After several months of minimal sunshine, cold days, and dry skin, it’s no wonder so many people can’t wait to bathe their bodies in the sunlight once summer comes around. Of course, spending too much time in the sun can lead to burning and even skin cancer. But what’s wrong with getting a nice, healthy tan? For starters, there is no such thing as a “healthy” tan. The bottom line is that tanned skin indicates damaged skin. That said, not everyone who gets a tan will end up with serious damage or skin cancer. And if you truly can’t resist getting a summer glow, there are different ways to go about it, some of which are safer than others.
Simply put, the faster you can get your summer tan, and the more precautions you take, the better. You will still be putting your health at risk, but to a lesser degree than you would otherwise. Let’s go over these self-tanning tips that minimize the risk of sun damage while still delivering a beautiful glow.
Understanding how and why tanning occurs can help you navigate this actively more safely. Essentially, when the ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays reach your skin, the cells known as melanocytes begin to produce melanin (which darkens skin pigmentation) in order to absorb the energy and protect your skin cells from harm. This reaction takes time, of course, and the body has a daily cut-off point (between 2-3 hours of sun exposure) after which no more melanin will be produced. After this point, the skin will not get any darker and it will also cease to protect itself from UV damage -- this is typically when people get sunburned. Knowing this, there is no reason to stay out in the sun beyond 2-3 hours at a time (you won’t get any more tan), and doing so is in fact dangerous.
If you want to obtain an even tan in the shortest span of time, it helps to prepare your skin ahead of time, namely by exfoliating it, cleaning it, and moisturizing it. Taking good care of your skin before, during, and after tanning will help your skin maintain its glow for a long time.
Some people think that sunscreen stands in the way of a good tan -- this is far from true, and failing to wear enough sunscreen when tanning can be devastating for your skin’s health. The key is using an SPF 30 sunscreen, as this will protect your skin from sun damage while still allowing your skin to produce some color. Using a weaker sunscreen puts your skin at greater risk for harm, and using one with an SPF higher than 30 will reflect more of the sun’s rays and cause you to tan more slowly. So, if you want a glow this summer, SPF 30 is the sweet spot for sunscreen.
Acquiring an even tan requires strategic positioning on your part. If you move too frequently or stay still for too long, the sun’s rays will hit certain parts of your body more or less than others. Additionally, letting the sun target one side of your body for too long is a surefire way to get sun damaged skin. So, switch up your position every 30 minutes or so to ensure full, even coverage, and avoid burning.
The sun is strongest in the middle of the day (between noon and 4 P.M.) when it’s highest in the sky. So, if you want to get tan in a short span of time, you might consider going out during these peak hours. However, tanning during this window also puts your skin at the greatest risk of harm. As such, those with sensitive skin might be better off tanning earlier or later in the day to mitigate this risk. It’s ultimately your call, but the more you know your skin, the better.
As it turns out, what you put inside your body can also protect your skin from the sun’s negative effects. Foods rich in lycopene, such as watermelon and tomatoes, can protect your skin from UV damage. Fortunately, foods such as these are summer staples anyway, so feel free to chow down on these delights if you don’t normally do so.
Lastly, if you’re serious about skin cancer prevention and avoiding sun damage more broadly, you can tan your skin without the sun’s help. Self-tanning lotions, sprays, and creams are generally safe when used as directed and can produce similar results to a tan received from UV light. They work by reacting with and darkening the skin’s outermost layer of dead cells. Self-tans typically don’t last as long as suntans, and results can vary from one person to the next. Still, finding the right self-tanning product and regimen for your skin can help you achieve a healthy-looking glow without putting your skin and health at risk.
There’s no safe or healthy way to tan in the sun, which is why, if you’re going to tan this summer, it’s important to be smart, aware, and take every possible precaution. Here at Premier Dermatology Partners, we’re happy to give our patients more detailed information about proper sun safety, tanning tips and warnings, how to identify early signs of skin cancer, and more.
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