Beach Guide: Can You Tan Through Clouds?

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Many beach goers wonder, can you tan through the clouds? Simply put, you need sunshine to get a tan. However, most people have always associated tanning with sunny weather, but the UV rays that darken your skin can penetrate through almost any weather conditions- including clouds.

So, can you tan on a cloudy day, or do you need to wait for sunny skies? The simple answer is that you can tan whether the sun is shining or the sky is full of clouds- but there is more to consider. Here we’ve gathered helpful tips for making the most out of your sunbathing at the beach, and keeping safe while you do it!

You Can Still Get Burned on a Cloudy Day

The ultraviolet (UV) rays that the sun emits are responsible for your tan or sunburn. These UV rays still penetrate your skin even when the sky is cloudy, contrary to popular belief. However, the clouds do offer a small amount of protection against UV radiation, which means that it may take longer to burn or tan on an overcast day than it does on a day with little cloud coverage.

Even on cloudy days, you should keep skin protected with a quality sunscreen throughout your time in the sun’s rays.
suntan process

Understanding the Tanning Process

While it may take longer to tan or burn on a cloudy day, you still don’t want to risk spending too much time exposed to UV radiation which can lead to skin changes, early again and skin cancer. To understand the role that clouds play on tanning your skin, it helps to understand how the tanning process works.

Melanin is a natural pigment found in your body, and responsible for the color of your skin. People with darker skin have more melanin than those with lighter skin who have less melanin. Melanin is produced naturally in the body, and as a defense mechanism when your skin is damaged. Additionally, it offers protection against UV radiation.

When your skin is exposed to UV rays, the radiation and DNA damage causes your body to produce more melanin to repair the damage. At the same time, your existing melanin can darken, which results in the temporarily darkening of skin.

The Effects of UVA and UVB Radiation

Darkening of the skin is caused by exposure to UV rays. However, there are two types of UV rays and each one has a different effect on the skin.

UVA vs. UVB Radiation

UVA rays reach deeper into the skin than UVB rays and are the primary cause of tanning and sunburns. When your body is exposed to UVA rays, the UV radiation causes oxidative stress, which causes the existing melanin in your skin to darken. It also redistributes the melanin, which helps to create an even tan throughout skin. While UVA rays can darken your skin temporarily, they do not change the production of melanin. You do not gain more of this pigment or receive any additional protection against getting burned.

UVB rays primarily affect the outer layers of the skin. Unlike UVA rays, UVB rays can cause your body to produce more melanin. However, this increased production occurs gradually and may not be noticeable until several days later.

Indirect and Direct DNA Damage to Your Skin

UVA and UVB rays cause different types of damage to your skin, resulting in different types of tanning and burning. 

Indirect vs. Direct DNA Damage to Skin

With UVA rays, you receive indirect DNA damage as the UVA radiation creates oxidative stress that leads to the darkening of existing melanin.

The UVB rays cause direct DNA damage, resulting in more melanin production and increasing your risk of sunburn. When you get a sunburn, it is most likely the UVB rays that are causing most of the damage. However, the increased production of melanin caused by UVB rays provides a longer-lasting tan.

uv radiation

How Much UV Radiation Gets Blocked by Clouds?

The clouds do not offer complete protection against UV radiation. In fact, some clouds can even increase UV radiation.

When the clouds are grey and heavy, about two-thirds of UVA and UVB rays can be blocked, making your chances of skin damage lessened. With most of the UV rays blocked, the risk of burning or tanning is reduced. When the sun breaks through the clouds or the clouds are scattered, up to 89% of the UV rays can still penetrate your skin. However, if the clouds are puffy and white, you may receive even more UV exposure than that of a clear sky. This happens because the white, puffy clouds can deflect the UV rays, increasing the total amount of UV radiation that reaches the surface of your skin.

Check Your Local UV Index for Tanning Conditions

Instead of focusing on the condition of the sky, you can always consider checking your local UV index. The UV index was created by the National Weather Service and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It gives the public a general guide for determining the threat of UV radiation on a given day.

Things to understand about the UV index: 

  • A low UV index of 1 or 2 means that you can expect minimal UV exposure when outdoors. 
  • 3 to 5 on the UV index indicates moderate exposure. 
  • You should still wear sunscreen when the UV index lists low or moderate exposure.
  •  If the UV index is 6 or higher, everyone should wear protection against sunburn. This is when you are most likely to get burned if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
man applying sunscreen to

How Can You Tan Through Clouds Without Burning?

When the skies are full of fluffy white clouds, you may receive more UV exposure compared to that of a clear day. On cloudy days, you may not worry as much about your sun exposure, however, you can still get burned if you stay outside for too long. There are precautions you can take to protect your skin, while also getting a beautiful and healthy tan. 

Tips for tanning on a cloudy day:

  1. If you’re hoping to tan on a cloudy day, you should follow the same precautions that you use when sunbathing on a sunny day. 
  2. Always apply sunscreen evenly covering all exposed areas of skin. 
  3. Avoid laying outside for too long and reapply the lotion every couple of hours.
  4. Keep thoroughly hydrated throughout the day, and the day following sun exposure.
  5. Keep skin moisturized after sun exposure. 

​Final Thoughts: Clouds Do Not Block the UV Rays

The bottom line and the good news is that you don’t need to wait for a sunny day to tan. In fact, you may even tan faster when the sky has a lot of white, puffy clouds.

The only time when less UV exposure and damage occurs is during the day, when the sky is completely grey with full clouds. This weather creates more cover against the UV radiation, blocking up to 66% of the UV rays and more protection for your skin.

If you want to tan outdoors, the clouds may not make much of a difference unless the sky is covered in grey clouds. Whether the sky is clear or cloudy,  we recommend that you always wear sun protection when you plan on spending time outdoors- even when you’re not tanning. To protect your skin, and your health, always take sun exposure precautions for longevity and well-being. 

Where are your favorite places to soak up some rays and get a healthy tan? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

Beach Guide: Can You Tan Through Clouds?

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