Last Updated: 5th January, 2017. It is widely believed that a little sun tan is good for skin’s health and protects from harsh sun rays. The fad is quite high as people visit tan beds & tan lights to get tanned. The fad is such that they go all out to maintain that tan by exposing themselves regularly. But the studies show that sun tan damages the skin cells and its DNA; resulting in premature aging & skin cancer, sometimes. Let’s check out some basics about sun tan, its types & the repercussions of the same.
Sun rays have three parts:
- Visible light
- Infrared light – in the form of heat and
- UV rays. UV rays in turn have 3 parts
- UVA – This is the one that tans the skin. Also called as Black Light. These rays have the longer wavelength and penetrate deeper into the midst of the skin layer. Tan occurs when the UVA rays oxidize the melanin pigments. These pigments absorb the radiation and in the process become darker. That in turn makes the skin look darker.
- UVB – This radiation burns & damages the skin. These rays are of shorter wavelength and penetrate epidermis i.e., the outer layer of the skin.
- UVC – These rays don’t reach the earth, as they are blocked by the ozone layer in the atmosphere.
What is tan? – Tan or a sun tan is generally defined as a golden brown color of the skin due to the exposure to the sun. Tanning is kind of defense mechanism of our skin. It is the manifestation of skin’s understanding and ability to contour the sunrays. As a matter of fact, tanning is a natural way of your skin trying to protect itself from the harmful UV rays of the sun.
A pigment called melanin, present in the cells (melanocytes) in granular form, decides the color of the skin. This is the one that gives color to your hair and eyes too. People with dark skin tone have more melanin compared to the people with fair skin tone, who have lesser melanin production in the cells. When dark skinned people expose themselves to the sun, they happen to generate more melanin in order to protect their skin from the damage of the sun rays. Fair skinned people when expose themselves to sun, have sunburn or develop redness and peeling after sometime. They even develop freckles & uneven patches on their skin.
But, what we should know here is that not all sun tans are the same. Not all of the tans happen to protect the skin. There are mainly 2 types of sun tans as there are two types of UV (Ultraviolet) rays – UVA & UVB. One, immediate tanning and second, gradual tanning.
In this type of tanning, the skin generates a layer of dead skin cells; and that layer does provide some protection from the sunrays. But, that makes the skin quite dull and dark. Exfoliating in such case would rip the skin off a protective layer and also makes it more sensitive.
- This kind of tanning is of no use, literally. This just darkens the skin color but doesn’t provide any protection.
- The UVA sunrays generate free radicles in your skin that further cause lots of damage to your skin.
- Skin tans immediately and turn to its darkest in just couple of hours.
- This tanning happens soon after your exposure to the sun.
- In this type of tanning, the existing melanin pigment is quickly spread across the skin. But new melanin is not produced to protect the skin.
- All this happens immediately.
In this case, melanocytes produce new melanin pigment to protect the skin. Though it does its job, the skin’s DNA is damaged in the process. This condition is called melanogenesis.
- When this kind of slow tanning happens, you should know that you are at a greater risk! The UVB rays of the sun alter the skin’s DNA and cause damage.
- Slow tanning is noticeable after 2-3 days and reaches its peak in next 2 weeks.
- This occurs only from exposure to UVB rays and not UVA rays. The sun tan from UVB rays further result in sunburn.
These melanin pigments are shed later as dead skin cells go through the biological cycle. This again makes the skin dull and dark, but exfoliating gives it a fresh look. Hence, minimum SPF recommended is 15 or higher. Some dermatologists also recommend SPF 30 & above.
The effects of sun tan are different on different skin types. Depending on your skin type you are either sunburned or suntanned. Check your skin tan pattern and take good care of your skin:
- A skin type that never tans, only burns
- A skin type that tans very slightly and mostly burns
- A skin type that tans gradually and burns moderately
- A skin type that tans quickly and burns little
- A skin type that tans quickly and rarely ever burns (that is brown skin type)
- A skin type that tans dark black but never burns
The ill effects of sun tan are far fetching and sometimes, life threatening.
Adverse effects of sun tan:
- Develop wrinkles too soon
- Prone to skin cancer
- Damaged DNA
- Premature aging
- Faltered immune system
- Eye damage
- Brown spots
How do we take care then?
Snow, sand & water reflect the sunrays. So you are most likely to get tanned in those areas. Even during mostly gloomy days in summer, 80% of sun rays pass through fog, clouds & mist. Wearing an SPF is a must. The common notion is that greater the SPF, higher the protection. Yes, to some extent. But not too much as believed. If wearing SPF 15 you can be in the sun for an hour, wearing an SPF of 30 you can be in the sun for 2 hours, without being tanned or burned. It just means how long you can save yourself from the sun tan. SPF 15 deflects 93% of the UV rays, whereas SPF 30 does the same job 97%.
Also, it is recommended that you check out our post on how to remove tan from your face.
Hope, you got an idea how dangerous UV radiations can be and how to protect yourself from sun tan. Take care!