Written by: Cally Worden
The tanning industry took a bit of a hit when sunless spray tanning products exploded onto the market. These have come a long way from their early days of patchy applications and day-glow orange. Anyone seeking a tan today can acquire an authentic, even tone without exposure to harmful UV rays. And yet – many people still choose the ‘natural’ tan option and continue to put their skin at risk. Here are the facts about tanning and why you should think twice before embracing the natural glow.
As our understanding of the different types of UV rays increased, so did the myths that surround them. For a while, the scientific community thought that only UVB rays were damaging and this led many to believe that tanning with UVA rays was safe. Most tanning beds are designed to emit mainly UVA rays for this reason. However, recent research has shown that UVA rays are in fact as damaging and dangerous in their own way. In short – no tanning is ‘Safe’.
What are UV rays?
Ultraviolet radiation forms part of the spectrum of light that reaches the earth from the sun. There are three different basic types of UV rays:
- UVA – Long Wave
- UVB – Shorter Wave
- UVC – Very Short Wave
UVC rays are absorbed by the atmosphere and never reach the earth’s surface. UVA and UVB rays do, with UVA rays being most prevalent. They are less intense that UVB rays, but their wavelength reach allows them to penetrate the human skin more deeply. Down in the lowest layers of the epidermis, UVA rays trigger the production of melanin – the brown pigment that gives skin its tanned appearance and helps to protect it from burning. That’s great, but the UVA rays also damage cells while they are down there.
UVB rays are the main culprit in cases of sunburn. Their shorter wavelength is more intense and attacks the upper layers of the skin. They are particularly strong between 10am and 4pm each day, the damage can be done at any time of the year.
UVA and UVB rays are both dangerous, because they attack the skins cellular DNA, albeit in different places. In this way exposure to the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and premature skin-aging. It can also penetrate the eyes and increase your chances of developing cataracts.
That’s the low down on the sun and UV rays, so how does all that relate to tanning?
The Tanning Issue
Well, tanning sun beds work by simulating UVA and UVB rays. It’s your little bit of sunshine indoors. So it makes sense that tanning offers the same risks to your body as being out in the sun. Perhaps even more so, because you are deliberately exposing your skin to a concentrated dose of the harmful rays. True, sun beds function primarily on UVA rays, which are less likely to cause burning, but as we’ve already seen the UVA rays are just as bad for your skin – not burning does not mean you are not at risk.
Tanning And Skin Cancer
There is compelling scientific evidence that links higher rates of the deadly skin cancer called melanoma to indoor tanning. Some figures suggest the use of sun beds raises your risk of developing melanoma by 75%, the risks increases with each use. The effects of exposure to UVA and UVB rays are cumulative – the more sun you get, the more likely you are to suffer skin problems.
Not all sun exposure will lead to skin cancer and not all skin cancers are deadly. But why take the risk? You only have one body, one life. If you must sort a tan then get a fake one. I’ve lost someone to a form of cancer over which they had no choice or control. I don’t judge others, but seriously, I don’t get why anyone would deliberately take chances with their life. What do you think? Do you use sun beds? Are you aware of the risks?