First of all what is a tan?
To put it in simple terms, it is our body’s natural protective response against internal skin damage. So when people say they have a “healthy tan” this is far from being true. Within the basal layer and upper dermis are our pigment producing cells called melanocytes. These cells are stimulated by exposure to ultraviolet rays and manufactures melanin, the skin pigment that is the body’s natural sunscreen. Although people think a tan is healthy, a tan is actually a chemical reaction of the body defending itself from the damaging rays of the sun! A tan is actually the body and skin saying “don’t do this to me!” So what happens to our skin when we get a base tan from a tanning bed, it causes a start of inflammation, that actually makes damage from further UV rays worse. This is because inflammation sensitizes the skin and makes it more vulnerable to added insult later.
Bottom line is, “The melanin produced by tanning is not protective as compared to natural genetic adaptive melanin. So you are only increasing cell damage by getting a base tan and increasing inflammation. Now add tanning at the beach on top of this and you are only causing more skin damage.” Dr Abdullah
So what is the difference between a tan and naturally having darker skin?
When you have darker skin naturally, the melanin distribution is evenly covered over the nuclei of the surrounding cells. This “coating” gives the greatest protection for DNA which is inside the nucleus of the cell.
When we get a tan, the pigment does not surround the cells in an orderly fashion as it does in ethnic skin. Unlike ethnic skin, the pigment that is stimulated gets “scattered” throughout the skin, and sloughs off with the natural sloughing of dead skin cells, therefore it gives us temporary color.
The color you get with a tan does not give you the same solar defense as if that was your genetic skin color. Your genes determine how much your skin color will protect you from the sun. So the color you get with a tan, no matter if it’s from the sun, the tanning booths, or sunless tanner, it is not the same thing, and doesn’t protect your skin from UV damage. A tan provides us with only an SPF of about a 4, and therefore won’t protect us from skin damage.
So what option do we have when we want a little “color” for that special occasion or vacation without causing damage to our skin?
The good news is there is a safer alternative. Sunless tanning. How these products work, whether they come in the form of a liquid, gel, mousse or cream is by a chemical ingredient called DHA (dihydroxyacetone). When this ingredient binds to the proteins on the skin, it creates an orange/ brown color. One thing to remember with sunless tanners is that they are a temporary tan and should be very careful not to get in your eyes. They too will fade in a few days with the sloughing of dead skin cells, excess water exposure, sweating, and exfoliation. And just remember, self tanners do not contain sunscreen and won’t protect you from getting a sunburn or other damaging effects from the sun.
| posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 12:00 AM