May has been dubbed Cancer Research Month as well as Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month and the 24th of May is “Don’t Fry Day”, with less than 10 days to go, now seems like the perfect time to talk about the damaging effects of tanning. I can literally hear the collective groan this statement caused. It’s understandable, every summer we’re told by every media outlet that tanning causes skin cancer and blah blah blah. Everybody talks about why tanning is so bad for you, but no one really talks about what it really is. Maybe if they did people would have a better understanding of why it’s so dangerous and be more inclined to stop.
Tanning isn’t purely cosmetic as a lot people tend to believe; it’s actually your body’s biological defense system against ultraviolet rays, your body’s attempt to shield itself from the damaging effects of exposure to the sun. When we become exposed to ultraviolet rays, the rays penetrate through the surface of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin) activating melanocytes to begin producing melanin (pigment that gives the skin colour) to shield the cells from damage. Brown pigment is found in melanin which is why tanning makes us brown. Eventually the dead cells along with pigment move to the surface of the epidermis and shed, this is what causes a tan to fad. A tan from the sun is an indication of damage to the cells.
Sun damage is the single biggest factor contributing to premature aging, repetitive sun exposure can cause severe damage to the skin structure such as; deconstruction and alteration of collagen, elastin, hyalronic acid, ground substance and damage to blood vessels and cells. Aging symptoms related to sun exposure are referred to as Photoaging and can include; wrinkles, elastosis, pigmentation disorders, roughness, leathery texture, dilated capillaries and of course skin cancer. Those who use tanning beds or booths don’t think those are safe alternatives…there not. Tanning beds and booths use UVA (the more harmful of the two UV rays) to tan the skin. You may not burn in a bed but you are receiving close-range doses of UVA and therefore are still causing cell damage. The only safe tan is one that comes from a bottle, as in a self tanning product.
Even if you are not one to tan that doesn’t mean you’re safe from sun damage, most sun damage occurs from occasional, non deliberate exposure such as walking the dog, playing outside with the kids or even sitting by a window and occurs before we turn 18 which is why it is so important to wear sunscreen everyday! Clouds only filter a small amount of UV rays so even on days when it’s raining or there is an over cast you should still wear sunscreen, during the day light hours you can still get sun.
The best protection against sun damage, as mentioned previously, is to wear sunscreen every day. For the average person SPF 15-broad spectrum sunscreen used daily is good protection, but if you plan on being in direct sun for a long period of time like you would going to the beach or the zoo or have had previous problems with skin cancer or other sun related medical problems than an SPF 30 is recommended. Apply sunscreen 30 min prior to going outside, this allows the sunscreen to absorb properly and to work more effectively. Remember to reapply every 3 hours while you are still in direct sunlight or after you come out of the water if you are not wearing water-resistant sunscreen. To prevent UV damage to the eyes which can lead to cataracts and other problems, wear a good pair of UV filtered sunglasses. This will also help prevent squint lines. Hats and umbrellas is another way to protect against sun damage but remember it’s no substitution for broad spectrum sunscreen.
Those in favour of tanning tend to be teen and young adults, an age population that has an “I’m invincible”, to them Cancer is something that happens to someone else never to them because young people don’t die. Unfortunately a recent study came out showing that those most likely to be diagnosed with Melanoma are those aged 15-29. Melanoma may not cause as many deaths as some of the other cancers but it does kill, which is why it is so important to do everything we can to try prevent it from even developing. The best way to do that is to not tan. I know this will be hard for some people because they genially believe they looked better tanned, to them I say look at it this way: I’d rather be pale and healthy than tanned and dying.
Did You Know…?
- Tanning first became popular in the 1930’s after Helena Rubinstein started promoting “an amazing new sunburn preventive” and with that centuries of protecting pale skin was wiped out
- In ancient times having pale skin was desired because it was a symbol of your wealth. Wealthier people tended to be pale due to the fact they had the luxury of working indoors protected from the sun while peasants tended to be tanned due to the fact they worked the fields.