Thursday, January 15, 2009

Can You Get A Safe Tan With Tanning Beds?

As a person who has used tanning beds in the recent past and use to love baking in the sun when I was younger, I decided the need for more information was necessary as I stared in the mirror noticing the cumulative effects the sun has had on my skin over the years. Is it possible to really get a tan safely using a tanning bed? I really didn't know! I at least thought I was doing the best thing for my skin. I mean it had to be better than the sun since these beds kept me from burning, right?

Dermatologists say "No", and don't recommend tanning at all. Other doctors including Dr. Michael Holick, director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory and professor of Medicine, Dermatology, Physiology, and Biophysics at Boston University Medical Center encourage getting some sun, usually 10-20 minutes during midday, to increase vitamin D within our bodies. The time frame is depending on how fair you are. The hours before 10 am and after 4 pm actually have more of the harmful UVA rays. Midday gives us the higher concentration of the UVB rays which provide us with the essential Vitamin D to help support our immune system. This vitamin is a known source for prevention of certain types of cancer, including colon cancer and many others. It is also excellent for fighting depression, stroke, heart disease and osteoporosis. Currently due to the concerns about skin cancer, most Americans of all races are vitamin D deficient since most of us are covering ourselves in sunscreens.

But can you increase this vitamin using a tanning bed?

The answer is "no"! However the tanning bed industry would like to convince us otherwise.

I personally was going to the tanning bed in the winter before going on a vacation to a warm location because I am pretty fair yet I will tan. If I tried to go south with my pale skin, my sunburns were the worst despite being perched in the shade or slathering on SPF creams of 30+. So for me a tanning bed was the answer to protect my skin from that terrible sunburn along with sunscreens, but at what cost?

One thing is for sure getting some natural sun will cause the melanin in the skin to react which in turn will give you a tan slowly. A natural tan does protect us from further sunburn which when a sunburn occurs is what encourages wrinkling of the skin and causes severe damage to the epidermis and deeper. And if you live in a region where sun exposure is limited to only the summers then winter time can become depressing since sunshine is proven to be an excellent mood elevator.

So some of us cruise to our local tanning salon for that shot of warmth to our bones and to improve our complexion with a golden brown color. And of course the tanning salon will convince you that a tanning bed is the safe way to get a tan and to increase vitamin D in our bodies. But this is misleading information.

First off the tanning bed and our natural sun effect the skin differently. They both give off different levels of UVA and UVB rays and our skin absorbs both but in different ways.

UVA Rays are what reach deep within the layers of the dermis and are what cause wrinkling and permanent DNA changes to our skin yet you will have that beautiful golden tan that signifies health and well being but there will be no stimulation of vitamin D.

UVB rays are what only effect the immediate surface of our skin and are what give us that glorious sunburn when we allow ourselves to get overexposed quickly, yet also triggers the vital vitamin D our bodies crave for genuine health not just the fake appearance of it.

Either way UVA and UVB rays contribute to changes in the skin and cause many forms of skin cancer. UVB are the rays which can burn you in as little as 20 minutes when we allow ourselves to jump right into getting that beautiful tan. Such as coming fresh out of winter and our skin is white like alabaster, or we are convinced without a sunburn we won't tan. However when limiting our time in the natural sun for the recommended time by the Mayo Clinic we will have minimal skin damage, get a very slow increase in skin color (yes a tan) giving us a low risk of skin cancer and will be perfect for increasing the necessary vitamin D within our bodies. The key is to prevent the initial aging, skin damaging sunburn at all costs. Take it easy!

Tanning salons on the other hand are into the sales pitch about them only utilizing the UVA non-burning rays to provide us with a safe tan. Their beds are typically calibrated to be 95% UVA in order to reduce burning and increase browning. However the level of exposure increases significantly since we are completely exposed, usually buck naked, allowing huge absorption ratios of UVA rays.

In natural sun we seldom walk around naked, and are either in shorts and sleeveless shirts or a swimsuit at times. This is usually sufficient exposure to the skin to absorb UVB rays for its healing properties. Exposure only to our arms and legs will give us enough of a vitamin D boost to our immune systems to keep us happy and healthy.

I of course always protect my head and face to keep any more sun away from these areas despite the benefits it has. Remember, the skin on our neck and face is much thinner whereby it stands to reason why we wear most of the damage on our faces and show signs of our age like wearing a badge of honor signifying our years of foolish sun-baking.

Of course when some of us live farther north and have less sun exposure throughout the year, may be tempted to head to the tanning salon. But don't since substituting with vitamin D3 will do the trick until we can soak up those natural rays once again.

Just don't be lulled into a sense of safety with these beds just because the UVB burning rays are removed.

Bottom line anytime we overexpose ourselves to UVA or UVB rays we increase our risk of sun damage and changes to our skin including increasing the signs of aging. When used in moderation getting color can be achieved safely to a degree such as my brief stint with tanning beds before my trip because the fact is, darker skin will help protect the skin from further sunburn. But maintaining a tan throughout the winter the artificial way will definitely over time subject our bodies to significant changes to our DNA and will have far reaching ramifications to our overall health.

For those of us fortunate to live in areas where we can catch some natural rays in moderation all year long then we will have the benefits of the health producing vitamin D year round.

Moderation is always key in all things and when dealing with our sun, do it the safe way and remember even our natural sunshine can cause great harm if we don't protect ourselves from its' rays during the majority of peak sun hours between 10 am and 4 pm except for a small dose of vitamin D. Also be cautious around areas that cast reflection of the sun rays since this will also intensify its' effects.

Example: areas around patios, lying by the side of a pool or floating on top of the water on a mattress.

Also the time specified by the Mayo Clinic is for those of Caucasian skin type and those with darker skin will need longer exposure to receive same benefits due to the levels of protective melanin in their skin.

Bottom line, I avoid tanning beds now, once I learned how they really work and I make sure I also limit my time in the natural sun as well and stick to the Mayo clinic recommendations. Use the sun for good health and our sun will be our best friend for overall well being and tanning beds are certainly no substitute for Mr. Sunshine.

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