There’s something that’s just so nice about having a tan. It’s slimming, so there’s that. And if you’ve got the right complexion, it can really give you a certain summer glow. Suddenly, white looks better on you, people compliment you on your colouring and you just feel a little bit better in your own skin. Not to mention the fact that for some, lying in the warm sun is one of the most relaxing summer activities.
Unfortunately, we’ve also been told that tanning is bad for us. Like, really bad for us. The cancer-causing type of bad for us, and we need to stop doing it immediately.
But do we? We decided to invoke the expertise of the Canadian Dermatology Association‘s Chair of the Sun Awareness Program, Dr. Jennifer Beecker. Here, she fights back against our inner voice that still tries to justify tanning every time we plan on heading out into the sun.
I never burn, so I’m not at risk.
There are six different skin types in the world (learn yours out here), and while it’s true that some skin types are more susceptible to the sun than others, everyone is at risk. No matter what.
“People with darker skin are still at risk of skin cancer,” Dr. Beecker says. “They are at lower risk than people with lighter skin, but just because they don’t get a sunburn doesn’t mean they’re not getting damage, and they still have a risk of skin cancer.”
I look a lot better with a tan. Haven’t you ever heard of GTL?
While heading to the gym and doing your laundry are great habits to get into — we can thank the kids from Jersey Shore for that — heading to the tanning salon or to the park for some quick rays is not. Both expose the body to UV rays, which cause skin damage.
“In your cells you have pigment and pigment-making factories,” Beecker explains. “When the light shines down, the UV radiation starts damaging the DNA in your cells. So your cells push all that pigment to the top, almost like they’re trying to form a little hat. That’s part of a tan. It causes mutations and that’s how cancer starts, is with mutations in the cell. When enough mutations accumulate you get cancer.”
As if that wasn’t enough of a deterrent from heading outdoors, tanning doesn’t make us look so hot when we’re older either, thanks to the wrinkles and age spots it produces.
Well, I still need my vitamin D.
Fair enough. After all, don’t we all? New studies are showing that there are better ways to get your daily dose of the sunshine vitamin, aside from the actual sun. Diet and supplements are often a better bet, says the good doc.
“There have been studies of people in Hawaii, young people who didn’t wear any sunscreen and were out for 20 hours a week in the sun,” she explains. “Most of them were deficient in Vitamin D. So it’s not a good way to get Vitamin D. Even if you’re out tons of the time, it doesn’t mean you’ll have lots of vitamin D. And there’s no safe amount of sun.”
I’m still wearing a high sunscreen, that’s enough.
Dr. Beecker admits that the studies involving the use of sunscreen are positive and that everyone should get into the habit of wearing it daily — even during the winter months or overcast days. After all, you never know when you’ll unexpectedly be outside. But it’s not the only way to prevent sun exposure, and direct tanning exposure is still bad, sunscreen or not.
“You shouldn’t suntan is the bottom line, and sun safety isn’t just one thing,” she adds. “It is good to wear a high SPF sunscreen of at least 30 or higher, like a 60. But it’s best not to be tanning at all. I want people to live their lives and be healthy; I’m not saying never go outside. But be smart about going outside.”
For Beecker, that includes wearing protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, large sunglasses and avoiding exposure during peak hours — usually between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
I’ll worry about it when I’m older.
There are many reasons for the billion-dollar cosmetics industry, and the irreversible effects from sun damage definitely keep it lucrative. Sadly, it’s not a matter of just being smart about the sun later on in life; it’s something we need to take into consideration now, says Beecker.
“That’s the problem — a lot of the damage is permanent,” she concludes. “People are constantly trying to reverse the effects of the sun, which include aging signs like wrinkles and spots. But unfortunately most of it is irreversible.”
It’s not really that bad for you — people are just blowing this out of proportion.
According to Beecker, that couldn’t be further from the reality of the situation in Canada.
“Skin cancer in Canada is just becoming an epidemic right now,” she says. “One in 50 people will have melanoma and that’s the really potentially deadly type. It’s really increased in frequency the last 50-to-100 years.”
Think you’ve had some overexposure to the sun? Be sure to check your body for any new spots on your skin, or any changing spots. They don’t have to be brown either. A pink bump, a new spot or any sore that doesn’t heal after a month is worth a visit to the doctor’s office.
“The basic thing that I would like to get across is that sun safety is pretty easy,” Beecker wraps. “Sun exposure is the easiest thing to avoid.”