The prospect of having defined abs without doing crunches or holding a plank sounds appealing, I admit, which is exactly the reason the “sunscreen contouring” trend became popular on TikTok.
If you’re not familiar, sunscreen contouring involves putting a higher SPF in the shape of a six-pack on the stomach, then putting a lower SPF (or worse, no SPF) around the “six-pack” area. The outer area gets a deeper tan, resulting in a shading effect not unlike using bronzer to contour the face.
This results in a contouring effect where the areas protected by a higher SPF are lighter, and the other areas are darker,” Dr. Whitney Bowe, board-certified dermatologist, says. Some are also trying this SPF trick on their faces to achieve a more chiseled look, with no contour required. And while we can understand the intrigue, it’s really not a good idea. Here’s why.
Is sunscreen contouring dangerous?
In short, yes sunscreen contouring is not a good idea, especially if you’re forgoing SPF in certain places (though even if you’re fully covered in SPFs of different factors, it’s still not a good idea).
“There’s no such thing as a ‘safe tan’,” Dr. Bowe says. As soon as your skin gets darker as a result of sun exposure, that’s actually a sign of DNA damage, and means you are at increased risk for skin cancer and premature aging.” Check out Dr. Bowe’s video below to hear her break down the facts.
View this post on Instagram
Is there a way to achieve this look without sun exposure?
If you’re still drawn to the idea of getting the look of abs without doing much more than laying in a lawn chair, I feel you. To get the look without the effort you could try using self-tanner or even contour makeup instead (makeup, of course, will only be effective if you’re not going swimming).
“Self-tanner is a much safer thing to experiment with if you want to try to get a contoured effect without makeup,” Dr. Bowe says. “Self-tanners use DHA which is a safe ingredient when used in a cream, lotion or mousse. You just want to avoid sprays because it’s best not to inhale DHA.” She also notes that the tanner method may take a bit of trial and error to avoid a streaky look. You may want to have an exfoliating mitt on hand to be able to erase any self-tanner mishaps.
Is it okay to layer different sunscreens?
To be clear, the issue with sunscreen contouring is not layering the sunscreens; it’s about either not wearing SPF in certain areas, or laying in the sun with the intention of getting tan. Dr. Bowe says she personally layers her own sunscreen regularly.
“On my face, I sometimes use a moisturizer that has sunscreen followed by a regular sunscreen, and then I will use makeup with SPF on top,” she says. “ I reapply sunscreen powder throughout the day on top of those layers. I’m all about layering sunscreen!”
The difference? “I never deliberately expose my skin waiting for it to tan. I layer with the intention of protecting my skin and use a hat, seek shade, and practice sun-protective behaviors whenever I can to complement my sunscreen,” she says.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.