Sun tanning

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For many people sun tanning is done deliberately, either by being outdoors exposed to the sun's UV rays, or indoors under an artificial UV light system. In both cases, this is done believing a suntan look is part of a fashion statement and makes them appear healthier, slimmer, or even sexier. Some, however, rather than choosing to obtain a tan, obtain a suntan merely by being outdoors in the sun as part of an outdoor leisure activity or as part of their work.

How does Sun Tanning actually work?

The color of your skin is determined by the amount of melanin it contains. Melanin is produced in greater quantities as it is exposed to more sunlight. The greater the amount of melanin in your skin, the darker the colour your skin will be. Melanin is actually there as a completely natural protection ability of the skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

When either the ultraviolet radiation of the sun, or of the artificial sunlight from sun beds, hits your skin, it stimulates cells known as melanocytes. These melanocytes make the brown pigment called melanin, so they respond to the sunlight by making more melanin to protect your skin from the sun. The melanin acts sort of like a barrier for the skin's cells and can give people the brown tint that results from sun tanning. However, it is actually visible proof that your skin has been damaged and it is doing something to protect itself!

When we look around the globe, we find different races with different coloured skins. Looking at where they all originate from - the closer to the equator, the darker the skin and the further away, the lighter the skin. For example, Africans have very dark skins, Italians an olive skin and Norwegians have very pale skins. Or looked at differently, Africans have a much higher percentage of melanin in their skin than Italians, who in turn have more melanin than Swedish people. Effectively, this enables Africans to stay in the sun a lot longer before the sun increases their melanin levels and thus creates a 'tan'. Whereas Swedish people will most likely start to 'tan' very quickly whilst sun tanning and in fact need to watch out they don't get sun burnt by saying too long.

How can sun tanning be done safely?

In order to obtain a healthy tan, you will need to know your skin type and how quickly it will start to tan. Exposing yourself to limited amounts of sun tanning daily will slowly increase the melanin levels and allow you to tan without getting sun burnt.

Depending on the natural colour of your skin, you can manage to obtain a healthy suntan if you manage your situation. If you really must get a tan, learn all you can about sunscreens. Tan gradually over a period of time, with short sessions of exposure to the sun initially and use at the very least a 15 SPF with good quality ingredients that will not only protect your skin, but also boost your skin's natural ability to absorb the sun's rays without damage.

Knowing your skin type as a variant of one of the 3 below, will help you decide how long you can safely expose yourself to the sun without burning and then what SPF to use and how often to reapply it:

  • Fair skin Your skin is a pale shade, sometimes freckled, often accompanied by hair that is light in colour or red, and eyes that are blue or green. Your skin tends to burn easily and quickly and it is always hard for you to develop a tan once your skin has been exposed to the sun.
  • Olive skin Your skin has a natural light brown or coffee shade and you are able to develop a deeper brown skin colour quickly without burning. Invariably, your hair and eyes are brown or dark brown.
  • Black skin Your skin, hair and eyes are very dark and your skin can endure a relatively long time exposed to the sun without burning. Black skin is not invincible though - it will burn in strong sunlight and when exposed for too long and will then turn a darker shade than before.

Melanin can only protect your skin so much. If you continue sun tanning to excess, the UV radiation will eventually damage your skin. That damage shows up regularly on fair-skinned and olive-skinned people, and to a lesser degree on black skinned people as:

  • freckled skin (especially where most exposed, like the nose, cheeks, tips of ears)
  • brown age spots (different to freckles, usually larger)
  • blotchiness and uneven skin tone
  • skin cancer
  • sagging skin that looks older than it is
  • wrinkles
  • more wrinkles and more brown age spots!

Sun tanning creates a Vitamin D benefit

When sun tanning in this controlled manner, we can take advantage of the research that has been done illustrate the wonderful benefits of Vitamin D in our bodies.

UVB radiation converts a chemical in our skin (7-dehydrocholesterol) into vitamin D, which is then converted into a hormone-like substance in our liver, kidneys and other organs. About 90 percent of the vitamin D that we need comes from exposure to sunlight but, while it's certainly essential, we can get a sufficient amount in a relatively short time, so it's definitely not an excuse to bake yourself sun tanning for hours.

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