Having the glow that comes with a tan has always been desirable, but unfortunately, ultraviolet light is the leading cause of skin cancer. Knowing why tanning isn’t good for your skin is a good way to be sure you’re taking care of yourself and avoiding any long-term damage that might occur from sun exposure or time in a tanning bed.
There are several factors that affect how much UV exposure you're actually receiving when you’re outside in the sun. These include the time of day, the season, your distance from the equator, and even your altitude. In addition, clouds can have some effect on UV exposure. But remember, UV rays can still penetrate clouds. As far as man-made UV radiation, the most common source of exposure is tanning beds. So if you're fond of tanning, be aware that you're receiving high exposure to potentially harmful UV rays.
Tanning can lead to different levels of sun damage. You can get sunburnt from a tanning bed as easily as you can from the sun, and UV exposure can cause dehydration and premature aging. Heat rash can be caused by excessive sweating. Scars and stretch marks can also be affected by UV light, and they’ll darken more quickly than healthy skin and become more prominent. Actinic keratosis is sun damage that looks like rough skin that accompanies a sunburn and is considered an early development stage of skin cancer.
There are myths that tanning can be good for you (it isn’t!). One of the most popular things people use to justify tanning, especially for tanning beds, is the “base tan,” the thought that a light tan early in the season can help protect your skin from sun damage as you build a tan over the summer. In reality, a tan is already proof of skin damage! When exposed to UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources, your skin redistributes melanin in an attempt to protect itself from further damage.
People may also think vitamin D is only available from the sun, but many foods like milk and cereal are fortified with vitamin D, and there are supplements that effectively help your body make the vitamin D it needs for a strong immune system.
There are options for glowing skin that avoid UV exposure. First, exfoliation of any kind will remove dead skin and show off your own skin’s natural glow. Self-tanning creams and other coloring foundations can, when properly applied, add vibrance to your look. Professional treatments like facials, full-body massages, and chemical peels are also options for fresh, radiant skin.
The best risk mitigation is not to tan in the first place, to stop the habit of tanning if you have one, and to protect your skin when you’re in the sun. When you are outside, wearing sunscreen with SPF 30+ will work, and for long periods, 50+ will be more appropriate. It can be difficult to wear long clothes or find shade in the summer, so sunscreen is your best bet.
If you have spent a lot of time exposed to UV rays, whether in the sun or a tanning bed, regular skin cancer screening is crucial to watch for new developments. Schedule an appointment today for an examination by one of our dermatology specialists and to determine the right skincare strategy for you.