Is There Such a Thing as a Safe Tan?
For many of us, the ideal summer look includes beautifully bronzed skin. We tend to view it as highly attractive and healthy. Although society may favor the sun-kissed look, physicians would certainly disagree. To them, a tan is evidence of sun damage, not a beauty goal.
Whether or not we should be seeking a golden summer glow, we certainly do. From the real deal to some of the many ways to "fake and bake," many of us still associate the perfect summer tan with summer fun and robust health. There are, of course, methods of achieving our desired color with less risk than old-fashioned sunbathing. Only the most foolish among us would consider slathering on baby oil and lying in the sun as was common only a generation ago.
Sunbathing without the protection of sunscreen is an invitation to premature aging of the skin as well as skin cancer. Although a limited amount of unprotected sun exposure may be recommended in order for our bodies to produce a sufficient amount of Vitamin D, this requires only a few minutes of early morning or late afternoon exposure. No responsible physician would condone spending time in the midday sun without the protection of a broad spectrum sunscreen.
Choosing a sunscreen is usually done by SPF factor. The higher the number, the longer you can be outside without burning. There are two basic forms of sunscreen; one works by absorbing UV light while the other disperses the sun's rays. Recent advancements in sunscreens make them lighter on the skin, which is certainly more pleasant to wear than yesteryear's heavy, oily versions. There are a few cautions, however. No sunscreen provides complete protection, so slathering on the sunscreen is by no means a license to spend countless hours in the sun without risk. In fact, although a high SPF number may mean that you will not suffer sunburn, there are no guarantees that you will not still be exposed to harmful UVA radiation.
UV radiation is made up primarily of two types of rays: UVA rays are thought to penetrate the skin at a deep level, so although you may not show reddening of your skin after exposure, UVA exposure can cause wrinkles and leathery skin -- certainly not the goal when we choose sunbathing to get beautiful summer skin! Additionally, UVA rays are responsible for several types of skin cancer, including melanoma, which can be deadly. UVB rays will cause painful sunburn and may also be the root cause of some types of skin cancer.
One word of caution: not all sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and even in those that do, there is no such thing as complete protection. Clearly, when exposing your skin to the summer sun, moderation is best.
Informed tan seekers often forego the sun's rays altogether in favor of an artificial tan. Unlike the products of several decades ago which produced an unattractive orange color on most people, today's faux tanning products often provide users with an even, natural color that can be hard to distinguish from the real thing. As with all things, however, some are better than others.
Tanning beds are never a good choice. A recent report suggests that the radiation delivered from sun beds is actually more harmful that those produced by the sun. Just steer clear.
Back in the Eighties, tanning tablets were popular. The large quantity of color additives in these tablets were ultimately proven to pose dangers to users, however, and were banned from being sold in the U.S. Tan seekers suffered side effects including an eye disorder that left yellow deposits in the retinas, an itching condition called urticaria, and even hepatitis. Although today's formulations appear to be safer, there are better options available.
Wiser choices? Spray tans are increasingly popular and appear to be pretty safe. There have been a few isolated instances of patrons complaining of throat problems that they believe stemmed from inhalation of the tanning product and one alleged case of an unclean tanning nozzle causing the tanning solution to separate, filling the chamber with chemicals. Sticking with well known companies reduces any risks, and overall, spray tans seem alright.
The winner, hands down, in the tanning competition is self-tanning lotion. When used as directed, these lotions produce a natural, streak free "tan" that has no documented side effects. Unless you happen to be one of the rare people who have a sensitivity to self-tanning lotions, you can consider them to be your safest bet for the look of a beautiful, bronze summer tan.