Tanning begins the moment you step out into the sun for most people. As UV rays penetrate the skin, it starts to break down DNA in the body (not a good start). The body’s response to this damage is to produce melanin. As sun exposure increases so the levels of Melanin increase making the skin appear darker. If you see someone who has had extensive exposure to the sun and hence high levels of Melanin then you can also assume that they have potentially higher levels of DNA damage to the skin.
Other than displaying a tan there are clear benefits from being out in the sunshine, you feel warm and it actually makes you feel better because all sorts of chemicals produced by the body in sunlight are known to improve the feeling of wellbeing so tanning safely can have beneifts. Vitamin D is one of the most notable and 20 minutes of exposing the skin to the sun daily can help ward off all manner of ailments. The problem comes when you either choose to extend the exposure time or amount of skin exposed. You then get into negative effects of sun exposure – DNA damage, burnt skin, fluid loss etc.
The risks of not tanning safely – ie excessive exposure to the sun include:
- DNA damage leading to all manner of lifelong problems
- Potential for skin cancer
- Melanoma skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body and is more dangerous. It’s related to the common mole and changes in the appearance of moles on your body should be checked by your GP. Malignant melanoma tends to spread much more rapidly through the bloodstream than the other two types of skin cancer. It affects the cells that produce the skin’s colouring, and if not treated successfully can spread to the liver, lungs or brain.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) involves another type of cell in the top layer of skin. It usually affects the face and the main symptom is an area of thickened, scaly skin that develops into a painless, hard lump, reddish brown in colour with an irregular edge. The lump becomes a recurring ulcer and doesn’t heal.
- Basal Cell carcinoma (BCC) affects a type of cell within the top layer of skin. It’s a slow-growing cancer and doesn’t usually spread to other parts of the body.
Skin becomes less elastic and creased – you begin to look more and more like a prune/raisin
- Skin spots – brown areas where the skin structure has been damaged
If the skin feels hot then it has probably been overexposed already – tanning safely requires some thought. If you want to look at the effects of the sun on skin over the long term – just look at the internet.
Tanning Safely – Can we get enough sunshine without direct UV exposure?
There has been extensive work to show that using well designed barrier materials, clothes, parasols, sun shades etc that it is quite possible to get enough UV exposure to raise the vitamin D levels to a beneficial level without seriously compromising your health by deliberate over exposure through tanning. There are several reputable clothing manufacturers’ today who produce clothing with UVA and UVB screening built in.
Sitting in the shade is clearly a very sensible approach to tanning safely but watch out for some unexpected sources of reflected UV from adjacent swimming pools and white plastic tables or even glass tables. Avoid exposure between 11am and 3pm
Suntan creams and lotions may aid tanning safely but watch out for some potentially very nasty chemicals – parabens, DHA, Erythrulose (genotoxic – meaning it alters the DNA of cells), Ethoxydiglycol, Perfumes and colouring agents and more recently nano particles of aluminium (such finely ground aluminium oxide that may be able to penetrate cell structure and certainly lodges in skin tissue longer term – check out nano particles in suncreen study). If you are unsure about the negative effects of the chemicals above just search on the internet.
Last week, the Environmental Working Group released its annual list of sunscreen rankings, warning again about the bulk of sunscreens “filled with problematic ingredients, unsubstantiated marketing claims and lackluster protection.’’ The group claims that three out of five sunscreens offer inadequate protection against ultraviolet A rays — which are associated with skin cancer and wrinkles. Tanning safely is not just about slapping on the nearest sunscreen and just getting on with it.
Tanning safely – Alternatives – you be the judge?
Tanning safely – alternatives? So are tanning spray booths any good? Probably not. Have you ever seen someone with yellow or even orange skin? It is almost certain that they have been sprayed with a chemical, dihydroxyacetone, which reacts with the skins amino acids causing a darkening of the skin. The higher the level of dihydroxyacetone the darker or more orange the resulting tone. Get it wrong and your skin goes orange – nice effect? The chemicals may also contain small amounts of mercury and other heavy metals. If you are pregnant or want to get pregnant we would strongly suggest you avoid these treatments. Oh yes and there is also evidence that use of dihydroxyacetone blocks the production of Vitamin D.
Tanning safely on a sunbed? Dangers of sunbeds? There has been a wide ranging debate about the benefits and risks of sunbeds and you would do well to examine the evidence before you make a decision to use them. The UK report by Raymond Waters is among the best.
That bronzed tanned look has long been associated with health and beauty. Human beings are sun-loving creatures, which makes sense, since countless generations before us have depended on the sun for its warmth, light and nourishment. Sunlight is vital for health. However, too much of a good thing is inevitably bad for us.
Keeping the advice simple:
- Maintain your vitamin D levels through exposing your skin to sunlight for a maximum of 20 minutes/day. Where this is not possible try using a very good quality Vitamin D3 supplement 1000microgramme/day minimum.
- When the sun is strong stay out of direct sunlight and use protective clothing or parasols.
- Avoid spray tanning booths that use dihydroxyacetone (DHA)
- Only use UV tanning beds once you understand the risks.
- If you are pregnant or want to get pregnant avoid anything more than 20 minutes of sun exposure a day and in particular when the sun is at it’s strongest. However, 20 minutes exposure/day will benefit you and your baby.
- Use UV protective clothing in preference to sunscreens but use suncreens/sunblocks if you have to be out in the sun. I noticed the other day that my right arm was darker than my left because it is exposed to sunlight more when I drive. Protect nose and ears with sunblock when ever you are out in the sun for more than 20 minutes.
- Choose the best suncreens that have fewer chemicals and preservatives than the cheaper brands.
- Don’t forget the eyes – check the UV protection factors and get the highest you can find.
Tanning Safely – Spray Tan Booths or DIY – are they safe?
Just because many celebrities use or have used spray tanning doesn’t mean it is safe. They include : Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Britney Spears, Anastacia, Victoria Beckam, Tom Cruise. However, not all their experiences would appear to have been positive. Victoria Beckham allegedly once became unconscious due to the chemicals used and operator error. George Hamilton, once addicted to tanning said “It’s so bad for skin!” It would appear that celebrities don’t sit out in the sun as it can be so harmful to both their health and their jobs.
The UK government hasn’t expressed view on the safety of spray tanning and the risks and it could take years for them to do so. In that time a generation could have done irreparable harm to themselves. Is it really worth the risk?
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If tanning safely is a goal then follow the tips above and you won’t go too far wrong.