The Truth About Tanning and Sun Exposure

When the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, you may want to spend more time outside. Perhaps you’re looking forward to the sun-kissed glow of a fresh tan after a relaxing day on the beach. But before you go, there are a few things you should know about sun exposure. The truth is, it’s not that healthy.

Suntanning Risks

Bronzed skin may look good, but suntanning comes with risks. The sun emits ultraviolet radiation. Two particular types — UVA and UVB — affect your skin.

What is tanning anyway?

Have you ever wondered what makes your skin darken in the sun? Well, it happens because when your skin is exposed to the sun’s UVA rays, skin pigment (melanin) changes to a darker shade. Getting tanned is actually a sign of skin damage.

What are the risks to suntanning?

Exposure to the sun’s UV rays can result in health problems such as:

  • Early-onset skin aging
  • Skin cancers like melanoma
  • Thick, scaly patches of skin called actinic keratosis
  • Eye problems, such as cataracts
  • A weakened immune system

Skin Conditions and the Sun

If you have a chronic skin condition like eczema, make sure it’s under control. Medicine is often much cheaper in countries outside the U.S., so you can find medications like ELIDEL Cream (pimecrolimus) through a referral site like Canada Drug Warehouse.

Interestingly, UVB exposure is effective in treating psoriasis, another chronic skin condition. However, if you have psoriasis, don’t simply go out and stand in the sun! Consult with your doctor first. You may then be referred to as phototherapy (light therapy), which should be done in a clinic.

According to the National Eczema Society, some types of eczema can be improved by sun exposure, while other types of eczema are aggravated by it. People with eczema should protect their skin with sunscreen as well. Talk to your doctor about how you can best protect your own unique skin.

Sun Protection

Sun-related health concerns sound scary whether you have a pre-existing skin condition or not, but you don’t need to hide indoors for the entire summer. Simple actions can protect your skin:

  1. Wear light, protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt. To keep you cool, wear light colors.
  2. Put on sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays.
  3. Buy a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protective factor) rating of 15 or higher. Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outside, and re-apply at least once every two hours.
  4. Avoid the sun when it is strongest, which is between 10 AM and 4 PM.

People with fair skin should use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen to be extra safe.

Tanning Alternatives

Unfortunately, indoor tanning beds aren’t safer than tanning outside. They can also expose you to UV rays and damage your skin. In fact, tanning beds may expose you to even more UVA rays than the sun. Getting a “base tan” before heading outside for a tanning session won’t protect you from the sun either. Young people are at an even higher risk of developing melanoma.

Tanning pills are available to change the pigment of your skin, but they may be dangerous and are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, DHA, a chemical used in tanning lotions and gels, is approved by the FDA. Just be careful not to let the substances enter your nose, mouth, and eyes. And remember than sunless tanners do not protect you from UV rays.

Your skin is the largest organ of your body and protects you from the outdoor elements. Make sure you take care of it so you can look and feel good for many years to come.

To read more on topics like this, check out the health category.