Dangers of Outdoor Tanning
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 develops only after so much damage has occurred to one’s skin cells 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 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. It can take up to 48 hours to see the full effect of sunburn.
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.
Greatest in late spring and early summer: from May to August in the Northern hemisphere and from November to February in the Southern hemisphere.
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.*
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).
Strongest on cloudless days.
Up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate light clouds, haze, and fog.
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%.
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 device, 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|
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Antiaging and acne medications
Oral contraceptives and estrogens
ethinyl estradiol and norgestrel
Blood pressure and cardiovascular medications
Elavil, Tofranil, Pamelor
*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.