The summer is upon us and for many we have been all too eager to trade in our winter coats for tank tops to show off our bronze, sun-kissed skin. Our mood starts to brighten up along with the long summer days. We look forward to spending time outdoors or laying out by a pool to soak up some of that warm goodness, in hopes to add a bronze glow to our skin. It’s addicting. Really!
The ultraviolet B rays (UVB) emitted from the sun reacts with our skin cells to manufacture vitamin D, which is crucial in protecting us against diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer. That is certainly a great reason to get outside, but here’s why we really like it: vitamin D promotes the production of serotonin, which is the chemical our brain releases to regulate our mood. The more serotonin produced, the happier we feel. This is the same science that is used to create antidepressant drugs, which increases serotonin to protect us against depression, insomnia and an overactive immune system. However, just because your mood might improve under the sun, it does not mean you are making a healthy choice when you step into the light (artificial or not).
Fact: your skin doesn’t react any differently from a tan than it does to a sunburn, both of which can occur when trying to get a nice tan.
Both a tan and a burn mean your skin has been exposed to UV radiation, neither of which have been proven safe. UV radiation damages our DNA, which is a factor in different types of skin cancer including melanoma, known as the deadliest form of skin cancer. Both sunburns and tans can be considered unsafe. In fact, your risk for melanoma can increase from just one blister causing sunburn with the risk increasing based upon lifelong exposure to sun.
While there are plenty of scientific reasons why we can fall in love with the sun and the glow it may give our skin, there can also be an underlying body image correlation between tanned skin and beauty. This certainly helps to explain why indoor tanning is a $4.9 billion industry, targeting white women ages 18-21, the leading customers of the industry according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Indoor tanning beds, marketed by the industry as only transmitting “safe” UVA rays, are no safer than natural sunlight. Both UVA and UVB rays cause cancer. Yet, the indoor tanning industry boasts misleading information about the increase in vitamin D production resulting from indoor tanning. True, our bodies do produce vitamin D when they absorb UV rays. We also receive vitamin D through nutrients like fatty fish and fortified milk. Tanning beds surpass the amount of UV units needed for your vitamin D intake. For fair skinned individuals, a few minutes of sun exposure is sufficient for UV absorption, and about 15-20 minutes for naturally tan or darker skinned individuals.
So, whether you’re attracted to the look of tan skin or ready for the boosted mood from soaking up the sun, know your risks. Wear sunscreen to protect your skin and the value of your overall health.