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Sun Exposure: Better Safe than Sore-y

Are you doing what you should to be safe in the sun?

With pool weather and beach season approaching, there are many more bronzed bodies and tanned faces walking around. Whether being tan makes you feel healthier, skinnier, or sexier, some go through extensive efforts to get a tan — from lying at the pool for hours, buying often expensive packages at tanning salons, or even slathering blotchy self-tanners on their bodies. Whatever the reason, extensive exposure to the sun can result in more than just a nice tan.

Tanning is a sign of the skin reacting to potentially damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The change in skin color is caused by the production of additional pigmentation in an effort to protect itself from the sun. Repeated exposure to UV radiation either from the natural sun or from exposure to sun lamps in tanning salons, increases the risk of premature aging and skin cancer, but also increases risk of getting sunburns.

Besides being quite painful at times, sunburns are quite dangerous.

A sunburn is just as it sounds. It is a burn (usually 1st degree) from the UV radiation of the sun.

There are different types of UV wavelengths in the light spectrum — UV-A and UV-B. Both are damaging to the skin. However, UV-B damages the outer layer or skin while UV-A rays penetrate the deeper layers of skin. Both UV-A and UV-B are responsible for premature aging, wrinkles and sunburns.

Everyone should take precautions against sunburns. However, there are certain groups of people that need to be extra careful when it comes to sun exposure. This includes those:

  • With pale skin.

  • With blonde, red or light brown hair.

  • Who have been treated for skin cancer or have a family history of skin cancer

  • Who are on medications- Some prescription drugs and skin products can cause sensitivity to the sun. make sure to check the prescription labels for side effects and check with your physician or pharmacist

So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family?

  1. Use Sunscreen
    The best way to protect yourself from the sun, both at the beach and when sitting in your own backyard, is to use sunscreen. Examine the sunscreen labels to ensure you are using an adequate product. Look for:

    • Sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are good for water sports because they last longer.

    • SPF (sun protection factor) or at least 15. SPF refers to the degree of protection. The higher the number the better the protection.

    • Broad spectrum protection- protects against both UV-A and UV-B

    • Water-resistant sunscreens hold up better and last longer. However, these products still need to be reapplied regularly.

Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, or after you go in the water or sweat.

Don’t worry, you are still able to get a tan while wearing the appropriate sunscreen.

  1. Reduce Time in the Sun
    Sure, it’s tempting…sitting out in the sun during “prime time” sun hours. However, UV rays are strongest and most dangerous during midday hours, especially from 10am to 4pm. Stay in the shade as much as possible during these hours, even on cloudy days. It’s still possible to get sunburn when it’s overcast outside. In fact, up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can get through the clouds.
  1. Dress for Function (and fashion too)
    Grab your favorite floppy hat and umbrella next time you hit the beach. It’s important to wear clothes that protect your body to avoid sunburn. Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a hat with larger brim or long sleeves and pants to protect yourself.

Do you get a “Base-Tan” Before Vacation?

Thinking this will protect you from sunburn when you go away, you may go to a tanning salon to get a “base tan.” But remember, any change in skin color is a result of UV exposure. You can still burn from the sunlamps also. So, the best way to protect yourself on summer vacation is to follow the tips above.

Indoor Tanning: Better or Worse?

Indoor tanning has become much more popular over the past years. Teenagers, specifically, are choosing to “fake and bake” more often, several times a week and at ages as young as 13 or 14.

Tanning salons have exposure schedules in place to set a maximum recommended time based on the beds, your skin type, and your experience with tanning. This leads some people to believe that indoor tanning is safer because it is more controlled than being outside. However, tanning salons present the same dangers as the natural sun.

Tanning beds produce both UV-A and UV-B rays. So, the dangers of sunburns, premature aging and skin cancer are still present.

If you do choose to use tanning beds or booths, it’s important to take precautions similar to when you are exposed to the natural sun.

  • Wear goggles to protect your eyes from damage

  • Start slowly and go tanning in short intervals to build a tan gradually

  • Wear at least 15 SPF sunscreen when tanning

  • Follow the recommended exposure times for your skin type

  • After a tan is developed, tan no more than once a week

Vitamin “D”ficiency

Recently there have been discussions regarding the role of sun exposure in Vitamin D deficiencies. Experts have stated that UV exposure, from both tanning booths and the sun, provide a valuable source of Vitamin D. In fact, UV light interacts with chemicals in human skin to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D then helps in calcium absorption and prevents abnormal cell growth.

Although the science behind this is true, it has been proven that the UV exposure necessary for adequate Vitamin D production is much less than the amount of time people spend tanning.

To date, tanning isn’t proven to be good for your health.

Tanning Pills

Some tanning pills contain canthaxanthin, which can turn the skin colors ranging from orange to brown when ingested. However, tanning pills are not approved by the FDA. So, they are not recommended.

Spray Tanning- A Safe Alternative to Tanning

Sun exposure is not all or nothing. There is a safe alternative to UV exposure. Sunless tanning products are commonly seen as creams, lotions and sprays that are applied to the skin. Tanning salons have even diversified to offer this alternative to clients in the form of spray tanning.

The active ingredient in these products is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA reacts with the outermost layers of skin to darken the skin’s appearance. This coloring gradually fades as the dead skin cells shed (usually in 5-7 days).

These self tanners give your skin a tanned look without the exposure to UV light. But are these alternatives safe?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers DHA safe when applied to the skin. However, it is still important to follow instructions when applying these products, particularly when applying them to your entire body and face such as in a tanning salon. The effects of inhaling or ingesting these products are unknown. So, make sure to close your eyes and hold your breather when these are applied in spray form. If protective items, such as goggles or nose plugs, are provided use them.

Check Yourself

Check your skin regularly for signs of skin cancer. Look for new moles, spots or sores. Also look for changes in the size, shape or color of existing birthmarks and moles.

Long-term consequences of overexposure to the sun are significant. Just one blistering sunburn doubles your chances of developing malignant melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

Skin cancer is directly related to the amount of sun exposure you have had. This is determined by skin pigmentation and hours in the sun. There are different types of skin cancer including:

  • Basal cell carcinoma- develops from abnormal growth of the cells in the lowest layer of the epidermis. This is the most common type of skin cancer

  • Squamous cell carcinoma- involved changes in the cells found in the middle layer of the epidermis

  • Melanoma- occurs in the melanocytes (the cells that produce pigment). This is less common than basal of squamous cell carcinomas, but it is much more dangerous.

Exposure over a long period of time can cause premature wrinkling, aging of the skin, and age spots.

Make sure to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns regarding your skin. You can still have fun in the sun without compromising your health.


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