"The pot-stirring talker told Rachael Ray earlier this month that she "lives to tan" and declared 'exposure to the sun isn't dangerous.'
We all know that unprotected sun exposure = bad, bad, bad - but we inevitably want to look healthy and "sun-kissed" (i.e. we think a tan means healthy). I too went through my childhood and teenage years completely frying myself to get the much desired golden tan (spring break anyone??).
However, what I know now makes me want to scream at and kick my younger self (all info below is courtesty of www.skincancer.org):
- Tanning is the skin's reaction to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When skin is exposed to UV rays, cells called melanocytes produce the brown pigment melanin, which darkens the cells of the epidermis. This darkening of the skin cells is the skin's natural – if imperfect – defense against further damage from UV radiation.
- The sun's UV rays damage the DNA of the skin's epidermal cells, triggering enzymes that race to repair the damage. However, these enzymes do not always repair the DNA successfully, and all this unrepaired damage can lead to mutations that increase the risk of skin cancer. Also, repeated unprotected sun exposure can cause photoaging – wrinkles, sagging skin, and spots associated with sun damage.
- By the 1990's, scientists knew that UVA exacerbates the cancer-causing effects of UVB, and is the main wavelength behind photoaging. Recently, an Australian-U.S. study found that UVA may be more carcinogenic than UVB. It penetrates more deeply and causes more genetic damage in the skin cells (keratinocytes) where most skin cancers arise. The National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization now designate both UVA and UVB as causes of cancer.
- Darker skin does offer greater protection than light skin against sunburn and skin cancer. However, that applies only to people with naturally darker skin. Tanning, like sunburns, attacks the skin's DNA, producing genetic defects that may cause skin cancer.
- Both [tanning and sunburns] are dangerous, because both result from DNA damage to the skin cells. It is true that sunburn has been directly linked to melanoma – one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence, or five sunburns total over the course of one’s life, more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life. It is usually thought that lifetime sun exposure is responsible for increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma, while both intense, intermittent sun exposure – the pattern that is traditionally linked to melanoma – and lifetime exposure are believed to be involved in the development of basal cell carcinoma. However, studies have also shown a marked increase in melanoma incidence in people who have developed either squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma. Scientists are still trying to determine the exact exposure pattern behind the development of the different types of skin cancer, but it is safe to say that both burning and tanning play major roles in skin cancer.
- Tanning salon owners say tanning machines are safer than outdoor tanning for two reasons: 1) they mainly use UVA rays, and 2) they offer more "controlled" UV exposure. However, we know now that UVA is a carcinogen, and studies have revealed that tanning salons frequently exceed "safe" UV limits. Study after study has shown that sunbed tanning increases the risk of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers.
- Wear sunscreen (minimum SPF 15) any time you're going to be outside - even if you're going to be driving in your car (UVA rays can penetrate glass). A higher SPF is always a good idea for your face. Make sure to apply 1 oz. (equivalent of half of a shot glass) to your body and 1 tablespoon to your face at least 30 min before you step out the door. Also, reapply every two hours or after swimming/profusely sweating
- If you're going to be sitting in the direct sunlight for an extended period of time (beach, picnic, etc.), cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Invest in some self tanner if you want a deep, golden tan (there are really good ones on the market these days) or get a spray tan (much cheaper than future cancer treatments)
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
**Photo courtesy of www.csolyn.com