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Indoor and Outdoor Tanning - Dos and Don'ts

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How to tan safely indoors and outdoors

Nothing says healthy like a glowing sun-kissed complexion, right? Well, not exactly. When you’re tanning, the UVA radiation penetrates deep into the skin, causing DNA damage. The body reacts by releasing melanin, the brown pigment desired by sun worshipers, as an imperfect defense mechanism against further injury. Sunburn and redness are the result of the shorter but equally harmful UVB ray. Prolonged exposure to either radiation can trigger DNA mutation that leads to skin cancer and damage. In fact, major health organizations consider both to be carcinogenic, and therefore advise against tanning, indoors or outdoors.

Tanning also contributes to photoaging, or premature wrinkles, while lowering the immune system. If you still want to achieve a golden tan, with or without sun, take the following safe tanning tips to minimize unwanted effects and focus on skin cancer and sun damage prevention.

Outdoor Tanning

  • Avoid peak hours from 10  a.m. to 3 p.m., when the sun’s UV radiation is at its most intense.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 for protection from sun damage. It should be broad or multi-spectrum to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply 30 minutes before going out and reapply after every two hours, even if you’re using a higher SPF.
  • Have a bottle of after-sun lotion on standby, in case you get sunburn. After-sun lotions contain emollients like aloe vera that help to heal and rehydrate dry, cracked skin.

Indoor Tanning

  • Contrary to what tanning salons tell you, the controlled environment provided by tanning beds is not safer than outdoor tanning; they’re actually more dangerous. The UVA radiation emitted by the fluorescent lamps can be as much as three times stronger than that produced by natural light increasing the risk of skin damage. With the new high-pressure sunlamps, frequent users may receive “as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they received from sun exposure,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Indoor tanners’ chances of developing melanoma skin cancer is 74 percent higher than those who’ve never used tanning beds. That’s why you should limit indoor tanning – or better yet, avoid it altogether.
  • Always wear protective eye gear. Under such intense UV radiation the risk for developing cataracts increases substantially, compared to outdoor tanning.
  • Don’t skip the post-tanning moisturizer. After your skin has been subjected to prolonged UV bombardment, causing collagen and elastin breakdown, it needs all the help it can get to recover. At some point, however, the cumulative effects of frequent exposure will make complete healing and the return of the skin’s elastic properties impossible.
  • Avoid intentional exposure to sunlight for 48 hours after tanning.
  • Certain drugs can increase your skin’s photosensitivity, causing you to sunburn or develop a rash even under moderate exposure. If you’re taking antidepressants, antibiotics, antifungals or birth control pills, experts recommend avoiding tanning altogether.

Sunless Tanning

  • Self-tanning products or bronzers, which come in lotions, creams, gels, and wipes--are a much safer way to tan. Some of them are even hydrating, but they all generally contain the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone, a carbohydrate that binds to the skin and temporarily darkens it.
  • After shaving, wait at least 12 hours before applying a self-tanner to prevent skin irritation.
  • When using self-applying spray tans and non-UV tanning aerosol booths offered in many salons, wear goggles, nose plugs, and a mouthpiece to prevent inhaling or ingesting the chemicals.

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