It might sound extreme, but indoor and sun tanning should be a thing of the past. Whether you’ve been practicing it or are just considering trying it for the first time, you should know all the ways that it can be detrimental to your health. Let’s explore some common myths surrounding tanning.
While our society has certainly decided that tanned skin is desirable and the standard of beauty, it’s far from what someone should aspire to. People with fair complexions may even be mocked for looking pale or sickly, but in reality it's people that tan who are far more at risk for health issues. A tan is the skin’s reaction to sun damage. When ultraviolet radiation in sunlight penetrates the skin, it damages skin cells. The skin’s first reaction to this damage is to produce more melanin, which gives skin its darker color. When skin cells rebuild themselves from sun damage, the DNA can sometimes mutate and become cancerous. When this happens, skin cells regenerate at an accelerating rate, and cancer can spread to other parts of the body. There are several, common types of skin cancer and all of them are caused by sun damage.
Before you head off to a beachside vacation, you may already be in the habit of getting a “base tan.” The concept of a base tan is simple, but flawed: if your skin is tan then it’s less prone to be burned. The SPF, or sun protection factor of a base tan is about 3 or 4. That is not sufficient for protection against damage. In direct sunlight, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more is necessary. A base tan is woefully short of that goal, so while you might not see the burn through your tan, it’s there. A tan is bad enough, but a bad sunburn is hard in the short and long term. Finally, as we’ve already discussed, a tan itself is too much damage to risk!
For some reason, the myth that a tanning bed is safer than the tanning in the sun has been perpetuated throughout the world. This is simply false. Tanning beds use UVB and UVA radiation to elicit the same reaction from your skin. As skin absorbs this concentrated ultraviolet light, it tans. It’s a more controlled environment, but you can just as easily burn beneath a tanning light as the sun. The reason that this myth began probably lies in the fact that indoor tanning session lengths are planned out to prevent burning, but a variety of factors play into that calculation. For novice tanners, they may still burn. It’s not something you can see as it happens. Your skin is sunburned before it reddens. Lastly, a single sunburn is a lot less likely to cause cancer than years of indoor tanning. Sun damage can cause cancer, and the severity of it doesn’t matter as much as the frequency of your exposure. Scientists believe that indoor tanning contributes to about 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year. And artificial UV light is not limited to tanning beds. Tanning booths, tanning lights and sun lamps are all as dangerous or more dangerous than sunlight.
This myth is not limited to tanning, but many believe that exposure to sunlight is crucial in getting sufficient vitamin D. You may have heard that your vitamin D levels decrease in the winter, especially in New England where the snow and bitter cold keeps us indoors. While UVB light can help with vitamin D production, it is wholly unnecessary. A healthy diet can get you all the vitamin D you need, without the unnecessary side effect of sun damage. Tanning beds and other indoor tanning equipment use UVA light primarily, which does not provide the body with substantial amounts of vitamin D. So the belief that your moods, your energy or your health are related to vitamin D and tanning are just plain false. Tanning addiction is possible however, and the dopamine rush of tanning can make it a difficult habit to kick. Stopping is not always easy, but no matter how long you’ve been at it, you should attempt to discontinue tanning indoors or out.
Tanning is sun damage, and if you’re only listening to other people who tan, you are absolutely not getting a clear picture of the perils it can lead to. If you still aren’t convinced that tanning is detrimental to your health, or you want to learn more, reach out to the skincare professionals at Northeast Dermatology Associates.
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