin. But from a biological or dermatological perspective, what does it actually mean? Well surprisingly a tan is essentially a sign of skin damage. The excess production of melanin is our body’s way of protecting our skin from further damage–the presence of melanin minimizes (but only slightly) the harmful UVA and UVB rays in the sun but this protection is minimal and is no excuse for foregoing proper sun care. 

Who needs the sun…

Fake tan, fake tan, fake tan. As far as we know, this is probably the safest and simplest way to achieve that boost of color. Self tanners come in different forms: creams, gels and sprays. Some work by giving your skin a gradual tan, whilst others instantly add an instant glow. Most fake tan products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This chemical works by reacting with the dead cells on the top layer of our skin and simulating a tan by darkening the skin. Although this method is far safer than the sun, many experts are concerned about the effect DHA could have if inhaled or ingested where it can enter the bloodstream. So avoid spray tans and applying fake tan to open wounds and avoid open membranes such as eyes, ears and nostrils. Research has shown that DHA can’t penetrate through the membrane of the skin so as long as you’re not applying the product on any open wounds, you’re good to go. Do consider the potential risks of allergic reactions or severe irritation to your skin. 

Take tanning into your own hands

A blank canvas is ideal if you’re fake-tanning — this means shaved or waxed skin, exfoliation, moisturizing (at least 24 hours before tanning) and avoiding perfumed products. This Glamour article gives some great tips for self-tanning — how to do it properly yourself, how to maintain it and what not to do. 

Self-tanning product options tested by Black women

 

 

 

 

Here’s Freugenie trying it out…

Pat Bright getting her spray tan on


To go pro or not to go pro?

Choosing to get a professional spray tan is an option that many women opt for, as it allows for even distribution across your whole body (backs of knees, backs, underarms), and minimizes the chance of a streaky tan. The potential risk here is that you can easily inhale or swallow some of the product which could increase the chances of developing conditions like asthma. Opting for a self-tanning lotion, cream or gel minimizes the chances of inhaling DHA. 

The risks of tanning: avoid sun beds at all costs

Although it can seem like a quick, easy, and relaxing way to top up your tan, sunbeds are the most dangerous way to tan. Did you know that three times more UV rays are emitted from the bulbs used in tanning beds? These UV rays also penetrate deeper than the sun and cause much more skin damage. 

The risks of tanning: spending time in the sun

The fact of the matter is, sun exposure does cause skin damage — premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. Although there are benefits like absorbing vitamin D and a boost of serotonin, the risks far outweigh these. If you are opting to tan in the sun, make sure you follow these tips below: 

  • Using SPF — choose an SPF that has a broad spectrum. This means it will protect you from both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. Also check for the UVA star rating which measures how effectively a sun cream protects against the sun’s UVA rays — one being the lowest and five being the highest
  • Apply your SPF cream about 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure to allow it enough time to absorb into the skin. Don’t mix SPF with fake tan products as this will inhibit the effectiveness of the SPF
  • Avoid the sun between 12pm and 3pm when it’s at its hottest 
  • Limit how much time you spend in the sun — there’s only so much your skin can tan anyway so don’t cause further damage by spending extra time in the sun
  • Seek, shade, take regular breaks from the sun and stay hydrated 
  • Visit your dermatologist often.

There are so many reasons why Black women are choosing to darken their skin. The sun-kissed glow a tan gives can be a great way to temporarily minimize things like uneven skin tone, strawberry legs (those little dark bumps on your leg that you get after shaving) or hyperpigmentation if that’s something you’d like to do. Tanning can also help to highlight and contour the skin and body. Known as “tantouring,” a technique that works by layering different tones to create lines and shadows that enhance certain parts of your body; think of it like makeup for the body. 

Black girls can tan but…

For decades Black folks have been fed rumors and half-truths about our skin. We can’t tan, we shouldn’t tan, we don’t need sun cream, our melanin protects us from the sun. None of these statements are true. This guide isn’t meant to scare you or dissuade you from darkening your skin, it’s simply to inform you of the very real dangers associated with tanning. 

It seems that most ways to tan do come with risks, so maybe the only solution is, loving the skin tone we’ve been blessed with — no matter how dark or light.  

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Kristen Bingle
Kristen Bingle

I've been natural since 2014. Since then I've been obsessed with watching hair tutorials and learning more about how to keep my hair healthy — and sharing that with others. I'm based in London, work in Marketing and love herbal tea.

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