Swimwear Choices and Tanning (2)
Tans May Fade, but Damage is Forever – Many people are unaware that sun exposure has a permanent effect on the skin. They think that because the coloration of the skin from sun exposure will fade away that the skin “heals itself”. They also think that when they achieve a tan as opposed to burning, that they are sun bathing in a safe or healthy way.
Neither of these assumptions is true. In fact, a tan is the first sign of skin damage. Tans result as an injury to the epidermis. UV light penetrates the skin and the melanocytes produce melanin in the skin in an attempt to prevent the UV radiation from penetrating more deeply into the lower layers of the skin. The “tan” works to protect the lower layers of the skin, but the protection only goes so far.
While people with darker skin pigment are less likely to burn because of the protection afforded them by the heavier melanin content of their skin, they can still suffer from damage and even burning. People with darker skin types experience effects like dry, rough patches, wrinkling and other skin disorders.
The problems become more and more severe (and increasingly obvious) as you repeatedly expose the skin to UV radiation. Since the damage done to the skin is cumulative and lasting, people who regularly expose themselves to sunlight for prolonged periods can see a pronounced increase in the rate at which they age.
For example, I happen to have a twin, and my twin has always preferred the outdoors and sunshine. He has a skin type that is darker than mine, and would develop a dark, golden tan, where my skin would always burn and fade, never getting more than the barest hit of a tan.
Now that we are 40 there are obvious signs of the difference in our behavior regarding the sun. He has much more pronounced lines and wrinkling around the eyes, forehead and the corners of his mouth.
The differences in our aging come primarily from the different attitudes and behavior we use concerning the sun and UV exposure. I have always had to be extremely careful of sun exposure for fear of burning. While he has basked in the sun and simply browns.
This is because the UV light accelerates the changes that occur in the skin as we age. Repeated and/or prolonged UV exposure can cause:
• weakening of the connective tissues, reducing the skin’s elasticity
• thinner, more translucent looking skin
• deep wrinkles (from the break down of collagen)
• dryness and roughness
• fine red veins on the cheeks, nose and ears
• freckling on the face and shoulders (primarily)
• large brown lesions (called macules) on the face, back of the hands, arms, chest and upper back (these are referred to as solar lentigines or liver spots)
• white macules on the lower legs and arms
And these are BEFORE you start looking at those cancerous conditions that are linked to sun exposure and damage. The bottom line is that there are countless reasons NOT to subject your skin to the damaging effects of the sun, and only the desire to “tan” that would cause you to do so.
Alternatives to Sun Exposure – If you want to bronze your skin in preparation for the summer trips to the pool or the beach or any other function, consider using any of the dozens of self-tanners and bronzers available on the market today. There are powdered bronzers that give a sun-kissed glow to the skin in seconds, as well as spray-on self-tanners that ensure even coverage and don’t have to be rubbed in. This means that you don’t have to wear gloves (and don’t have ‘white’ hands) and don’t end up with orange palms (where the self-tanner reacts with the higher keratin concentration in the palms of the hands when you used to have to rub the tanner into the skin).
There are even sunless tanning salons where you can go and have your body “airbrushed” to get a smooth, natural looking tan. These salons can even do some more-creative applications of the tanning formula to created natural looking contouring shadows on the body, either to accentuate your natural muscle tone and shape, or to imitate muscle tone that may not be there.
Protection Above All Else – Even when you get the sunless tan and you have the glow you desire, you still need to remember to protect your skin from the UV radiation you’ll encounter when you’re outside. Be sure to use a sunscreen with full-spectrum protection of at least SPF 15. If you have fair skin and burn easily, you should use SPF 30. Apply your sunscreen at least a half-hour before you plan to go out into the sun, and use a waterproof formula if you plan to swim or will be physically active and are likely to sweat. If in doubt follow the directions on the label of the sunscreen you choose to use and reapply the sunscreen as often as directed.
Other suggestions for protecting yourself against the sun’s potential damage include avoiding sun exposure during the high-intensity hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (If you cannot restrict your time outdoors during these hours, be sure to use a stronger SPF sunscreen for added protection.) and always wear protective clothing whenever possible. Tightly woven, natural fibers can offer significant UV protection and still be comfortable in warmer climates.
When we take the time to look at what we need to look good for the summer, we can see alternatives to address most every problem. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to look good in the summer months and still protect ourselves from needless damage and possible serious problems down the road.
Photos: New Africa/Shutterstock