Is Tanning Bad for Your Health?
With summer just around the corner, temperatures are beginning to rise as the sun starts to turn up the heat! Soon pools and beaches will begin opening, inviting a multitude of summer enthusiasts to soak up the rays while relaxing and cooking out.
Inevitably, if you plan to enjoy outdoor summer activities, your skin will be exposed to the sun for longer periods of time compared to the colder months. For fair-skinned folks, this means developing a tan over time.
While a pristine tan is often coveted during the warmer seasons, not many people actually stop to question whether or not all that sunlight is good for your skin…or overall health, for that matter. We’ve already established that sunlight is very good for you in proper moderation, but what about in the high amounts it takes to produce a solid tan? After all, various skin cancers are linked to overexposure to the sun.
So should you really seek that glorious tan this summer? Let’s bring science into the picture for an answer.
How Does the Sun Give You a Tan?
The science of tanning is simple. Your skin contains pigmentations known as melanin, which determines how dark it appears. The base amount of melanin in a person’s skin is primarily brought about by genetics and race. Higher amounts of melanin lead to darker skin tones—conversely, low levels of melanin result in pale white skin. Those with albinism lack nearly any trace of melanin.
When sunlight touches your skin, its ultraviolet (UV) radiation is absorbed by your skin cells and enters your body. Once taken in, some of the UV radiation burns your top skin layers and gradually results in sunburn. But other types of radiation (known as UVA radiation) penetrate to the lower layers of your epidermis and cause a somewhat troubling reaction.
In the bottom layers of your skin, the presence of UVA radiation triggers the production of extra melanin from special cells known as melanocytes. These additional sources of melanin make your top layer of skin a darker pigment in order to better protect it against the sun’s rays, helping to prevent sunburn in the future. That’s right: technically, tans are a natural defense from the body against the sun’s hazardous radiation.
But just what is the body defending against?
Is a Tan Dangerous For Your Body?
The UVA radiation from the sun doesn’t just stop at your upper skin layers.
Most of the time, UVA rays are capable of being absorbed much deeper into your skin than you’d think. They can generally go all the way through your epidermis (outer skin layer) to your dermis (inner skin layer). Blood vessels, veins, nerves, and other really important things are located at this depth!
The sun’s radiation can cause serious problems for the healthy function of these networks beneath your skin spanning your entire body. Most commonly, your immune system will take a hit, making it more difficult for your body to fight off diseases and harmful bacteria that take up residence. But in worse cases, skin cancers can develop that are often fatal.
Melanoma—one of the worst types of skin cancer—can emerge from a melanocyte cell that has been affected and damaged by too much sunlight. First symptoms often appear like a new mole on the skin that is usually uneven, large, and discolored. The mole will continually evolve, grow, and change shapes, eventually spreading to important organs and leading to life-threatening conditions. If melanoma falls too deeply into your skin, it is able to reach your blood stream and travel all across your body. As a result, catching it early is vital.
With all of this in mind, purposefully seeking a tan without proper protection is generally a bad idea. Your body produces a tan as a means of protecting itself from the sun…not to look good! And despite your skin’s efforts, even a dark tan is only equal to sun protection factor (SPF) 3 in terms of radiation prevention. Many dermatologists will recommend SPF 30 for proper shielding from the sunlight, meaning it’s unwise to depend on a base tan for protection.
Sunlight exposure also leads to premature skin aging. Too much UV radiation can actually make you look older much earlier than you should!
(By the way: all of this information applies to the use of tanning beds, too. Radiation is radiation, whether it comes from the sun or not!)
How Can I Prevent Too Much Tanning?
Thankfully, there are several ways to go about enjoying the summer sunshine without putting your skin at risk.
The first (and most obvious) method is to limit how much time you spend out in the sun to begin with. The sun typically shines brightest in the late morning and afternoon hours of the day, so be wary of being outside during those times. No longer than 30 minutes per outing should be fine.
For extended time outside (even on cloudy days), grab some sunscreen and apply it to as much of your exposed skin as possible. This will provide you with the best UV protection, especially when combined with sunscreens boasting higher SPF values. If your skin is particularly prone to sunburn, try reaching for the more powerful sunscreen solutions. Don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen every one and a half to two hours, or immediately after you swim or get a sweat going.
Other ways of dealing with the sun’s UV radiation include wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and using umbrellas to block sunlight. If you intend to work on a project outside or spend longer periods of time in the sunlight, remember to take breaks to prevent as much skin damage as you can.
In the end, tanning is something that is better avoided rather than sought out.
So next time you consider laying out by the pool, don’t forget to take all the precautions to ensure your skin is safe. You might think a tan will look good on you now, but the accumulating effects of excessive sunlight exposure on your body are never worth it later in life!
Give Your Immune System a Hand!
We doubt we’re the first ones to tell you this, but pool water can be filthy! Additionally, all of the outdoor facilities you’ll probably use this summer are great spots for bacteria colonies to grow and cause problems for your health.
Be sure to stock up on Muse Health’s Fragrance-free Hand Sanitizer before your summertime adventures begin—that way you’ll be prepared for any grimy situations you might find yourself in during the hot season.