Shun the Sun for Great Skin

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Teens, if you want great skin now — and 10 years from now — then you need
to shun the sun. Sure, you may think, “bronze is beautiful,” but
research shows just the opposite: The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays make skin
look old and wrinkled years before it should and can lead to skin cancer, even
in teens. Yet not only is a tan harmful, one study shows it’s
“addictive,” too.

In an interview with WebMD, Seattle-based dermatologist Robin Hornung, MD,
talks about her new study on college students and tans. Dr. Hornung says that
tanning becomes like an addiction. Students who get their tans indoors — under
a sun lamp — are more likely to be addicted to tanning than those who go
outside to get a tan. “Those who indoor-tan are more apt to get addictive
habits such as drinking and smoking,” says Dr. Hornung.

It’s thought that tanning is addictive because the body gives off
endorphins, “feel-good” hormones, when it’s in UV light. Tanning may also be
addictive because being tan is “cool.” Hornung says that teens feel good when
they have a tan, and so they want to do it again … and again. Of course, the
addictive factor may be a mix of these reasons, and Hornung said more research
is needed to be sure.

Teen Skin and Sun Damage

“What does not need more research,” says Hornung, “is how tanning affects
your skin. The UV light rays from the sun and from sunlamps damage the
skin.”

Hornung says, “In small amounts, the sun is not usually a problem. Yet after
a lot of tanning, the skin gets brown spots and early sunburn prevention,” says Kaminsky, “and
many factors influence the effectiveness of a sunscreen, including your skin
type, when you put on the product, the amount you apply, and the time of day
you go out — early, midday or late in the day. The sunscreen’s value will also
depend on the thickness of the skin and the type of skin — fair, olive, or
black skin.”

Kaminsky says to put on sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go out into
the sun. Put it on once more every 2 hours, especially after swimming or
sweating.

Catch Rays … But Just a Few

It’s OK to get some sun to give yourself ample vitamin D, which works to
build strong bones and boost your immune system to keep you well. That said,
milk and other foods are fortified with vitamin D, so you don’t need much time
in the sun to fill your body’s needs.

How much time in the sun is healthy? “It’s hard to tell how much sun you
really need,” says Dr. Hornung, “Ten to 15 minutes of sun a few times a week is
plenty.”

What about slowly building a “base tan,” to protect your skin from long days
at the beach? Dr. Hornung says it won’t protect your skin. “Even if you want to
build a base tan before hitting the beach,” she says, “the SPF protection value
of the base tan is small. It’s not the best way to guard against a future
burn.”

Also, whether you get your tan slowly as a base tan or all in one week, the
studies show that tanned skin increases the risk of sun damage.

Leave the Burn Behind

The bottom line: Avoid the sun to protect your skin from skin cancer and
premature aging. Cover up with a hat and shirt, wear sunglasses, stay out of
the midday sun, and use sunscreen, which works pretty well. Hornung says, “Even
if you could find sunscreen with an SPF of 100, it would not shield your skin
well enough. The UV rays still go right into the skin.”

While Dr. Hornung hopes that teens will soon think pale skin looks good,
there is a “safe” way to look tan and have great skin for life: the
spray-on tan. “The spray-on tan is a good option,” Hornung says. “Each time
you’re in UV light, you harm your DNA. While the body usually repairs the DNA,
why risk hurting your skin when you can spray-on a tan?”

Whether you shun the sun this year or not, you still need to be aware of
skin changes. If you have moles, light hair and fair skin, a family history of
skin cancer, or years of sun exposure, talk to your doctor about your risk of
skin cancer. With early detection and treatment, most cases of skin cancer are
curable.