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What Happens When You Tan After Weight Loss Surgery?

Posted on July 9, 2019 by Deb Hart

Have You Recently Had Gastric Bypass or Gastric Sleeve Surgery and Wonder About Tanning?

Everyone loves the glow of a golden tan. But what if you’ve recently had bariatric surgery? Granted, the scars from laparoscopic surgery are small, but if you plan to tan your tummy, you’ll want to understand how the sun may affect your scars.

It Takes a Year

It can take incision site scars 12 months or longer to heal. The healing scar tissue is different than the surrounding skin. It seems like thicker scar tissue would be less likely to burn or tan, but the opposite is true. First, the scar does not produce the protective cells that help reduce damage from the sun’s rays. That means scars may become darker or lighter than the surrounding skin, making them more visible. Secondly, scar tissue is less sensitive. Without the pain of sunburn, it is easy to overdo sun exposure, not realizing that your skin is burning.

Tans and burns fade with time, returning skin to its natural color. However, scars exposed to the sun’s rays during the healing period may remain permanently lighter or darker than the surrounding skin.

After a year, the scar and surrounding skin should react equally to the sun’s rays—although everyone’s skin is unique. Of course, it is always a good idea to protect all of your skin from the damaging effects of the sun.

UVA and UVB Rays 

SPF (sun protection factor) is a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn. If used correctly an SPF 30 sunscreen will protect 30 times longer than if no sunscreen is used. For example, if you would normally burn after 20 minutes with no sunscreen, an SPF 30 sunscreen should protect for about 10 hours.

UVA rays are responsible for tanning. As they reach the lower dermal layer, they stimulate skin darkening. Although a tan looks healthy, it is actually a sign of DNA damage and the body’s attempt to protect further injury. Tanning beds use UVA rays. Look for broad spectrum sunscreens that protect from both UVB and UVA rays.

How to Apply Sunscreen

Using sunscreen seems pretty straight forward, but most people don’t get as much protection as they need. The American Academy of Dermatology provides the following tips for applying sunscreen correctly:

  1. Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water resistant, and provides broad-spectrum coverage, which means it protects you from UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Apply sunscreen generously before going outdoors. It takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you.
  3. Apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body. Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into your skin.
  4. Apply sunscreen to all bare skin. Remember your neck, face, ears, tops of your feet and legs. For hard‐to‐reach areas like your back, ask someone to help you or use a spray sunscreen. If you have thinning hair, either apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide‐brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 15.
  5. To remain protected when outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.
  6. Sunscreen should be just one of the sun protection strategies you use to protect your skin. You can also cover up with clothing and a hat, stay in the shade, and avoid the sun during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
  7. It’s not just the summer sun that causes damage. Use sunscreen year-round to protect exposed skin.

The Bottom Line

To protect scars during the 12-month healing time frame, stay out of the sun. If that is not possible, use high-rated sun block and UV protective clothing to cover areas with healing scars.

After the 12-month healing period, follow steps to protect all of your skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays. As you strive to improve your health with weight loss surgery, keep your skin healthy by seeking the shade, using sunscreen properly, and embracing your natural skin color.



Picture of Deb Hart

Deb Hart

Deb Hart is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. For the last 28 years, she has been helping bariatric surgery patients reach their health and weight goals. She teaches people how to set up a lifestyle that supports a healthy weight. Deb set up her own lifestyle to include lots of long walks with her furry family members, workout classes at her local wellness center, meal prepping, and finding new ways to enjoy foods without added sugar.

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