This is a topic that has impacted my life in a couple ways. First, I am a natural redhead, meaning I have the freckles and white skin that often accompany that trait. As a kid I would burn instantly, but growing up in the Pacific Northwest it wasn’t too much of an issue. The sun was only strong enough in the summer, and that is really only 2 months out of the year.
This is the UV index for Redmond, Washington today. ☁️
It wasn’t until much later in life, while studying comparative vertebrate anatomy, that I learned that my cells produce phaeomelanin, the least effective of the two forms of melanin. My melanocytes, (the cells in our skin that produce melanin) do not make the brown pigment that allows others to tan more easily. If you are a burner like me, then you also produce phaeomelanin, which are the yellow and red pigments. We are the freckled population!
I apply sunscreen everyday, yes everyday! My skin type is extremely sensitive to UV and we are constantly exposed, even on overcast days. I am concerned about all the effects of aging, not just melanoma.
Fast forward 40 years of so, and I now have a second home in Tucson, Arizona. This is a climate where the sun shines constantly! I have to be careful, but not as much as I thought I would have to be. Interestingly, as many of you know, things change as we age. I still have lots of freckles, but I don’t burn as quickly as once did.
The UV index for the same date, in Tucson, Arizona. My environment has definetly changed ☀️
I thought it might be a good idea, with summer approaching, to take a look at our skin health. It is the largest organ of the body, after all!
Why do we tan in the first place, biologically?
UV light damages DNA. Melanin pigment is produced in an effort of the cell to aborsorb the UV wavelength, thereby protecting the DNA. The more UV exposure the darker the melanin pigment becomes in the outer layer of our skin. The lower layers will begin melanogenesis, a process to produces the melanocyte cells, which are full of melanin. Those cells move upward toward the surface of the skin, as you slough cells continuously. Once the UV stimulus is removed, melanogenesis slows and the dark cells are sloughed off.
If I get a “base tan” will I be better protected?
No. And that is going to bother some people. Regardless of what the tanning bed industry tells you, all UV light is damaging. The proof is the color of your skin!
All tans are signs of skin damage, regardless if the UV source is natural, or from a tanning bed! There are literally dozens of thorough, scientific studies to back up that claim. And still, people go to tanning salons, just as they continue to consume tobacco products in the face of overwhelming proof that cigarette are linked to cancer.😔
Melanomas are not the only damage: wrinkles, brown spots (age spots) and crepey skin are all long term effects from exposure to UV light sources.
If I don’t have a tan, am I getting enough Vitamin D?
Yes. Your body is incredible efficient at making Vitamin D and needs very little exposure to UV light to activate that pathway. In fact, the tan would be blocking the UV light from making the vitamin! There are far too many good sources of vitamin D that you can consume in your diet to justify the need to tan. At worst, you can take a supplement which would not harm your DNA!
Did you know?
National “Don’t Fry Day!” is May 25 this year! So, get out that sunscreen and apply generously and often!