Does Tanning Burn Calories or Make You Lose Weight?

woman tanning

Summer is approaching, and personally, there is nothing I love more than lying outside with a book to relax and soaking up some sun. I love having a bronze glow in the summer. But is tanning good for losing weight?

I often get asked, ‘does tanning burn calories?’ The short answer is yes, because everything we do, even lying down, burns calories. It is not considered a high calorie burning activity, however.

On the other hand, there are studies to support the notion that tanning can be good for losing weight, because of the rays’ ability to burn fat and boost your metabolism.

This article will look at how lying in the sun can affect calorie burning, fat loss, and metabolism.

Tanning and Calories

We burn calories when the body burns carbohydrates to use as energy. Every activity we do burns calories, even sleeping, because the body needs energy to do everything! We burn more during exercise because our bodies know that more energy is needed.

The minimum amount of energy we need to simply function – not doing exercise, simply to exist and keep our organs working – is our basal metabolic rate (BMR).

BMR also helps to regulate the temperature of our bodies. If you are exposed to cold conditions, more calories are burned to produce the energy we need to keep us warm enough. Therefore, swimming in very cold water is a popular activity amongst the calorie conscious community.

When our body is warm and relaxed, however, we don’t need as much energy for temperature regulation, so fewer calories are burned. Using tanning beds indoors or lying in the sun outside both certainly cause our bodies to be warm, and relaxed.

So, if you’re wondering, ‘does lying in hot sun burn calories?’, the answer is technically yes, but not anywhere near enough to consider as a weight-loss solution.

Hang on! If I sweat whilst I’m sunbathing, does sunbathing burn calories? Sweat is produced as a temperature regulation response. Exercising makes us hot and sweaty, but the body needs a lot more energy to exercise, which is why calories are burned.

Unfortunately, the same logic cannot be applied to sunbathing. Yes, we sweat because our body is trying to cool down. But the heat is coming from the sun, it is not being generated by us using energy.

Tanning and Fat

So, if tanning can’t burn a lot of calories, does tanning burn fat? The University of Alberta were curious about the link between winter and weight-gain and looked into this question in 2018.

This study from University of Alberta found that fat cells sitting just beneath our skin shrink when exposed to the blue light from the sun. They call this ‘a new reason, in addition to vitamin D generation, to bask in a little sunshine’.

Blue light is visible to human eyes and makes up a portion of sunlight. It is a particularly high-energy form of light, which makes it beneficial to humans. It boosts our energy, our mood, and now we know, burns fat.

According to the study, blue light causes the lipid droplets stored in fat cells under the skin to shrink, meaning they hold less fat. So, according to them, tanning can cause fat loss.

They argue that this can help to explain why many of us living in the northern hemisphere gain weight over the winter months. If you are someone who asks, ‘does tanning burn belly fat?’, this study suggests that yes, it does.

It is important to remember, though, the risks associated with over-exposure to the sun. Spending too much time tanning can prematurely age the skin and is the leading cause of skin cancer.

Peter Light, professor of pharmacology at the University of Alberta, and senior author of the study, advises caution with sun exposure and states that it is “not a safe or recommended way to lose weight”.

Whilst some fat-burn might be a bonus to tanning, it should not be the goal of lying in the sun. There are much healthier and lower-risk ways to burn fat.

Tanning and Metabolism

A 1987 study on PubMed found that “exposure to ultraviolet light induced an increase in the activity of the thyroid gland”. As we know, the main function of the thyroid is to control our metabolism. So, does tanning make you lose weight by boosting your metabolism?

Research shows that exposure to UV light – whether from the sun or from a tanning bed – boosts our metabolism. This means you will burn more calories during rest than when your metabolism is low.

Having a high metabolism can help with weight loss, and can also give you energy, which is partly why we feel so good after lying in the sun or using a tanning bed.

There are lots of other things you can do to boost your metabolism, like drinking cold water and exercising. So, if boosting your metabolism is your main aim, spending some time in the sun can help, but should not be the primary method you go for.

Whilst scientists are starting to consider the benefits of sun exposure for the body, it is important to remember the high level of risk associated with over-exposure.

Lying in the sun to lose weight sounds like a dream but eating healthy food and taking regular exercise is a safer and more effective solution.

Related Question/s

Can You Lose Weight from Sunbeds?

In terms of calories, the effect of sunbeds is largely the same. The body is warm and relaxed, so the body will burn fewer calories during time on sunbeds.

The big difference is that sunbeds do not emit blue light, which is the element of sunlight that scientists discovered burns fat under the skin.

Sunbeds do, on the other hand, emit UV light, so there is a chance of a slight boost in your metabolism. Remember that people don’t usually spend as long on a tanning bed than in the sun. 

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