How to Tan Safely

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A: You can’t.

Ok, ok, we know that a simple two-word answer probably isn’t what you were looking for. So, is it really true that any manner of giving your skin that beautiful, bronze sheen that we in our country and in our day and age associate with health, vigor and beauty isn’t good for you?

Yes, it’s really true. That the process of darkening your skin’s natural color simply isn’t good for you. Here’s why and here also are some methods to deal with this limitation.

Skin Damage from the Sun And Aesthetics

Secrets to Tan SafelyThe very thing that we associate with nice skin color, the increase in skin pigment, called melanin, is actually a sign of skin damage. Our culture has essentially retrained our brain to see one thing and tell us it’s another.

Ultraviolet light penetrates nearly everything including skin cells, and it is the traumatic response of our skin cells to this damaging light frequency that we have learned to misunderstand as “healthy” when, in fact, it is the opposite.

Time in the sun, soaking in this damaging uv light is actually subjecting ourselves and our cells to sun damage and the resulting tan is actually visible damage. Think of it as waving a lighter flame under a sheet of paper, browning it and making it brittle, breaking down the cells and fibers of the paper. Just as in that somewhat crude example, when we undergo sun exposure, even if we’re not talking about laying fully exposed on a beach for hours under noon-day sun, we are harming our skin.

Are Tanning Beds Safer than The Sun?

Well, you may ask, what about a tanning bed? Surely the tiny lights of modern-day tanning beds are not as harmful as the actual star that our planet is circling in close proximity? Wouldn’t it make sense that limiting our exposure to uva and uvb rays in the controlled environment of a tanning bed be an improvement?

Again: No.

UV rays, regardless of what generates them are bad for your skin. Remember what we said about the act of tanning being a symptom of damage? It still applies. You may think that a tanning bed is a form of sun protection or sun avoidance or that somehow it is reducing the risk of sun exposure, but you’re really just trading one bad thing for another bad thing that might actually be worse depending on the amount of time that you spend in your tanning bed.

Are Skin Tan Products Safe?

What about the lotions that have been on the market for a few years that you apply to your skin to darken and color it. Ahhh, this fake tan approach might be the exception that you’re looking for.

If you absolutely cannot get past the mindset that darker skin will make you appear more attractive and if you’ve finally accepted the non-negotiable truth that sun exposure or UV exposure is bad for you, you might wonder about this option.

According to the Mayo Clinic in their articles about sunless tanning, assuming that you do your homework and research the particular sunless tanning product you plan on using, you may have found a less-harmful alternative to coloring your skin without exposure to damage.

Spray tans and lotions have been around for several decades. They are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and they are generally considered safe and relatively harmless if used according to directions.

Generally these products “paint” the top layer of skin and because we shed dead skin cells over about a week, they tend to wear off as this natural process happens. The good news is they don’t harm the interior skin cells the way broad spectrum sunlight does.

There are even some spray on tan options that darken your exterior skin tone and contain sunblock to actually help you protect your skin.

The Final Word On Healthy Tanning

From the perspective of a Belleville, Illinois skin doctor, when people ask us the best way to tan, our response is almost always: Don’t. If dermatologists all had their way fashion would dictate that people would cover up and seek shade. There would be SPF 30 offered for free and in public where during these days of COVID-19 we now see sanitizer. But, if you must darken your skin do it safely.