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Tanning: An Agent Of Ageing?


Summer is here. For the vast majority of us, that translates to long hours spent basking in the sun’s rays, trying to achieve that “healthy glow” and thrusting your arm next to that of fair-skinned loved ones, much to their embarrassment and the amusement of everyone else (don’t worry pale peeps, we see you).

If you, like most citizens, opt to ignore the perilous reality of sunbathing, you’ll know that this so-called healthy glow that people remark upon when you have returned from a holiday or spent time in the garden sunbathing is not actually healthy at all. Though we’ve made it part of our language to tell others that they look “well” in their new and improved sun-bronzed skin, their skin is, in fact, the very opposite of “well”; it’s displaying clear signs of DNA injury. The simple fact is that tanning damages your skin cells and, in turn, speeds up visible signs of ageing. At its very worst, tanning can lead to skin cancer.

How Does Tanning Damage The Skin?

Unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays breaks down the collagen and elastin fibres in healthy young skin; essentially, the part of your skin that gives it its elasticity and plumpness. The long-term breakdown of these fibres causes wrinkles and loosened folds. Frequent sunburns or hours spent tanning can lead to a permanent darkening of the skin, dark spots and an undesirable leathery texture.

Debunking The Myths

There is a myriad of misconceptions about sun exposure. So we thought it best to tackle some of those myths head-on:

Being Naturally Darker-Skinned Means You Won’t Have UV Damage

It’s important to understand that skin damage from UV exposure can happen to anyone, even our darker-skinned beauties. Therefore, it is of crucial importance that individuals of every skin type wear sunscreen and avoid being out too long in the sun. While some skin types are less likely to burn, they can still receive enough UV exposure to risk developing skin cancer.

Wearing Sunscreen Will Shield You Entirely

When we talk about “unprotected” skin, this can also encompass skin that was lathered in factor 30 or higher just a few hours earlier. The point is, if you aren’t applying it frequently enough (at least every two hours), sunscreen, no matter how thick or how high the factor, is effectively redundant. As such, you are just as privy to UV exposure, skin damage and premature ageing as the next person.

Another common myth is that SPF50+ is much more protective than SPF30. In reality, Factor 50+ only offers slightly better protection from UVB radiation. SPF30 sunscreens filter about 96.7% of UV radiation, while SPF50+ lotions filter 98% of UV.

Finally, just because a sun cream brags about being water-resistant doesn’t mean you can splash around in the pool and return straight to the sunlounger, ready to resume sunbathing with no repercussions. Sun cream, even the water-resistant kind, must be reapplied after swimming and sweating to avoid a fate of UV damage and premature photoaging.

Burn Turns To Tan, So You’re Safe

You are not in the clear if you burn in the sun, but your red skin eventually turns to tan. Whilst tan may look less jarring than a body that is fluorescently red from head to toe, it is no healthier and still means the sun has caused trauma to the skin cells on your epidermis (the outermost layer of your skin). Each time you burn or tan, the damage accumulates, increasing your risk of premature ageing, cancers and creating further genetic mutations.

Understanding The Power Of UV Rays

It is the worst-kept secret that indoor tanning via sunbeds is extremely dangerous. Tanning beds increase the risk for skin cancers as well as other symptoms of UV exposure because they omit greater doses of UV rays than a midday tropical sun. One chilling study, which observed 63 women suffering from melanoma before the age of 30, established that 61 of them (97%) were tanning beds fanatics.

Tanning in any capacity increases your risk of different variants of skin cancer, namely basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Still, many regard skin cancer as being among the less brutal of the terrible illnesses you can land, believing it to be a simple matter of having a lesion ‘burnt off’. Make no mistake, skin cancer treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy and can also spread to other parts of the body as well as cause permanent scarring, just like other cancers.

As always, remember to be vigilant when it comes to your body and report to the GP immediately for any new spots or changes to existing spots. If you’re interested in understanding the goings on inside your body further, you might wish to consider taking a body age test to determine which aspects of your health need the most attention.

Undoing Premature Photoaging

Nobody wants to have leathery, prematurely wrinkled skin from overexposure to the sun- or indeed for any reason. The great irony is that we seek to tan in the first place to sustain a look of youth and good health, only for it to age us in the long run.

Though damage to the skin is irreversible, a dermatologist or plastic surgeon can develop a treatment plan based on your needs, should you wish to seek medical attention. Treatments can include chemical peels, dermabrasion and skin fillers.

The Bottom Line

As we know, premature ageing is not the most dangerous on the list of potential costs of overexposure to UV. However, it is certainly a fate that the vast majority of us would wish to avoid.

While the visible signs may not show on your skin until many years after you have had a sunburn or suntan, avoiding UV injury is essential to maintaining healthy skin, both in the short term and the long term.

If you are getting out in the sunshine this Summer, stay safe and stay at your palest!

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