Woman spraying suntan lotion onto her leg by the pool
AmmentorpDK/iStock/Getty Images

If you love getting a golden tan outside -- but want to minimize the harmful side effects of the sun -- you'll need an effective suntanning strategy. One thing is clear: You’ll want extra protection during peak hours when that sun’s rays are the hottest and most damaging to your skin. Before you hit the beach or lounge by the pool, learn the best times to bask in the sun to help prevent the burn and stay sun-safe from head to toe.

The Optimal Tanning Time

While there are no foolproof ways to avoid skin damage when tanning, knowing the best time to tan is the most effective way to minimize sun exposure. When you are sunning outside, the American Cancer Society suggests that you tan either in the morning or during the late afternoon hours. Specifically, you should avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Also, wear sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.

Cloudy Afternoons Can Really Burn, Too

It’s true: Most dermatologists warn you to stay out of the sun during the midday hours. However, don’t think you are immune to sun damage if you have an afternoon tanning session on an overcast day. “Redbook” magazine reports that the sun’s rays can penetrate the clouds in the afternoon and cause damage to your skin, too. Also, if you are at the beach on a cloudy day, know that the sun’s rays can be reflective and intensified from bouncing off water and sand.

Sunscreen Smarts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage your skin in 15 minutes or less. That’s why it's important to put sunscreen on before you go outside, even on cool and partially cloudy days. The chemicals found in sunscreens are important because they can help deflect or absorb cancer-causing UV rays. Fifteen minutes before you go outside to tan, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends you apply a waterproof, broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection sunscreen, with an SPF of 30 or greater. To protect your skin from further damage, it's best to slather on sunscreen every two hours, according to dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D.

Banish the Burn

When you get a tan outside, your newly browned skin is a response to an injury to your skin cells. In fact, the American Cancer Society says your skin cells produce more pigment in response to UV ray sun damage. If you must sit outside during the midday hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the CDC recommends that you find a shaded area -- an umbrella, tree or other covered shelter -- to protect your skin from burning, and to limit your exposure to UV radiation. If during your outdoor sun session your skin begins to peel and blister or has a reddish appearance, you may be sunburned. To cool off the burn, apply a cold compress, dipped in equal parts of ice cubes, water and milk, for a minimum of 10 minutes to prevent swelling.