Dangers of Tanning and Burning

It is not true that you have to burn in order to tan. In fact, trying to “tan through the burn” is a dangerous practice that only causes more skin damage. Tanning and burning are both forms of skin damage caused by overexposure to UV radiation.

  • A tan occurs only after so much damage to one’s skin cells has occurred that the damaged skin tries to protect itself by sending signals to the melanocytes to produce more melanin, the pigment that darkens your skin. As the melanocytes produce protective melanin, the surrounding keratinocytes (skin cells) take it up and use it to try and shield their DNA. The more melanin that is produced, the darker the skin becomes. A tan then, is objective evidence that damage has already happened, and the body is expending energy to prevent such damage from happening again.
  • Sunburn occurs when your skin cannot produce melanin quickly enough to prevent UV rays from injuring the skin’s surface and the deeper blood vessels. Damage to blood vessels causes inflammation and swelling (which turns the skin red) as well as pain. Severe sunburns can cause enough inflammation that people become nauseated and sick for a time. Because the inflammatory process is not instantaneous, it can take up to 48 hours to see the full effect of sunburn.
  • An estimated one million Americans visit tanning salons every day. Tanning devices such as sun lamps are also available for home use. Since the tanning industry is largely unregulated it is important to be aware of the risk involved in using tanning equipment.
  • One misconception promoted by the indoor tanning industry is that tanning beds give off only the “safe, tanning rays”, of UV radiation. There is no such thing as safe UV radiation. In fact, exposure to the highly concentrated UV rays of tanning beds and sunlamps may be even more dangerous than exposure to the sun. Long term use of tanning beds and sunlamps, is associated with premature skin aging, the development of cataracts, and non-melanoma skin cancers. Several studies show that excessive use of tanning beds and sunlamps is associated with an increased risk of developing melanoma. The use of sunlamps is also associated with malignant melanoma of the eye.

How Much UV Reaches My Skin?

Your level of exposure to UV radiation depends upon the following factors:

Factor How Much UV Radiation? Did You Know?

Time of day

Greatest when the sun is highest in the sky at midday, between 10 am and 4 pm.

How much UV exposure you're getting can be measured by your shadow. If it's shorter than you, then your exposure is high; if it's taller, your exposure is lower

Season

Greatest in late spring and early summer: from May to August in the Northern hemisphere and from November to February in the Southern hemisphere.

Altitude

Greater at higher elevations like in the mountains, where the air and cloud cover is thinner.

UV levels increase with altitude at the rate of 2% for every 1000-foot rise in elevation, or 1 UV index number for every 4000 feet in summer.*

Geography

Strongest at the equator and in the tropics, where the sun is highest in the sky.

Weakens as you move towards the earth's poles (both north and south).

Cloud cover

Strongest on cloudless days.

Up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate light clouds, haze, and fog.

Reflecting surface

The whiter the surface, the higher the UV level. Snow reflects the sun like a mirror. Light clothing is more reflective than dark clothing.

Fresh snow reflects up to 85% of the sun's rays, nearly doubling your exposure. Sand and concrete reflect up to 12% Grass and water reflect up to 5%.

Ozone holes

Breaks in the protective ozone layer of the atmosphere significantly increase exposure to UV.

Holes exist over extremely cold areas, especially over the South Pole and the Arctic.

Length of exposure

The longer you are out in the sun or on a tanning bed, the more UV radiation you receive.

This includes any time spent outdoors, including walking, getting the mail, waiting for a train or bus, or playing an outdoor sport.

*According to the National Weather Service

Medications That Increase Sun Sensitivity

Certain medications increase your photosensitivity, or sensitivity to the effects of the sun. Check with your prescribing physician to see if your medication(s) are in this group. A partial list is provided below.

Type Generic Name Brand Name

Antibiotics

Tetracycline
doxycycline
ciprofloxacin
sulfanomide

Achromycin, Sumycin
Cipro
Bactrim, Septra

Antihistamines

diphenhydramine
cyproheptadine

Benadryl
Periactin

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Ibuprofen
ketoprofen
naproxen

Advil, Motrin
Orudis, Oruvail
Aleve, Anaprox Naprosyn

Diuretics

furosemide
bumetanide
hydrochlorothiazide

Lasix
Bumex
Esidrix,
Hydrodiuril

Anticancer medications

dacarbazine
methotrexate

DTIC
Zelboraf
Rheumatrex

Antiaging and acne medications

isotretinoin
tretinoin

Accutane
Retin-A

Antifungal medications

terbinafine

Lamisil

Hypoglycemics
(treatment of type 2 diabetes)

glipizide
glyburide

Glucotrol
DiaBeta, Micronase

Oral contraceptives and estrogens

ethinyl estradiol and norgestrel
conjugated estrogens
estradiol

Lo/Ovral, Ovral
Premarin
Alora, Estroderm

Blood pressure and cardiovascular medications

amiodarone
enalapril
diltiazem
quinidine

Cordarone, Vasotec
Cardizem, Dilacor
Quinidex Extentabs,
Cardioquin

Psychiatric medications
(tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, antianxiety medications)

amitriptyline,imipramine,
nortriptyline
chlorpromazine
alprazolam, diazepam

Elavil, Tofranil, Pamelor
Thorazine, Ormazine
Xanax, Valium

*This is a partial list of some common medications only. Check the drug information sheets that come with your medications or contact your doctor to see if you need to take special precautions in the sun.

Considering a Base Tan?

There is no such thing as safe UV Radiation or safe tanning rays.

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