Why Tanning Beds Are Not Such A Good Idea
Why an article about sun exposure in a winter issue? Well many who have tans acquired during the summer months spent pool side will want to maintain their tans though out the winter or prep for extended summer exposures by utilizing the tanning bed during the winter months or early spring. This article covers the reasons why that may not be such a good idea.
The skin is our largest organ and perhaps the most often ignored or abused. It serves many functions; it is our first line of defense, a protective barrier to disease and injury, a temperature regulator, a means by which some toxins are eliminated by perspiration and the mechanism by which endogenous Vitamin D is produced. It also happens to be the first attribute that someone will notice about us. Our appearance can speak volumes about our general health, attitude and lifestyle. That is why the misconception of a bronzed body as a picture of health should be dispelled.
During the Victorian era the pale porcelain skin tone of the wealthy was sought after. People with suntans were considered commoners or laborers. Today, our runway models and Sports Illustrated cover-girls sport deep dark tans, a look that=2 0adolescents and Gen X and Y-ers want to mimic. However, protecting our skin against harm is very necessary for overall good health. Avoiding exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays outside or those present in tanning beds is a must for better looking skin in the long run. While tanning salons boast the safety of their equipment as opposed to direct sunlight, they are in fact not safer and may be even more harmful.
The two major types of ultraviolet radiation are UV-A and UV-B. Both are found in direct sunlight. Ozone in our atmosphere block out much of the UV-B. UV-B is a shorter wavelength and tends to cause the “burn” in sunburn (remember B is for burn). UV-A rays are longer wavelength and penetrate deeply into skin and the undersurfaces of skin. There UV-A rays damage collagen and elastin which are responsible for soft flexible skin. Destruction of these important proteins will cause a leathery, dry, wrinkly skin (remember A is for aging). While both types can cause skin cancer, UV-A is associated with melanoma (an often-fatal cancer). UV-B plays a significant role in skin cancers called basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Individuals that live closer to the polar regions or at high altitudes suffer more UV exposure as the ozone layer and atmosphere is thinner there. Quite a bit of photo-aging and skin cancers are seen in the mountain folk of Peru for example.
Tanning beds produce UV-A rays. This is intentional as they will cause the melanocytes in the skin to pr oduce more melanin (brown pigment) and thus the “nice bronze tan” and reduce the chances of a burn. Melanin is the body's way of producing a natural sun block. That is why individuals with dark complexion are less likely to suffer from skin cancers than are fair skinned Caucasians. Tanning beds do not prevent deep penetration and destruction of collagen and elastin layers by UV rays and thus result in rapid photoaging. So you may have a sexy tan for a few years but pay for it with old wrinkly skin a few years later. Not a wise investment if you ask me.
It is easy to avoid tanning beds, just don't go. It is not so easy to avoid natural sunlight unless you live in a cave, so sunscreens and protective clothing is important. Most sunscreens provide protection from UV-B rays, but most sunscreens fall short against UV-A rays. Only those products containing Parsol 1789 (avobenzone) or zinc oxide protect against both UV-B and all types of UV-A rays. Make sure the sun block you use contains one of those ingredients.
Some natural considerations pertaining to nurturing and protecting the skin from aging are as follows. Adequate oral hydration is crucial. Essential fatty acids such as evening primrose oil, borage oil and black currant seed oil have gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which appears beneficial in some research studies. Some eczema and dry skin suffers benefit from fish oils containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Vitamin E (orally) appears to be helpful. Antioxidants such as Green Te a extract and coenzyme Q10 taken orally or topically help with slowing the aging process of skin. Another potent antioxidant, Vitamin C in higher doses has been shown effective in controlling skin aging and disease. Traditional Chinese herbal preparations of licorice root, chamomile, calendula and chickweed have reported benefits, and the anti-inflammatory properties of Sarsaparilla and mint extract seem useful as do creams containing witch hazel and phosphatidyl choline.
If you want the golden glow of a tan without exposure to damaging UV light, consider using sunless tanning products or bronzers. An alternative is the "spray on tan", while temporary is much safer than the tanning bed. But keep in mind that many of these products don't contain sunscreen and won't protect you from the sun.
Probably the only true utility for tanning beds is in the medical treatment of psoriasis. It is termed UV-phototherapy. Psoriasis phototherapy is the use of ultraviolet light to slow the rapid growth of new skin cells. This is extremely helpful in treating this disease, which causes skin cells to grow too rapidly. Both types of ultraviolet (UV) light therapy are utilized. PUVA (the use of psoralen medications with UV-A light therapy) is used when psoriasis is disabling and safer treatments have failed. UV-B light alone (without any drugs) is used for widespread plaque psoriasis and guttate psoriasis.
You need some sunlight exposure to make Vitamin-D and full spectrum light to maintain good mood. So do your skin a fa vor, when exposing your skin to light, keep it natural and cover up with protective clothing and sunscreens to help maintain healthy, beautiful youthful skin. Shun the tanning beds, as they do more harm than good in the long run.
So as you get ready to head on down to the beaches for spring break in a few months, remember to avoid the harmful skin aging effects of too much sun, tobacco and alcohol. Eat a well balanced diet with whole grains, fresh veggies, fruit, and “good” fats. Take in the proper daily supplements and plenty of water. Avoid prolonged exposure to natural sunlight, use SPF of 15 or better when outdoors, and avoid those harmful tanning beds for any pre-tanning you are thinking of doing before you go.
JP Saleeby, MD is medical director of the Emergency Department at Marlboro Park Hospital. He is also an integrative practitioner offering telemedicine services at www.saleeby.net. He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org