Summer is right around the corner, and that means it’s time to dust off those shorts and get outside! As tempting as a tan may look, under the surface that sun exposure is causing irreversible damage to your skin. Luckily, there are healthier options to achieve that coveted bronze look without the risk of cancer and premature aging.
Perhaps the most concerning risk of excessive sun exposure is the increased risk of cancer it can pose. The 3 main types of skin cancers are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – and tanning will increase your risk of getting all three. The damage to your skin from each tanning session is cumulative, with mutations and injury building up over a person’s lifetime.
Contrary to popular belief, there is NO such thing as a safe tan. Sun exposure is always dangerous, even if your complexion is naturally darker to begin with. Whether your tan is from a tanning booth or natural sunlight, achieved quickly or gradually- every moment spent in the sun is adding to your risk of developing skin cancer.
The best way to decrease your risk of developing skin cancer is to follow a few simple rules:
- Stay in the shade and wear protective hats and clothing if you do have to be in the sun
- Avoid sun exposure when UV rays are the highest: between 10am and 4pm in the US
- Apply SPF 30 or higher on any exposed areas and reapply every 1-2 hours or more frequently if sweating or swimming
- Not all sunscreens are created equal – check out this helpful resource from the Environmental Working Group to choose the right SPF for you
- Get regular skin checks every 6-12 months to detect precancerous lesions early
When UV light hits our skin, it causes photodamage or photoaging. This process occurs on a deep cellular level, involving damage to our dermis that will then continue to show on the surface of our skin for years to come. Common signs of photoaging are wrinkles, loss of elasticity, rough skin texture and hyperpigmentation. In an attempt to reverse these effects of sun exposure, women pour tens of billions of dollars into the beauty industry each year with limited results. Aging gracefully is beautiful, but I think we can all agree we don’t need to accelerate the process!
Luckily for us, there is a safe option to achieve a summer tan without the many hazards of the sun! Sunless tanning products have become a booming industry with no shortage of creams, sprays, foams and serums to choose from. These can be applied at home or you may opt for a professional spray tanning service.
Sunless tanning products use an active ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA works by reacting with dead cells on the skin’s surface to temporarily stain or darken the skin. DHA is FDA-approved, and is a safe alternative to tanning. Some beauty companies have now even started to harvest DHA from eco-certified natural sources like sugar beets.
In addition to sunless tanning options that are applied to your skin, there is another product you may come across called tanning pills or accelerators. Contrary to sunless tanning lotions, tanning accelerators and pills can be harmful. These products use color additives that distribute throughout your body and can deposit in your eyes & liver in addition to your skin. The active ingredients in these are not FDA approved as tanning agents and are not recommended.
Just remember that using sunless tanner does NOT protect you from the damaging rays of the sun! All of the same rules still apply regarding using sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure when possible.
While we can’t go back in time and reverse our previous sun exposure, swapping out sun bathing for a sunless tanning option, routine use of SPF and protective clothing, and getting regular skin checks with a dermatologist will help keep your skin glowing and healthy for this summer and the future.
I am a board certified pediatrician practicing in Beverly Hills, CA. I love helping kids grow into healthy, confident, independent young adults. I have served as a principal investigator on numerous clinical trials to further advancements in pediatric medicine, as well as extensive volunteer work and curriculum development for hospitals and medical training programs both locally and globally. I love having the opportunity to educate and empower young adults & especially young women to take control of their own health and wellness.