How do we tan? Melanin and how to get a tan


Dr. Laura Miguel Gómez. Dermatologist. Hospital Ramón y Cajal


When dermatologists advise patients to use sunscreens they are usually very reluctant as most people think that if they apply sun cream they won't get a tan, but… is there any truth in the myth that if we protect ourselves from the sun we won't get that longed for golden tan? Do people really risk the health of their skin by refusing to use sun creams just to get a better tan? Yes, some people do, and we're going to explain how protecting your skin from the sun's rays doesn't mean you won't get a tan.

How do we tan?

The skin tans as a defence mechanism against ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. This radiation has positive effects like aiding the production of vitamin D that is necessary to absorb the calcium our body needs, but too much radiation is dangerous, as it can alter the immune system, speeds up premature skin aging (it causes more wrinkles and blemishes) and can cause skin cancer to appear. Fortunately, in the layers of our skin there are some special cells called melanocytes that are responsible for producing melanin, as well as giving the skin its natural colour and protecting us from the sun's rays.

Melanin oxidises when it comes into contact with solar radiation, causing the skin to turn a darker colour, which we call a suntan and, in turn it makes the skin more resistant as it absorbs the harmful rays. But this natural protection we have is limited, it cannot absorb all the radiation, so we are always recommended to use sun cream and avoid exposure to the sun when the radiation is at its strongest.

There are 6 different phototypes that measure the response of different skin types to ultraviolet light:









Light eyes and hair (redheads) freckles.

Blond hair, light eyes

Brown hair

Dark brown hair, brown eyes

Very dark brown hair

Black hair


Always burns

Nearly always burns

Sometimes burns

Burns minimally

Rarely burns

Hardly ever burns





Dark, easily

Very dark, very easily

Black, always


Very pale


Creamy white


Very dark


Is using sun cream incompatible with tanning?

The answer is no, as the skin can be protected from the sun and can still achieve greater pigmentation without being put at risk. There are sun creams on the market that are capable of activating the melanin and boosting a tan, as is the case for example with Bronze, by protextrem®, which contains the active ingredient Bronze T10 [complex]. This ingredient triggers the production of melanin achieving a natural, even and long-lasting tan. While it does all this, it also protects us from the sun's rays (they are especially harmful if you sunbathe without protection).

Tips for healthy sunbathing:

  • Apply sun cream 30 minutes before exposing your skin to the sun and reapply it every 2 hours and always after going in the water.
  • Avoid exposure to the sun in the middle of the day (from 12:00 midday to 17:00 hours in the afternoon approximately).
  • Protect your skin, head and eyes properly with clothes, hats and certified sunglasses, so you don't harm your vision.
  • Use soothing moisturising creams after sunbathing to alleviate any possible skin irritations.
  • Protect children, as they are more susceptible to over-exposure to the sun. Children under 3 years old should not be exposed to the sun.