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Safe Sun Tanning

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Walk into a room in shorts and a T-shirt showing off a glowing tan and chances are someone will say, "Hey, you look great!" Getting a tan is a preoccupation for North Americans.

Walk into a room in shorts and a T-shirt showing off a glowing tan and chances are someone will say, “Hey, you look great!”

Getting a tan is a preoccupation for North Americans. But we all know that tanning is hazardous. Each year the rising rates of skin cancer are blamed on failure to protect the skin from ultraviolet rays, yet the strong desire to have a summer tan does not fade.

Depletion of the ozone layer has changed our way of thinking about sun protection - there is no doubt that the sun rays today are stronger and more intense those of 50 years ago.

Extended exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun causes skin damage and premature aging. However, it is important to remember that sunlight is vital to good health. Small amounts of UV rays stimulate the body to produce vitamin D, an essential vitamin for good health. Deficiency of vitamin D is a serious health concern and leads to conditions such as rickets in children.

Tanning Tips

Gradual exposure to the sun’s rays activates the body to go into sun protection mode. The body’s natural sunscreen, melanin, is produced by the lower layer of the skin as a protection against burning. The production of melanin causes the skin to darken in colour.

Gradual periods of sun tanning allow the natural production of melanin to increase. Treat winter-pale skin with respect; expose skin for short periods in early morning before 11 am and after 3 pm. There is no general rule for a “safe” amount of time to expose skin to the sun, so always keep quick cover-ups handy: a cotton shirt and light cotton pants. These will prevent painful burns and skin damage.

Sunscreen Do’s and Don’ts

Before purchasing sunscreen products have a good knowledge of what you do not want. A serious cause of concern are the ingredients that mimic hormone activity and may cause harmful side-effects. One ingredient that is currently under scrutiny is 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC). Urea formaldehyde is another undesirable chemical and the cause of allergic reactions on sensitive skins. Methyl and propylene parabens are preservatives found in many sunscreens that are suspected skin allergens.

When you buy a product without preservatives remember that sunscreens deteriorate rapidly when left in a hot car or on the beach. You must take only small amounts out each day and leave the remaining product in the refrigerator. Replace sunscreens regularly, every 6 months is a safe recommendation.

The most hazardous aspect of sunscreens is the false sense of security. Skin cancer has not declined with increased use of sunscreens. Sunscreen users assume that by wearing sunscreens they are protected for extended periods of time. To the contrary, sunscreens protect the skin from ultraviolet ray damage; they do not to extend the time it is safe for you to spend in the sun. The SPF or Sun Protection Factor of 40 is not intended to encourage users to stay in the sun 40 times longer! It is an indication of the strength of protection.

Titanium dioxide-based and/or zinc oxide-based sunscreens are the safest and most effective because they protect from both UVA and UVB radiation in ultraviolet sun rays. UVA has an aging effect and UVA burning: titanium dioxide sun-protection lotions absorb UVB rays and scatter UVA rays.

The early look of a titanium dioxide product was a thick white paste. This has dramatically changed since titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are now available to manufacturers as micro-fine particles, and both have a very good safety record. (Baby creams and sensitive skin treatments frequently include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.) Titanium dioxide is also a very stable product and has a recommended storage life of 12 months.

Other natural ingredients to look for in a sunscreen product are aloe vera and vitamin E. Aloe vera enables the skin to hold moisture. The enzymes and amino acids in aloe vera gel promote healthy cell growth and leave the skin soft and smooth. Vitamin E is “the” skin-care vitamin. A daily supplement of vitamin E will enhance the production of healthy skin cells. Visit your natural health food store for natural sunscreens and supplements.

Natural sun protection products take a little searching out, but skin care is a lifelong project. The sun’s rays are life giving and essential to health. Treat them with the respect they deserve.

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