Even though the entire world knows that tanning is a very dangerous pastime, it seems that no one can help themselves when it comes to getting a tan. As a group, TSLMS does not condone sunning and tanning as a way to get either the Vitamin D that we need, nor as a way to get a healthy glow. However, we acknowledge that people love both and that there are more sun worshipers among us (especially in coastal communities) than there are people who wisely cover and sunscreen up. So, as practitioners of aesthetics and beauty development, what are we to do? Our answer is to suggest safer ways to get that glow.
Why Avoiding UV Radiation Is Smart
An article by Live Science entitled, “Your Summer Base Tan Is Wrecking Your Skin” ran this leading sentence: ‘Is Tanning Bad For You?’ and the answer is YES. There is no safe amount of tanning. If that did not sink in, please read that one sentence over and over again.
Here is the thing. Some people naturally have darker skin, some people have olive skin, some people have alabaster white skin. Our skin is a reflection of our ethnic heritage which is a reflection of evolution. The color and tone of our skin is related to the part of the world that our ancestors came from and they adapted to the climate there. Attempting to obtain a skin tone that is not natural via exposure to the sun, or a tanning bed, is very dangerous and can lead to death.
Yes, this is dramatic. And yes, there are ways to get a healthy glow and a pigment alteration that are safe. But to do it through UV radiation is not. In fact, the very process of getting a tan is unhealthy.
Tanning isn’t bad for you just because it comes with the risk of burning, which can cause skin cancer. Tanning is bad for you because your body doesn’t even begin to tan until dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays have pierced your skin and started to mess with your DNA. And that alone significantly increases the risk of skin cancer, said Dr. Roxana Daneshjou, a dermatology resident at the Stanford University School of Medicine. [5 Things You Must Know About Skin Cancer] “There’s really no such thing as safe tanning, other than … putting a fake color on your skin,” Daneshjou told Live Science. “Fairer-skinned people may not even tan until they burn.”
And while burning represents a more significant danger — because it means that skin cells have become so sun-damaged that they die — the skin damage that begins at the very start of the tanning process is still dangerous, Daneshjou said. “Some people say, ‘Well, I should tan, because that extra melanin will protect me.’ But that logic doesn’t make sense. You’re doing so much damage just to get that little bit of protection,” she said. Melanin is a pigment found in skin cells that’s produced when UV rays hit the skin. The more melanin produced, the darker the tan. (And people with more melanin in their skin have darker skin tones.)
It’s true that melanin can protect the body to some extent against UV rays — it absorbs UV rays to a point, acting as the skin’s natural sunscreen, Daneshjou said. But the process of adding an extra dose of melanin to the skin — in other words, tanning — is actually a defense mechanism that begins only after damage has been done. (Source).
This holds true for direct sun exposure, sun bathing, and using a tanning bed. And there is not a product that medical science knows of which can keep the human body safe from UV radiation. The Catch 22 is that in order to stay healthy the human body also needs Vitamin D, which it naturally absorbs from the sun.
Vitamin D: Health Without The Sun
The human body needs Vitamin D. Without it we cannot process and absorb calcium, and when that happens, we lose bone density and have other health issues. And while there are no definitive studies providing that lack of Vitamin D cause breast or colon cancer, heart disease or weight gain, there is some medical evidence of a link between them. People with lower Vitamin D levels seem to be struggling with health in these areas, as well as with depression, than people with higher levels. (Source).
Harvard Medical School, which is one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the world, has recently updated their page on Vitamin D in the men’s health section of their website. They point out the irony of the substance as it relates to modern day life (we love this):
Although vitamin D is firmly enshrined as one of the four fat-soluble vitamins, it is not technically a vitamin. True, it’s essential for health, and only minuscule amounts are required. But it breaks the other rules for vitamins because it’s produced in the human body, it’s absent from all natural foods except fish and egg yolks, and even when it’s obtained from foods, it must be transformed by the body before it can do any good.
As our habits change, most of us cannot rely on our bodies to produce vitamin D the old-fashioned way. Instead, we increasingly depend on artificially fortified foods and pills to provide this vital nutrient. Coming full circle in the modern world, this substance may actually come to fit the technical definition of a vitamin.
Of course, Harvard also points out, “A number of factors can play a role. Limited exposure to sunlight heads the list. Except during the short summer months, people who live at latitudes above 37 degrees north or below 37 degrees south of the equator don’t get enough UVB energy from the sun to make all the vitamin D they need. The same is true for people who spend most of their time indoors and for those of us who avoid sunshine and use sunscreens to protect our skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation (see box below). It’s an example of an unforeseen consequence of wise behavior, but you can enjoy sun protection and strong bones, too, by taking vitamin supplements.” This is exceptionally important to note because we know there is also a link between Vitamin D and healthy, glowing skin.
Coaching Your Clients On Their Health
The best thing you can do to help your clients and patients keep healthy skin is to encourage them to stay out of the sun, and to get their Vitamin D from supplements and their ‘tan’ from sunless tanning products. There are no lack of these products available and they are getting better all the time, as are all cosmetics.