It’s that time of the year. Time to pack your bags and head out to the beach, where you can relax with your friends and swim in clear blue waters. But you are as pale as a ghost. You don’t want to get a sunburn. That’ll spoil your holiday.
You’ve heard that a base tan can prevent that from happening, so, before leaving, you book a couple of sessions at your local tanning salon. Now you’ll be able to soak up the sun and enjoy yourself without worrying about sun damage.
Or so the myth goes. The reality is very different.
The Grain Of Truth In The Myth
Every myth is based on a truth, which is usually then distorted, warped, or exaggerated. In this case, it is true that a base tan provides some sun protection. As much as a sunscreen with SPF 3-5! That’s far below the minimum level of sun protection recommended by experts, which is 15. So, basically, a base tan is a very ineffective way to protect your skin from UV rays. And a very dumb one too.
There Is No Such Thing As A Safe Tan
We associate that tanned, bronzed skin with health, but there is nothing healthy about a tan, believe me! A tan, whether you get it from lying on the beach or in a tanning bed, is your body’s way of protecting itself from UV rays. When they hit your skin, they damage the DNA in your skin cells. These cells then signal the body to produce melanin as protection from the harmful effects of UV rays.
But by then, the damage has already been done. A tan is always a sign of damaged skin. And its natural SPF is too low to protect you from sunburns. Insisting on staying in the sun (or keep going to tanning salons) to get an even darker tan your friends will envy you for for the rest of the summer only increases your risk of developing skin cancer, wrinkles, and sun spots!
Wrinkles and sun spots are caused by UVA rays, the type that is in tanning beds. But they are also present from the moment the sun comes up from the moment it goes down, causing all sorts of damage to your skin. They make you age faster and can, like sunburn-inducing UVB rays, contribute to the formation of skin cancer.
This damage doesn’t show up on your skin immediately. If 5 minutes in the sun were enough to turn you into a wrinkled boxer dog, you would surely avoid the beach like the plague! Or, at least, slather yourself well in sunscreen before heading out the door and reapply it frequently throughout the day. Instead, the damage can show up even years later, when it’s already too late to do anything about it! Argh! Don’t you hate those sneaky UV rays?
So, How Can You Enjoy The Sun Safely?
Luckily, you don’t need to spend the summer hidden indoors to protect yourself from sun damage. You can still spend time outdoors, and even enjoy hours at the beach, without worrying about getting wrinkles, sun spots, and cancer. You just need to take the appropriate precautions:
- 1. Buy a tube of broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. SPF 15 may be the minimum recommended by dermatologists, but in summer, it doesn’t hurt to use something more powerful. My favourites are all zinc oxide-based, like Sunumbra Sunkids SPF 40. They’re gentle and protect skin well from both UVA and UVB rays.
- 2. Apply sunscreen generously before leaving the house, and then every 2 hours. Sunscreen doesn’t last forever. After a while, it is not able to protect your skin as well, and so must be reapplied again. Water, sweat, and towel drying can all make sunscreen last less by removing it from your skin. In that case, reapplication is, again, a must.
- 3. Wear sun-protective clothes like broad-brimmed hats, UV-blocking sunglasses, and tightly woven, dark- or bright-colored clothes. You may feel weird at first, but you’ll be glad you did when, 10 years from now, you’ll be looking younger and be healthier than all your friends.
- 4. Seek the shade between 10am and 4pm. That’s when the sun is strongest and does the most damage to your skin. Don’t allow it to!
The Bottom Line
There is no such thing as a safe, healthy tan. A tan is a sign that your skin is damaged. So, avoid tanning beds and pile on the sunscreen. It may seem unfair now, but one day soon, you’ll be glad you did!
Have you ever gotten a base tan?