Safe Sun Tan?

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Safe Sun Tan?

Article from May 31, 2013 by Andrew Foehrkolb

More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States and over 10,000 people die each year from causes directly linked to sun exposure. To put this information into perspective, one in five Americans is expected to develop some type of skin cancer during their lifetime. (American Academy of Dermatology, 2013)

Sun exposure is now a year-round skin danger due to the thinning of the ozone layer and the use of artificial tanning salons. The sun produces two primary types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UVA rays deeply penetrate the skin and produce genetic damage at the molecular level while UVB rays burn the outer layers of the skin (epidermis). ( National Institutes of Health and World Health Organization, 2013)

A tan is the skins reaction to UV radiation from the sun or from artificial tanning bulbs. When the skin is exposed to UV rays, a brown pigment (melanin) is produced as a defense mechanism. Melanin darkens the cells of the outer layer of the epidermis to prevent further damage.

UV rays damage the DNA of your skin cells and over time the molecular damage can lead to cellular mutations known as skin cancer. Prolonged repeated exposure to UV radiation causes skin wrinkles, sagging, and brown spots. Additionally, UV radiation is a prime contributor to clouding of the lenses of the eye (cataracts).

There is no such thing as a safe tan. Tanning causes DNA damage to skin cells and has been directly linked to melanoma and other deadly skin cancers. Some research indicates that just one sunburn can more than double your risk of developing melanoma.

Practical Skin Protection Basics

Sunscreen Basics– There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that the key to avoiding sun damage and sunburn is the correct usage of sunscreen. Sunscreens are chemical barriers applied topically that prevent UV radiation from reaching the skin. Most sun screen manufacturers combine several different chemical ingredients to provide broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.

Ingredient Protection
PABA derivatives



UVB protection

Avobenzone or Parsol 1786


Titanium dioxide

Zinc oxide

UVA/Remaining UV Spectrum

Use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 35 or higher. What does this number mean? If your skin burns within the first 30 minutes of exposure to the sun, a sunscreen with a SPF of 35 may provide all day protection. Don’t expect your sunscreen to provide protection that long due to contact loss, and perspiration dilution.

  •      Most sunscreen manufacturers and dermatologists recommend reapplying every 2-3 hours, after swimming, and after  periods of heavy perspiration.
  •      Apply sunscreen 30 minute prior to sun exposure
  •      Use a liberal amount of sunscreen- at least one ounce per person per application- one shot glass
  •      Sunscreen has a shelf life of 12 months. Check the manufacturer’s date before purchasing and discard sunscreen from last year
  •      Cover all skin exposed if possible with a tightly woven fabric. Wear a wide brimmed hat that covers the neck, ears, scalp, and face.
  •      Protect your eyes by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses with wraparound frames. Eyelids and the skin around your eyes are common sites for skin cancer. Sunglasses may also reduce the risk of developing cataracts.

If you are concerned about vitamin D deficiency from avoiding time in the sun, consider supplementation. The risks of sunburn and skin damage are real and cumulative. Train smart and be safe!

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