How Tanning Works

Summer Sun – A Question of Tanning
Every year millions of men and women worldwide flock to beaches, pool-sides, backyards and rooftops in search of the perfect summer tan. Even though many people have taken the warning against UV radiation to heart and now look to safer tanning methods, there are still millions who expose their skin to solar radiation and its burning and aging effects.
How Tanning Works
Our skin is made up of layers – the epidermis, dermis, and subcutis – the outermost of which, the epidermis, contains cells called melanocytes. The melanocytes produce melanin, which is what gives the skin its pigmentation and helps to protect the skin from burning.
Different people naturally produce different amounts of melanin. This is the reason some people are more sensitive to sun exposure than others. It also accounts for the myriad of skin tones and shades among people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds.
When our skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays in the sunlight the melanocytes are stimulated and produce more melanin. This is what results in the tanning of the skin. As more melanin is produced the skin becomes darker.
Sun-Related Problems
The problems occur when the body doesn’t produce melanin as rapidly as necessary to protect the skin. The result is sunburn. In addition, the melanin, while protecting against burning caused by UVB radiation, doesn’t protect the skin from the damaging effects of UVA radiation.
The UVA radiation causes aging of the skin, by breaking down the skin’s collagen and elastin. The loss of the collagen and elastin in the skin causes wrinkling and a decline in the resilience of the skin. By repeating the cycle of prolonged exposure to the sun, the damage becomes permanent.
The greatest concern however, comes from the connection between exposure to the sun and the development of melanoma, which can become cancerous.
Safe-Tanning Alternatives
Cosmetic science has had self-tanners available for decades as an alternative to sun-worship. The problem with these products has always been the less than natural look of the results. Earlier versions of sunless tanners were prone to splotchy results, and orange tints to the skin. However, today’s products are significantly improved, offering more even coverage and creating a natural-looking glow.
There is also the invention of tanning beds and booths to allow individuals to tan the skin without long exposure to the sun. The problems with these beds and booths is that while they may not offer as much exposure to UVB rays, they can still give a considerable amount of UVA exposure – and vice-versa. The trouble is further complicated by the fact that in order to tan the skin, there must be a certain amount of exposure to UVB radiation. Even the safest of the tanning beds and booths still result in ultraviolet exposure, and still cause damage to the skin.
If you want a healthy, sun-kissed look, but still want to spare yourself the damaging effects of the sun. Try a sunless tanner and keep your skin healthy.
See also: Signs and causes of aging skin