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Tanning of Skin - Causes, and Treatment

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Tanning of Skin - Causes, and Treatment

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Sun tan removal is not straightforward and happens only after a while. However, a few methods can help fade or remove a tan more quickly and effectively.

Written by

Dr. Suvash Sahu

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At September 28, 2016
Reviewed AtFebruary 8, 2023


A tan is the body's natural defense to shield itself from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Tanning is when melanin (a skin pigment responsible for skin darkening or tanning) increases due to sunlight exposure. When exposed to harsh sunlight, the body releases melanin under the skin's surface. This helps the skin to absorb UV radiation. So the higher the UV rays exposure from the sun, the higher the pigmentation and the darker the skin gets. Areas prone to tanning include the face, arms, hands, legs, feet, back, and neck.

How Does Tanning Happen?

Tanning indoors or outdoors can have detrimental consequences. Skin tanning is evidence of DNA injury to the skin, damaging the skin cells and speeding up visible signs of aging. The causes of sun tan depend on the skin type. Some skin types always burn and never tan, while others burn easily but tan with difficulty. Now let us find out the major causes of sun tan.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) are the two types of sun rays that reach the skin:

  • UVA Exposure: UVA radiation is what causes tan often. These rays penetrate the deeper skin layers, triggering melanocyte cells and causing cellular damage. Melanocyte cells release melanin pigment, which is responsible for the brown, darkened skin color.

  • UVB Exposure: These rays often harm or burn the upper skin layers. Exposure to UVB increases during the summer and decreases during winter, as the earth's ozone layer can block most UV-B rays depending on the weather. Unlike UVA, it does not trigger melanocytes. Instead, it stimulates the DNA to get damaged, further promoting melanin production.

Melanin is the body's natural process of protecting skin from burning. As a result, people with dark skin tan more deeply than those with lighter skin tones because their melanocytes produce more melanin.

What Are the Different Methods to Remove Sun Tan?

While no tan is permanent, one can get rid of a tan in a few days with good care. Here are the following ways to help fade or remove a tan from the sun or a tanning bed:

  • Exfoliation: Exfoliating the skin gently helps remove dead skin cells from the skin's outer layer, thus decreasing the tan's appearance. The two main types of exfoliation include chemical (which involves using chemicals that dissolve dead skin cells and impurities) and mechanical techniques (using brushes or sponges to remove dead skin cells). For people with dry, sensitive skin, a soft washcloth and chemical exfoliator work best, whereas for those with oily skin, stronger chemicals and mechanical techniques suit the best. However, whatever the skin type, ensure to exfoliate gently. Avoid overdoing it; it can turn the skin red and prompt acne breakouts. In addition, in darker-skinned people, over-exfoliating can cause dark spots on the skin. Furthermore, people should moisturize their skin after exfoliation to prevent over-drying it. Use moisturizers containing aloe vera when it comes to softening the skin.

  • Skin Lightening Products: The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests some elements as effective skin lighteners. These products may take several repeat applications to prove most effective, but they can help fade darker areas of skin. Look for products that contain the following ingredients:

    • Retinoids.

    • Glycolic acid.

    • Azelaic acid.

    • Vitamin C.

    • Kojic acid.

These active ingredients can help fade an existing tan or pigmented dark spots by exfoliating the skin and boosting new cell growth. Some can also help slow melanin production to help prevent or reduce dark spots. However, using only a single product with only one active ingredient at a time is essential to prevent irritation or other adverse effects. These products should only be used under the supervision of a medical professional. Overusing skin-lightening products can cause skin atrophy, discoloration, or permanent dark spots.

  • Bleaching: It is an effective and instant tan removal remedy that helps to remove dead skin cells, lightens the skin tone, and hydrates the skin. After rinsing off the bleaching cream, the skin's upper layer gets exfoliated, making it look visibly bright and glowing. However, regular bleaching should be avoided as its chemical ingredients might harm the skin.

  • Topical Applications: There are several tan removal creams or gels containing retinoids, vitamins C, E, and other antioxidants. These are considered the best tan removal creams and are dermatologically recommended as they increase collagen and remove tan effectively from hands and face.

  • Chemical Peels: Using chemical peels helps remove the upper dead skin cells. This popular tan skin removal method helps new skin cell formation by removing the top-tanned skin layers. Chemical peels use salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, trichloroacetic acid, or carbolic acid. These de-tanning peels are available in different concentration strengths. Depending on the intensity, chemical peels are classified as superficial, medium, and deep.

  • Microdermabrasion: It is a popular non-invasive, tan removal procedure that involves manually exfoliating the top layer of the epidermis. Removing the tanned epidermal layer provides new, radiant, healthy-looking skin. This cosmetic procedure is suitable for any skin type and is entirely painless. This procedure is considered the best approach to removing tanning from the face as it promotes new cell formation, decreases scarring, and smoothens the facial skin.

  • Laser Therapy: This therapy can effectively remove pigmentation and stubborn tans. In this procedure, damaged skin is exposed to a low-level red laser, which penetrates the skin up to three inches. This induces the skin to produce fresh and healthy cells, thereby improving the skin's aesthetic appearance.

  • Intense Pulsed Light (IPL): This de-tan treatment uses light to remove dark spots and enhance the skin's color and texture. The device coagulates and evacuates the blood vessels under the skin's surface, stimulating collagen production from fibroblast cells.


Everyone has a different skin type, and each skin type reacts to sun exposure differently. Skin tanning is the body's natural way of shielding the skin from sun damage. Since no tan is permanent, with the proper care, one can get rid of a tan in a few days. Understanding the various tried and tested treatments can help get rid of tan quickly and effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Does Skin Tanning Occur?

Tanning occurs when the skin is exposed to UV (ultraviolet) radiation. To protect itself from radiation, the skin produces melanin pigmentation. Melanin pigment is responsible for the darkening of the skin. Such tanning occurs within 48 hours of exposure.


Is Sun Tan Permanent in Nature?

No, sun tan is not permanent in nature. The skin, over a period of time, exfoliates itself. This causes the tan to disappear on its own. There is a constant regeneration of new skin under the old, which causes the old skin to slough off.


What Are the Ways to Remove a Sun Tan?

The following methods can remove the sun tan:
- Gentle exfoliation of the skin.
- Skin-lightening products.
- Use face packs according to the skin.


Does Sunscreen Help in Reducing Tan?

No, sunscreen does not help in reducing tan. Sunscreen only prevents the skin from harmful UV (ultraviolet) radiations. Blocking the skin from UV rays cannot prevent it from tanning. Skin treatment according to skin type has to be used to reduce tan.


How to Remove Tan From Arms?

Tan from the arms can be removed by using products such as:
- Lemon juice.
- Rose water.
- Potatoes.
- Natural ingredients such as gram flour and honey.
- Curd.


Is Aloe Vera Effective in Removing Tan?

Aloe vera can be effective in managing tan. Due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it is useful in treating many skin disorders. Aloe vera is soothing in nature, hence quite effective in treating sun tan.


Is Vitamin C Effective in Reducing Skin Tan?

Yes, vitamin C is effective in reducing skin tan. Vitamin C is an effective skin-lightening agent. It is effective in lightening skin and hyperpigmentation. It also prevents the skin from UV damage to some extent.


How to Get Back the Original Skin Color?

Yes, it is possible to achieve the original skin color. The following can achieve the original skin color. 
- Gentle exfoliation.
- Usage of moisturizer.
- Using sunscreen.
- Getting a facial done.


Which Fruits Are Effective in Skin Lightening?

Fruits can be effective in skin lightening. They act as skin-bleaching agents. The fruits that are effective in skin lightening are
- Berries such as strawberries.
- Beetroot.
- Tomatoes.
- Avocado.
- Egg. 
- Dry fruits.


What Are the Three Common Types of Discoloration?

Skin discoloration can occur due to various reasons. Skin discoloration can be caused due to skin lightening or darkening. The three most common types of skin discoloration are 
- Vitiligo.
- Age spots.
- Acne spots.


Can Charcoal Remove Skin Tan?

Charcoal can be effective in removing skin tan. It can help in achieving even skin tone. Skin tan can help in cleaning the skin and remove dead cells. Activated charcoal aids in achieving even skin tone and flawless skin.


Does Aloe Vera Help in Removing Skin Tan?

Aloe vera can be effective in removing skin tan. Aloe vera is a medicinal plant that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It soothes the skin and causes skin tan. It is a plant readily available in the market and surroundings.


Which Vitamin Is Best for the Skin?

Vitamins are essential for the skin. Vitamins help in the repair and regeneration of the skin. Vitamins can protect the skin from damage. The vitamins that are necessary for the skin are:
- Vitamin C.
- Vitamin D.
- Vitamin K.
- Vitamin E.


Why Is the Face Darker Than the Rest of the Body?

The face is darker than the rest of the body. This is because the face produces more melanin than the rest of the body. This is because the skin of the face is more exposed to the sun than the other parts. Hence the face tends to be darker than the rest of the body.


Does the Skin Get Darker With Age?

Yes, the skin can get darker with age. This is because the melanocytes get damaged when exposed to harmful sun rays. When damaged, these cells start to produce excess melanin. Due to this, the skin begins to darken. Hence skin darkens with age.
Dr. Suvash Sahu
Dr. Suvash Sahu



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