Is There Such A Thing As A Healthy Tan?

Is There Such A Thing As A "Healthy Tan"? | GrowingUpHerbal.com | Are suntans a sign of skin protection or skin damage? See what I've found out in this post!

You’ve heard that getting your kids out in the sun every day to get their daily dose of vitamin D is a good thing, but you also know that sunburns are the devil and should be avoided at all costs. Thankfully there are some ways you can prevent sunburns naturally when it comes to being outside with your kids, however, one of these ways is a bit controversial among experts.

Today, I’m delving into the whole “healthy tan” concept to see what all the fuss is about and, yeah, I’m gonna give you my 2 cents as well.

Warning… anatomy and physiology to follow. Don’t worry though. I’m gonna make it as pain-free as possible.

What Exactly Is This Whole “Healthy Tan” Concept Anyway?

A “healthy tan” is a tan that is slowly formed by getting out in the sun on a daily basis while at the same time avoiding sunburns. It’s thought that this tan serves as a shield against harmful UV rays that can burn your little one’s skin and do some serious damage long-term.

How Does All This UV, Vitamin D, and Tanning Work Anyway?

When your kid heads out into the sun, the UV rays from the sun hit their skin… UVA and UVB rays to be exact. UVB rays are only long enough to penetrate the first layer (epidermis) of skin and can cause burning. UVA rays are longer than UVB rays so they can penetrate into the second layer (dermis) of skin when leads to structural damage like wrinkles.

These rays are beneficial seeing as how they cause the body to produce vitamin D which is a much needed fat-soluble vitamin, but they can be very damaging as well. Not only can they cause sunburns, but they can cause structural and genetic damage within the skin. These types of damages can lead to skin cancers later on in life.

Let’s look at some of these concepts below.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and our bodies can’t produce fat soluble vitamins… we have to get them from other sources. Most times, we get our fat-soluble vitamins from foods, and that’s true in the case of vitamin d; however, food alone isn’t enough to cut it. You need the sun’s help.

When the sun’s rays hit the skin they mingle with a vitamin d precursor that’s in the form of a cholesterol. This forms vitamin d3. Next, this vitamin d3 goes through several conversions in the liver and kidneys until it ends up as a hormone that’s referred to as “activated vitamin d”. This activated form of vitamin d allows the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus in the gut. These minerals work to maintain strong teeth and bones, correct muscle/organ functioning, and is even thought to aid in cancer prevention.

So no matter how nutritious the food is that you feed your kids, they aren’t absorbing those particular minerals if their vitamin d is low. Low vitamin d = low blood calcium and phosphorus = health problems. Moral of the story… we need to stop being afraid of the sun!


When UV rays penetrate the skin they stimulate tiny cells in the top layer (epidermis) of skin called melanocytes. These melanocytes are located at the very bottom of the epidermis, and once stimulated, they begin to produce melanin, a brown pigment.

This pigment is carried to keratinocytes in the top of the epidermis (the main cells in the top layer of skin) causing the skin’s color to change to a darker, deeper brown. This is a protective mechanism used by the skin to protect the DNA within the skin’s cells from any damaging effects of UV rays. The melanin acts as an umbrella, covering the nucleus of each cell. This stops the UV rays from penetrating down into the cell and damaging the cell’s DNA. Instead of the UV rays being absorbed by the cells, they are absorbed and dispersed by the melanin.

Based on the above info, the idea of a tan sounds like a good idea.

Skin Damage & Skin Protection

Skin damage occurs when the skin isn’t protected in any way and the UV rays are allowed to penetrate down into the skin causing damage to the DNA contained within each cell. Studies have shown that both UVA and UVB rays can cause this damage.

In an effort to protect your child’s skin from damaged, you can keep them out of the sun… but that’s no good because they need to get their vitamin d from it. Another option is to cover their skin with either tightly woven, dark colored clothing or some type of broad spectrum sunscreen in order to block UV rays. Again, this also blocks vitamin d. Lastly, you can opt to get them out into the sun for a mere 20-30 minutes a day so they can get their daily dose of vitamin d before heading back inside or covering them up in some way. This is where the “healthy tan” concept comes into play.

The more you expose your child’s unprotected skin to these brief, daily sun baths, the more their skin will begin to slowly darken due to the melanin action discussed above. This is a protective mechanism designed to protect skin cells from damage.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Experts tend to disagree as to whether this “healthy tan” is all that healthy after all.

So What’s The Problem With A “Healthy Tan”?

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that so far, the “healthy tan” team is winning this race.

Healthy Tan – 1
Rockin’ What God Gave You – 0

We know the sun’s rays damage the skin’s cells, but we also know that we need a certain amount of those rays to penetrate the skin in order to increase our vitamin d levels. Is there a happy medium to this dilemma?

Skin experts say that by the time the skin has produced enough melanin to protect cells from damage, damage has already been done. This is because melanin is produced IN RESPONSE to damaged cells. As in… the UV rays have already damaged the skin cells on their way down to the melanocytes, so the skin is gonna respond by darkening itself in order to protect itself from further damage.


To me, this says that anytime your skin darkens, it’s because of damage, and damaged skin isn’t healthy skin.

That kinda kicks the “healthy” in “healthy tan” to the curb wouldn’t you say?

Healthy Tans – 0
Rockin’ What God Gave You – 1

So What’s A Natural Mama To Do?

Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I’m gonna do.

First off, the sun is still my kids best bet at getting the vitamin d they need. That means I’m happy to let them head on outside for 20-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day; however, I’m gonna limit that time to when the sun’s rays aren’t at peak levels.

After they’ve had their daily vitamin d, their clothes are gonna go back on and this mama will be slathering some homemade mineral sunscreen on them routinely throughout the remainder of the day if we’re gonna be out and about for a long while. Most homemade sunscreens are made using coconut oil, which has its own SPF properties, as well as zinc which reflects UV rays on the surface of the skin.

Lastly, we’ll be increasing the amounts of antioxidants and healthy fats in our diets during the summer months to help prevent sunburn, and we’ll be sticking with our daily doses of cod liver oil.

So what about you mama? What are your thoughts about the information in this post? Does this change your mind about “healthy tans” or no? How do you plan on taking care of your kiddo’s skin this summer? Share your thoughts with me in the comment section below!


  • http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/vitamin-d-and-your-health.htm
  • http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/problems/medical/albinism1.htm
  • http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb/understanding-uva-and-uvb
  • http://www.drbaileyskincare.com/blog/what-is-a-tan/
  1. Heather r says:

    when I was a little child I had no knowledge of any of this health stuff. And neither did my mom. we went to the swimming pool on a constant basis in the summer with tons of sunscreen lathered on and I still got burnt every time with horrible blistering burns. I remember thinking my skin is so white I can never go out in the Sun without sunscreen. Now that I’m older I know a little better and have children we use sunscreen for the first couple of days or even a week or two that the Sun is out in the summer and then after that no sunscreen at all. I don’t think I’ve ever been burned since I started eating coconut oil with all my foods and taking cod liver oil. in fact I would say that’s about the only thing that I changed as far as fats go. Also I eat a lot of green vegetables and I guess just healthier all around. I’ve cut out pretty much all refined flours of sugars and anything processed for sure. That alone is a huge testimony to me for health and nutrition. I cannot believe the difference that has made in my life. no sunburns for me anymore.

    • Meagan says:

      Thanks for sharing your story Heather. This is a tough one for me because I love being outside in the sun, and I always get a tan. However, I can see where the science shows the cons of tanning… hopefully it’s more or less talking about those that are “chronic tanners”! And, I definitely agree that nutrition is always the first place to start. I love how foods can provide us with extra goodness to help keep our bodies safe!

  2. Jainca says:

    Good advice for Caucasians and fair skinned people. But some readers are naturally tan or darker skinned. So your advice for kids really has to do with kids that have similar skin than your own kids. My daughter is tan skinned by birth. For her to get out of the sun after 30 minutes would be ridiculous. She never burns. In fact, none of my east-Indian relatives burn, nor wear sunscreen, ever! So maybe add a paragraph stating that a child’s natural skin color has a lot to so with timing in the sun, etc… Because us moms are many different colors:)

    • Meagan says:

      LOL Jainca… yes I realize that “moms are many different colors”. I simply stated that, from the research, anytime a person is out in the sun, soaking up UV rays, the skin will respond to damage from those rays by getting darker. Dark skinned individuals get tans too… their skin gets darker. Studies show that darker skinned individuals receive less damage than lighter skinned persons due to their skin color so I’d say they’re less at risk, but there’s still a risk… or at least something for all of us moms (no matter our color or shading) to think about.

      Again, I said that this post was tough for me to write because it goes against my previous line of thinking, but the point of this blog is to share new things I’m learning with you concerning natural living and your kids. You don’t have to do what I say… I simply said what MY plans were now that I know this info. I’ll go over the post and see if there’s anywhere I need to clarify anything. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Safe Tanning, Does it Exist? – Bath and Body says:

    […] Safe tanning is there such a thing? What do you think? Check out this article by Growingupherbal.com and see if your opinion changes. The information might just give you a different perspective on what is healthy about tanning and what isn’t. Full article can be seen here. […]

  4. Kari says:

    When I was a kid, I never wore sunscreen. And I would get really tanned in the summer. I would be playing outside all day long. (We lived on an apple farm) when I got older I wasn’t outside as much and I became obsessed with tanning. 5 years or more later I was vitamin d deficient. (According to a blood test done in September when it should be at its highest.) obviously we found out that my body wasn’t making enough vitamin d for me, even being out in the sun. So I started taking 5000 units of vitamin d3. I now don’t have that urge to to be tanning all of the time out in the sun. I believe that my body was desperately trying to get the vitamin d it needed. So even those seriel tanners, might want to find out if their body is producing enough vitamin d.

    • Meagan says:

      That’s very interesting Kari. Do you know if you were deficient in any other vitamins or minerals that could have been inhibiting your body from making vitmain d?

  5. Paola says:

    So when you tan it is to protect your skin after some damage has been done? So when you get darker and darker it’s because your body tries harder and harder to protect itself from the suns harmful rays?

    • Meagan Visser says:

      That is correct, from my understanding. I always thought that “building up” a tan would protect my skin from damage from UV rays, and in a way it does as the darker the skin is, the less UV rays penetrate it, but what I didn’t realize was that the tan itself was in response to damage already done. Ultimately, I try to put natural sunscreen on or cover up as much as I can remember when we’re out. Our skin still tans as we’re not always on top of this, but at least it’s keeping the sun damage to a minimum. Hope that helps explain more.

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