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Some people desire tanned skin, while others treat it as a cosmetic grievance. This article will focus on the latter and recommend ways to prevent or treat it.
To address tanning, it is important to understand how it occurs. The sun gives off harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can penetrate deep into the skin, causing cellular breakdown. The damage can also induce genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer such as melanoma.
The good thing is that the skin has a built-in mechanism to block out this UV radiation. Specialized cells in the skin called melanocytes produce a pigment called melanin, which is responsible for your natural complexion. This pigment serves one more purpose: it absorbs the UV rays that fall on your skin to keep them from breaching any further and cause cellular damage.
Sun exposure automatically stimulates the melanocytes in your skin to release extra melanin to absorb the UV rays and stop their passage to the deeper layers. The more melanin, the darker the skin. This is the mechanism behind tanning.
How to Lighten Tanned Skin at Home
Here are a few home remedies that can help lighten suntanned skin:
1. Aloe vera
Aloe vera contains bioactive compounds that inhibit the activity of an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is involved in melanin synthesis. Reducing the concentration of melanin helps fade your tan over time, restoring your natural complexion.
Aloe vera also helps hydrate, nourish, and repair your skin, thanks to its high water and antioxidant content. (1)
How to use:
- Cut an aloe vera leaf and extract the gel inside it.
- Apply a thick layer of aloe vera gel to the tanned areas, preferably before bedtime so that it stays on your skin overnight and gets properly absorbed.
- Wash it off the next morning.
Sandalwood is credited with skin-lightening properties that can help get rid of a suntan. This healing ingredient has long been used in folk medicine as a natural cure for hyperpigmentation.
How to use:
- In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of orange peel powder, 2 tablespoons of sandalwood powder, and 1 tablespoon of fresh cream.
- Mix in a few drops of olive oil to make a thick, smooth paste.
- Apply the mixture to the tanned areas for 20 minutes, and then rinse it off with normal water.
Yogurt contains lactic acid, which speeds up the shedding of dead skin from the surface while also stimulating the growth of new skin to replace it. This freshly formed skin is naturally lighter, firmer, and healthier with tighter pores.
Plus, yogurt has high amounts of zinc, which exhibits strong anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe the redness and irritation associated with sunburnt skin.
How to use:
- Extract the juice of one cucumber and one tomato, and mix it in a cup of plain yogurt.
- Add in ½ cup of gram flour, and give it a good stir to make a lump-free paste.
- Apply the mixture to tanned skin and leave it on for 30–45 minutes.
- Rinse it off with lukewarm water.
Tip: You can also apply some fresh yogurt to the affected areas 15–20 minutes before taking a bath. This simple remedy will help loosen the dead skin so that it can easily be removed during the bath.
Potato juice is enriched with vitamin C, which helps curb melanin production in the skin, thus making it an effective remedy for hyperpigmentation. It also works as a strong antioxidant, which limits the harmful activity of free radicals that are released in the skin via sun exposure.
Not just that, vitamin C also stimulates the production of collagen, the main structural protein required for making new skin cells and repairing the damaged ones.
How to use:
- Take 2–3 peeled medium-sized potatoes and cut them into four pieces.
- Put the chunks in a blender to make a thick, smooth puree.
- Generously apply it to tanned skin.
- Let it dry for about 30 minutes before washing it off with cold water.
5. Gram flour
Gram flour works as a gentle scrubbing agent that removes the dead skin cells accumulated on the surface of your body to reveal brighter skin from underneath. Regular application of this exfoliant can help fade your tan by getting rid of the damaged upper layers of the skin entirely.
You can mix it with other skin-lightening ingredients for better results.
How to use:
- Take some gram flour in a bowl and mix in just enough water to form a thick, lump-free paste.
- Apply the mixture to the tanned areas and let it dry for about 20 minutes.
- Wet your hands or splash some water on the skin and gently scrub the paste in circular motions for a few minutes.
- Rinse it off with water.
Tip: You can also use rose water instead of plain water for its hydrating and skin-soothing properties. Adding lime juice and yogurt to the mix can enhance the skin-lightening effect.
Cucumber contains vitamin C, which helps lighten hyperpigmentation by inhibiting melanin formation. It also accelerates skin cell renewal to give you a brighter and more even complexion. (2) Additionally, the cooling properties of cucumber can help calm irritated, sun-damaged skin.
How to use:
- Mix 2 tablespoons of fresh cucumber juice, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and a pinch of turmeric in a bowl.
- Apply the solution to the affected area.
- Leave it on for 30 minutes before rinsing it off with water.
Note: Don’t apply lime juice over a sunburn.
Oatmeal is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe and repair suntanned skin. Its soft granules gently exfoliate dead skin to expose healthy new skin from underneath.
Mixing this healing ingredient with buttermilk can further help with tan removal as the latter is abundant with lactic acid, which is also a natural skin-peeling agent. (3)
How to use:
- Soak 2 tablespoons of oats or oatmeal powder in water for 5 minutes.
- Mix in 2–3 teaspoons of fresh, plain buttermilk.
- Mix all of the ingredients well to make a smooth paste and apply it all over the tanned areas.
- Rub the paste in circular motions for 5 minutes to reveal fresher, cleaner-looking skin.
- Wash it off with water.
Tip: Honey can be added to the mixture to make it more moisturizing.
8. Rice flour
Rice flour is often used in face packs and other skin products that aim to brighten the skin, and it is a natural choice for tan removal remedies as well.
It exerts a gentle scrubbing effect that removes the dark, damaged upper layers of the skin to allow fresh new skin to rise to the top. This skin renewal gradually fades your tan to restore your true complexion.
Rice flour also exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that help with skin healing.
How to use:
- Mix 2 tablespoons of rice flour, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 1 teaspoon of rose water in a bowl to make a smooth paste.
- Apply the paste mixture to the tanned areas and wait for 10–15 minutes for it to dry.
- Wash it off with lukewarm water.
While you can’t avoid the sun completely, there are things you can do to minimize exposure to it and prevent skin damage. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Use a sunscreen
Apply sunscreen to the exposed areas of the skin during the day, even when it’s cloudy or foggy outside. Do this at least 20 minutes before stepping out so that the product has enough time to seep into the skin.
It is recommended to wear sunscreen even if you are staying indoors as sunlight can find its way to you through the windows. Reapply if you wash your skin, sweat a lot, or are in the sun for an extended period of time.
Look for a formulation that offers broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher and preferably contains zinc oxide for added skin protection.
2. Wear protective clothing
Wear protective clothing and accessories to shield your skin from the sun. Go for long-sleeved tops and full-length bottoms made with tightly woven fabrics when going out on a sunny day.
Also, put on a scarf or a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun out of your face and hair. Carry an umbrella with you for extra cover.
3. Avoid venturing outdoors during the day
Avoid going out during the peak hours of the day, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the solar radiation is the strongest. Schedule most of your outdoor activities for the afternoon or later in the evening.
If you do go out at midday, seek shade whenever you can to minimize sun exposure.
4. Stay hydrated
Stay hydrated by drinking 7–8 glasses of water throughout the day. You can diversify your fluid intake by consuming healthy unsweetened juices, nutritious broths, green tea, and water-rich fruits and vegetables, but water should be your primary source of hydration.
5. Use body lotions
Use body lotions that contain alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHA-BHA), which exfoliate the sun-damaged top layer of the skin to reveal new healthy skin from underneath. Regular application will help shed the tanned layer gradually to restore your natural skin tone.
Is It Safer to Get an Artificial Tan Than a Suntan?
No, artificial tanning may be worse for your skin than natural sunlight. Both forms of tanning involve exposing your skin to UV radiation, which triggers your melanocytes to produce extra melanin, which then makes your skin darker.
But indoor tanning methods such as tanning beds employ a UVA light that releases a higher concentration of UVA rays than the sun to induce a quick tan. Such methods may also release some UVB rays that can cause additional skin damage.
Regularly going for an artificial tan can significantly increase the risk of melanoma or skin cancer, especially in younger people who started this practice in their adolescence or early 20s. (4)
Some degree of tanning is inevitable during the summer, but proper sun protection can help minimize it. A number of tan-removal products are widely available, but their effectiveness may vary. Plus, these formulations may sometimes contain added chemicals that can damage your skin in other ways.
So, instead of wasting your money on products that may or may not work, you can try the healing potential of natural ingredients that are cheap, easy to find, and devoid of side effects (unless you are allergic).
The remedies listed above may not deliver immediate results but can help fade your tan when used consistently as part of an overall wholesome skin care routine. Still, the best treatment for tanning is prevention since it is far easier to avoid a tan than it is to get rid of it.