How to Tan Safely and Reduce your Risk of Skin Cancer

Disclaimer: Not medical or professional advice. Always seek the advice of your physician.

The Risks Of Tanning

Health Effects of Sunlight Exposure

The sun is the source of vital energy and the core for key biological processes to take place in the body. It is no coincidence that warm sun rays give us joy and emotional uplift. However, this resource of happiness should be used in moderation. An obsession with tanning brings about undesirable consequences.

Having examined all the effects of sunlight on the human body, experts advise against sunbathing in moderation. The neglect of the sun's influence in recent years had triggered increasingly frequent cases of photodermatosis, skin neoplasms, and photoaging. Tanning is indeed not a part of a fashionable look but a protective reaction of the skin. This means that the body has a reason for having a defense mechanism! Unfortunately, many people still do not understand the negative effect of excessive exposure to sunlight on the skin and the organism. Suntan remains one of the beauty standards associated with health, physical form, and success in life. Consequently, more and more people spend hours under the sun, unaware that tanning is a complex protective and adaptive reaction of the body aimed at protecting the skin from UV radiation.

Many important processes in our body occur owing to sunlight. It has an impact on vitamin D synthesis, which strengthens the nervous system, the synthesis of endorphins, which relieve stress; as well as the synthesis of collagen and elastin, which prevent skin aging. But at the same time, strong enthusiasm for sunbathing gives rise to completely different processes. Thus, frequent and long-term exposure to sunlight leads to a decrease in skin immunity and disruption of normal cell function. It forms free radicals in the skin, which cause an oxidation reaction and damage to collagen and elastin molecules. As a result, the skin loses its firmness and elasticity, becoming dry, flabby. It is also characterized by premature wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, rosacea, and a higher risk of neoplasms.

Solar Radiation Facts

  • Skin aging occurs faster in people from the southern regions than in those from northern parts.
  • Women are more prone to photoaging than men as women's skin is thinner and softer.
  • Regardless of race, all people on Earth have approximately the same number of melanocytes - about 1200 melanocytes are found per square millimeter of skin. However, in Caucasians, pigment is produced only in response to ultraviolet irradiation. While in dark-skinned representatives of other races, it is synthesized constantly.

Why does the Sun Negatively Affect our Skin?

The sun emits not only visible light and heat but also three different types of ultraviolet radiation: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. The most dangerous type is short-wavelength UV-C, which is also the most intense radiation that covers the range between 100 and 280 nm. DNA molecules absorb UV-C light and then get destroyed. Fortunately, UV-C rays are almost completely absorbed by the atmosphere of our planet. Artificial UV-C radiation is used to disinfect operating rooms, air and water. It perfectly kills pathogens and viruses.

Medium-wavelength UV-B covers the range 280–315 nm. It is less severe, but it is responsible for producing sunburn. Besides, UV-B damages the DNA in skin cells and causes a much greater risk of melanoma — the deadliest and fast-growing form of skin cancer. Both UV-B waves, which give dark tan, and UV-A waves of 315–400 nm wavelengths are responsible for tanning. UV-A radiation is weaker than the other two types. However, in addition to the most persistent reddish-brown tan, it promotes photoaging in case of excessive sun exposure.

Photoaging of the Skin Caused by the Sun

Photoaging refers to a change in the quality of the skin caused by sun exposure. Excessive tanning and sunburn lead to photodamage of the skin. Apart from uneven thickening and keratinization of the outer layer of the skin, photoaging also affects the deeper layers. Elastin fibers experience structural changes in the dermis. They can thicken, twist or completely collapse. It is also characterized by inflammation reactions in the skin with disruption of blood flow and metabolic processes.

It is worth noting that the skin intensively renews in young people as the body has large (but limited) resources.

This property of skin slows down the appearance of the consequences of photoaging. On the contrary, many people admire how suntan makes skin more attractive. There is some truth in that: moderate tanning at the right hours with sunscreen is beneficial. Unfortunately, many people still neglect the importance of sun protection, believing that photoaging is an invention of manufacturers of sunscreen cosmetics.

With age, the skin's ability to regenerate significantly decreases. It turns out that chronoaging and photoaging combine, accelerating the process of skin aging.

Signs of skin photoaging.

  • Dry or scaly skin, actinic keratosis spots.
  • Uneven color and skin pigmentation.
  • Thickening of the skin.
  • Loss of skin tone and elasticity.
  • Premature wrinkles.
  • Spider veins.

Internal UV Protection

What is the mechanism of skin tanning, and how does our internal UV protection work? UV-A radiation directly induces pigment production: skin darkens almost immediately after exposure to the sun. This occurs only if the skin contains a colorless form of melanin. If you recently sunbathed (even a little), then the skin will darken in an hour. Freckles and pigment spots tend to become more visible. The influence of UV-B radiation on sunny days activates another mechanism: the tyrosinase enzyme catalyzes a biochemical reaction, which results in the production of melanin pigment in the epidermal cells called melanocytes. It shields and absorbs ultraviolet light, protecting the skin from sunburns and ionizing radiation. It is also capable of reducing the risk of skin cancer. Moreover, the pigment surrounds the cell nucleus to protect their genetic information from ultraviolet radiation.

Melanin is a natural protective mechanism that defends the skin against mutations, physical and chemical carcinogenic factors. Therefore, less melanin means less protection from solar radiation. The production of melanin largely depends on the function of the pituitary gland, the balance of thyroid hormones, sex and steroid hormones.

In this regard, young people, pregnant women, men at andropause and women at menopause, as well as people with endocrine diseases, may experience a higher sensitivity to light and pigmentation disorders of the iris of the eyes, skin, and hair.

This significantly increases the risk of burns and the occurrence of signs of photoaging.

UV light is one of the main reasons for the appearance of moles.
Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is one of the most common factors in the formation of molds. Each mole can develop into melanoma. Signs worth worrying about:

  • A mole is changing in size, shape: it loses its symmetry or grows in one direction.
  • The edges of the nevus become ragged, blurred, irregular.
  • The color of the mole is uneven with yellow, red, or black spots.
  • The nevus grows or shrinks in size rapidly.
  • The mole changes in texture: smooth surface turns rough, raised into flat.
  • The mole rises above the level of the skin with a diameter of more than 5 mm.
  • The mole becomes itchy and flaky, or you may have a burning feeling.

You should seek immediate medical care if confronted with the symptoms mentioned above. Doctors will perform professional diagnostics, make a diagnosis and prescribe the correct treatment.

How to Prevent the Negative Effects of Sun Exposure

If you want to keep your skin youthful and healthy for a long time, take preventive measures.

Use sunscreen not only on vacation but also in the city: products with a sun protection factor (SPF) — UV-B spectrum. The best option for daily application is SPF 40 (even on cloudy days, you should use at least SPF 15).

Wear sunglasses. They prevent you from squinting in the sun and save you from the appearance of wrinkles around the eyes.

Make sure your diet includes enough vitamins, amino acids, and microelements that increase the amount of melanin. Such complexes prevent the effects of free radicals and premature skin aging.

  • Have a siesta — do not go sunbathing from 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Use after-sun products with natural moisturizers and antioxidants to protect your skin from dryness and flaking.
  • Drink plenty of water. It helps your skin maintain moisture and keep your body hydrated.

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Learn More about the Effects of UV Rays on Skin

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