Can You Tan Underwater? Not What You Might Expect!

woman in water

Summer holidays are all about spending time relaxing on the beach or by a pool and working on a gorgeous tan. But if you are planning to spend a lot of time in the sea or in a pool, you might be wanting to know, can you tan underwater?

You’ll be happy to know that yes, you can tan underwater. This happens when water doesn’t absorb the UV rays and so they still penetrate your skin. It also happens when light reflects off the water onto your skin.

In this article we will explore the so-called swimmers tan, as well as look at some ways to protect your skin from the sun in the water.

Can You Tan Underwater?

There are two ways that you tan whilst spending time in the water: through the water itself, and from the reflection of the sun from the water. Let’s break these down and have a look at how you tan in the water in more detail.

Tanning Underwater

So, can you tan through water? Water does absorb UV rays, but not completely, so it is still possible for them to reach your skin.

In shallow water, only about 30% of sun rays are absorbed by the water, leaving the other 70% to penetrate your skin. Shallow water sun loungers have become popular for giving the pool tan effect – you can enjoy the cool feeling of the water without losing the bronzing effect.

In deeper water, however, more UV rays are absorbed, and you are less likely to tan. Once your body is more than half a meter deep, your skin will absorb much less sunlight because about 60% will have been absorbed by the water.

Although, even in deeper water, it is still possible to burn if your skin is not protected.

Another thing that impacts water’s absorption of UV rays is the clarity of the water. If you are swimming in murky or cloudy water, it will absorb UV rays at a higher rate, meaning less of a tan for you. In clear water, fewer UV rays are absorbed, and so more will reach you skin.

So, don’t expect a tan if you are swimming in a murky pond, but do if you’re in clean, fresh water!

It may seem unlikely that UV rays can penetrate through water to reach your skin, but it does. Water is not a sunblock, so you need to take care when you’re swimming to protect your skin.

Tanning from Sunlight Reflection

The other way that people tan in the water is from the reflection of UV rays from the surface of the water. This reflected light actually increases the intensity of UV rays and will therefore tan (and burn) your skin more quickly.

I often get asked, does water help you tan? And in terms of sunlight reflection from water, it certainly speeds up the process.

This effect will be particularly potent if you are lying on a float in the pool. The UV rays will reflect off the surface of the water and directly onto your skin. It will also reflect off any water droplets on your body.

UV rays will also reflect onto your face if you are swimming with your head above the water. The skin on our faces tends to be sensitive to burning, so you always need to protect the skin on your face whilst swimming.

How to Protect Your Skin Whilst in the Water

Finding a reliable waterproof sunscreen is vital if you want to protect your skin in the water. Neutrogena’s Beach Defense Water-Resistant Sunscreen is a great high-factor option that promises water resistance for up to 80 minutes.

Make sure to re-apply sunscreen every couple of hours, especially when you are spending time in the water.

Sunscreen will offer protection from UV rays but covering up is the only way to completely block out the sun. There are a wide variety of protective clothing options for swimming, including wetsuits, rash vests, and leggings. If you don’t want to tan at all in the water, this is your best bet.

Protective clothing is also a great option for children. Playing and splashing in the water can cause sunscreen to come off, and young skin is much more vulnerable to burning. So, if you have kids that love being in the water all day, consider buying them a rash vest to wear.

If you are in a shallow pool or using a shallow-water sun lounger, make sure to wear a hat to protect your face. A wide-brimmed sunhat will protect your face, neck, and shoulders – all parts of the body that are particularly vulnerable to burning.

The sun is very de-hydrating for the body, so make sure to drink lots of water when spending time tanning. It is also key to moisturize after spending time in the sun for this reason.

Related Questions

Can You Tan Faster in the Water?

If you are in deep, cloudy, or murky water, the UV rays will be more absorbed by the water, so you will tan more slowly.

If you are in shallow, clean water, either on a shallow-water sun lounger or a float, the UV rays will penetrate the water as well as reflect off the water, so you will tan more quickly from the intense reflected rays.

Can You Burn Underwater?

You absolutely can burn underwater. UV rays will not all be absorbed by the water and will reach your skin. The risk of burning actually increases underwater, because its cooling effect stops you realizing that you are burning.

Do You Tan Better in Water?

Using a shallow sunbed or a float on the water can speed up the tanning process because of the reflected and intensified light. People don’t see unevenness in their tans when they tan in this way.

A better tan is only possible, however, if you pay attention to the added risk of burning and adequately protect your skin.

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