The question about whether any sort of sun tan is safe is one that’s asked constantly and brings a different answer depending on who you ask.
Recently U.S. and British researchers reviewed published studies and noticed that both tans and skin cancer start with changes to the DNA that comes from ultraviolet light. “The signals in the cells that induce sun tanning appear to be DNA damage,” said Dorothy Bennett, a cell biologist at St. George’s University of London. She insists that anything that causes mutations in the cells will increase your risk of cancer. The link between skin cancer and tans that come from the sun or tanning booths is well documented, but the new study presents the idea that even a little bit of exposure of either kind can be dangerous.
The World Health Organization estimates that 60,000 people die each year from exposure to too much ultraviolet light. According to the information provided on the site, “A large number of studies indicate that the risk of malignant melanoma correlates with genetic and personal characteristics, and a person’s UV exposure behaviour.”
Beyond the skin cancer risk, exposure to the sun speeds up aging, cataracts and other eye problems, and may even reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.
Here are some surprising things you might want to know about sun tanning:
– Your tan is your body’s defense against further UV damage.
– The protection of sunscreens depends more than anything on applying them correctly.
– A deep tan only provides an estimated SPF of 4.
– UV exposure is cumulative over a day.
– UV radiation can’t be felt; a hazy sky or water can enhance your exposure.
But don’t we need some sun exposure?
The sun brings us light, heat and UV radiation, which aren’t all bad. UVB rays from the sun help our bodies convert precursor chemicals into vitamin D — giving us about 90% of what we need. Deficiencies of vitamin D are very common, and without enough of this essential nutrient, you’re at risk for developing many serious diseases including osteoporosis and some cancers, infectious disease and heart disease.
“Sun is crucial to your overall physical and mental well-being,” says Dr. Michael F. Holick, author of The UV Advantage, and professor of Medicine, Dermatology, Physiology and Biophysics at Boston University Medical Center. Holick is the expert who uncovered evidence that vitamin D is produced by sun exposure and is necessary to say healthy.
So what to do? Too much sun exposure increases your skin cancer risk, too little puts you at risk for not having the vitamin D your body needs.
Here’s the way to strike a balance:
– Get natural sunlight in the off peak hours — early morning or later in the afternoon. Be sure to apply (and re-apply) any sunscreen you use when you’re out in the sun during peak hours — 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.
– Avoid tanning beds and the risks of UV exposure (and DNA damage), especially important for younger women.
– Get that golden, sun tan glow from sunless tanning products that are safe to use (they don’t enter the body) so long as you follow the package directions.