Hot days, cool nights could only mean one thing - the summer is upon us and, for many, that means it's time to sport the summer glow. But amid the excitement, don't forget the importance of safe tanning.
The desire for the sun-kissed look is an outlook shared by many Americans adults and teens. In a survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), 80 percent of the 7,100 male and female survey respondents said they had concerns about skin cancer, but 72 percent still found tanned people were more attractive. Young teens were found to associate beauty with tanning because it looks "healthy". However, less than half of all teenagers use sunscreen, says the Skin Cancer Foundation, suggesting that teens are more vulnerable to skin cancer because the cells in their body are dividing and changing at a faster rate compared to adults.
Every hour, one American dies of melanoma, and more than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed every year in over two million people in the United States, says the American Melanoma Foundation (AMF). The lack of awareness of sun safety has put people at risk for overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a risk factor for developing skin cancer. When exposed to high UV levels, melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) is produced by the pituitary gland, which triggers the production of melanin, the natural pigment that gives a person their skin color and protects them from the sun.
In a study conducted at Brown University, researchers found that the production of melanin starts within a couple of hours of exposure to ultraviolet radiation of long wavelengths instead of a couple of days as previously thought by scientists. "As soon as you step out into the sun, your skin knows that it is exposed to UV radiation," said Elena Oancea, senior author of the study and assistant professor of biology in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology at Brown University, in a press release. Melanin protects the DNA in skin cells against the damage of UVB rays but it doesn't mean people should skimp on the sunscreen.
Overexposure to sunlight can cause physical changes on your skin such as wrinkles, freckles, age spots, and texture changes.
To avoid these effects and to achieve a safe sun-based tan, follow these four tips for a healthy summer glow.
1. Exfoliate Your Skin
To achieve the best possible tan outdoors, you must exfoliate before sun exposure. The act of exfoliation removes the dead cells from the uppermost layer of the skin and allows for fresh skin to appear. Removing the dead cells can even your skin tone, remove pore-clogging dirt and oil, and even prevent acne, says Discovery.com. You can scrub or buff away the dead skin cells by doing cost-effective physical scrubs like sugar, oatmeal, and salt with a loofah pad or exfoliating glove. The less build-up of dead skin cells, the more shallow your layer of skin will be, which will make your tan last longer. The removal of dead skin will also allow you to tan more easily because your tan will appear and fade evenly.
2. Wear A Sunscreen
Contrary to the beliefs of many tanning enthusiasts, you can still tan with sunscreen, and it's better that you do. In fact, sun protection factor (SPF) extends the time you can spend in the sun without suffering additional skin damage. Higher SPF numbers therefore provide better protection against ultraviolet B "burning rays" (UVB) rays, though not UVA protection, says the American Cancer Society (ACS). Sunscreens that are labeled "broad-spectrum" can provide protection against both UVB and UVA rays, but a standard system for measuring UVA ray protection has yet to exist.
Naturally fair skin has low amounts of melanin, which can leave the skin vulnerable to the sun's carcinogenic UV and cause lobster-red burns on your skin without an appropriate SPF. For those with darker skin, melanin can provide the equivalent of SPF 13.4 compared to 3.4 in white skin, says the Skin Cancer Foundation. However, those with dark skin can still get sunburnt.
The amount of sunscreen a person should apply is said to be 2 milligrams per square centimeter (mg/cm2) to the exposed skin under the sun, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For example, if a person is 5 ft. 4 in. (163 cm) and weighs 150 lb. (68 kg) with a 32 in. (82 cm) waist and is wearing a bathing suit covering the groin area, he or she should apply 29 g (approximately 1 oz) evenly to the uncovered body area to get the indicated SPF of his or her sunscreen product, says the FDA.
Remember to apply SPF 15 to 30 minutes before you go in the sun, reapply 15 to 30 minutes after you have been exposed to the sun, and only reapply if you have done any aquatic activity where your sunscreen could have been removed. In an article published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers discussed that the safest skin exposure to the sun results from early reapplication into the sun exposure period. In other words, the earlier you apply your sunscreen once you're exposed, the less damage UV rays will do to your skin.
3. Do NOT Overexpose Your Skin To The Sun
To get a healthy and glowing tan, do not overexpose your skin to UV rays. It is best to tan gradually by dividing your time under the sun evenly to reduce sunburn. Spending a whole day at the beach may give you a tan look for a day but it may very well leave you with sunburns when you leave. The best way to get a healthy summer glow is to tan in small doses. Half an hour to an hour under the sun a day will allow your body to produce adequate melanin to aid you the next time you tan.
It is important to choose wisely what time you decide to go for an outdoor sun-based tan. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says UV strength is greatest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during sunny summer days.
4. Wear Your Shades And A Hat
To achieve an even tan, remember your shades and hat. The skin around your eyes, including your eyes themselves, are delicate to UV rays. Failure to take proper care can result in the development of eye diseases like cataract, age-related macular degeneration, and eye cancers, says ACS. Sunglasses that are labeled "UV absorption up to 400 nm" or "Meets ANSI UV Requirements" mean the glasses block at least 99 percent of UV rays. Ideal glasses include those that are large-framed and wrap-around because they protect your eyes from the light that comes from different angles, says ACS. However, be mindful of falling asleep with your sunglasses, a la Kim Kardashian, who failed to achieve an even sun tan.
A hat with a two- to three-inch brim can protect your ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp all at once while you look stylish getting your tan. If big, wide hats do not suit you, opt for a shade cap, says ACS as these caps have seven inches of fabric that drape down the sides and back and can provide protection for your neck too. Although a baseball cap looks ideal, it only offers protection in the front and the top of the head, leaving the neck and ears vulnerable to sun exposure.
Lastly, remember to give your skin time to repair itself after a day out in the sun and before trekking outdoors again. These four tips will have you sporting healthy-looking and radiant skin.