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What sunburn does to your skin...
You may think it perverse of me to write about suntans considering the state of the Irish weather. So far this has been one of the worst summers we have had to endure for many years. We have been inflicted with frequent bouts of heavy rain and the average daily temperature has been well below the norm for this time of year. Many of our gardens look unusually dull because our garden plants have not basked in the rays of sunshine that are necessary to make them bloom.
Most days have been cloudy and dull and it really has required a conscious effort on all our parts to keep our spirits up. However, even though the weather has been bad many Irish people will be exposed to the effects of the sun as record numbers of people flee the emerald isle in pursuit of sunnier climes.
A fashion statement
Many people will return from their foreign holidays sporting a suntan, which they have deliberately sought. The suntan has often been regarded as a fashion statement or a mark of affluence. Before the advent of mass travel a suntan was like an expensive designer label that stated: "Ive got a few bob, I can afford to travel and this suntan proves it". Today some people even speak of a healthy tan. But given what we know about the effects of the sun on our skin maybe we should revisit such views.
'UV radiation is the most important environmental factor in the development of skin cancer, including melanoma, which is one of the most lethal of all cancers.'
A suntan is produced by a skin pigment called melanin, which is manufactured by a special type of skin cell called a melanocyte. Melanocytes are located in the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of the skin. When the skin is exposed to UV (ultraviolet) radiation from the sun the melanocytes are stimulated to produce melanin, which migrates to the surface and darkens the skin.
A persons skin type is a crucial determinant of whether or not they will tan. Skin type is defined on the basis of a six-part classification with skin type 1 being the most sensitive and skin type 6 being the least sensitive. Table 1 describes the characteristics of the various skin types. Skin types 1 and 2 are the predominant skin types in Celtic people, which means that for many Irish people no amount of baking in the sun will produce a tan.
Type 1 Very sensitive. Always burns. Never tans.
Type 2 Minimal tanning but burns easily
Type 3 Tans gradually and burns moderately
Type 4 Always tans well and burns minimally.
Type 5 Tans profusely and rarely burns
Type 6 Least sensitive. Rarely burns. Tans profusely.
Dermatologists maintain that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. If you have skin type 1 to 4, tanning does not sufficiently protect your skin from burning. It has been estimated in such cases that tanning provides no more protection for the skin than a very low factor sunscreen, which means very little protection at all. Even a light tan is a sign that your skin has been exposed to too much sun. Tanning is considered to be a response to injury because it appears after the UV radiation from the sun has destroyed some cells and injured others. UV radiation also gradually destroys the elastin and collagen fibres in the skin giving the skin a dry, wrinkled and aged look.
UV radiation is the most important environmental factor in the development of skin cancer, including melanoma, which is one of the most lethal of all cancers. It can also give rise to lip cancer. UV radiation also affects the eyes and can be an important contributory factor in cataract formation.
UV rays are invisible. For descriptive purposes they are divided into three types, UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA rays are the most abundant of the three on the earths surface. They are capable of penetrating the skin below the epidermis and can reach the dermis resulting in changes to the fibres in that layer. UVA rays do not burn the skin but can cause skin cancer. These are the type of rays that are produced by sunbeds.
Most of the UVB rays from the sun are screened out by the ozone layer but it is likely that more of these rays will reach the earths surface if reports about holes in the ozone layer are to be believed. UVB rays can burn the skin resulting in redness and blistering. Long-term exposure to UVB rays and frequent sunburn are associated with melanoma.
UVC rays are known to cause cancer but none of them reach the earths surface because of the protection from the ozone layer however, that could change in the future because of the aforementioned damage to the layer of ozone. UVC can be produced artificially by arc welding lamps and are known to be very damaging to the skin.
The level of UV radiation increases the closer you approach the equator because that is the closest point on the earths surface to the sun. The level of radiation is also higher at high altitude because there is less protection from the atmosphere the higher you ascend. Therefore skiers, mountain climbers and mountain trekkers need to be very careful about protecting their skin from being exposed to too much sun.
It is possible to protect the skin from UV radiation through the use of clothing, hats and sunscreens. Sunscreens work by absorbing, reflecting or dispersing the suns rays. Some work by absorbing the rays through a chemical reaction within the skin. These products contain chemicals such as methoxycinnamate and oxybenzone. Other sunscreens physically block the UV rays and reflect them away from the skin. Many of these products contain titanium dioxide. These products tend to give the skin a whitish colour after application but there are newer forms that are practically invisible. Some of them are even tinted to give a tanned appearance to the skin.
Dermatologists generally recommend a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) greater than 15. A SPF of 15 means that the sunscreen offers fifteen times greater protection than the skins natural level of protection. The frequency of application of the sunscreen depends on your skin type. For example a person with skin type 1 might need to apply the sunscreen every one to two hours whereas a person with less sensitive skin might only need to apply it every two to three hours. It is important to realise that sunscreens have a short shelf life once opened therefore it is probably best to throw out any remaining sunscreen from last year. In other words buy a new sunscreen every year.
Sunbeds have become very popular in recent years and many people choose to use sunbeds prior to going on a sun holiday in the mistaken belief that a sunbed-induced tan offers them protection against being burned. It is estimated that a sunbed-induced tan only offers protection to the level of a SPF 2 sunscreen. Therefore people who use sunbeds need additional sun protection when exposed to natural sunlight. As previously stated sunbeds emit UVA rays and natural sunlight consists of a mixture of UVA and UVB. A person who has used a sunbed is still exposed to the risk of being burned by UVB to the same extent as the person who did not use sunbeds at all. Having a sunbed induced tan can create a false sense of security. So you need to use sunscreens even if you have had a number of sessions on the sunbed prior to your sun holiday.
It is important to emphasise that clouds do not offer protection against UV radiation. It is estimated that 85% of the suns UV radiation penetrates the clouds and reaches the earth surface. Therefore protection from the sun is an issue for all the year round and not just the summer.
We need to re-think our views about suntans. Maybe we should be thinking that a healthy tan is one you apply from a bottle and not one you acquire by deliberately exposing your skin to radiation.
Dr Leonard Condren is the medical editor of irishhealth.com
Last Reviewed: 22nd July 2002
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 00:48|
|About time someone put the record straight. Congrats Dr. Condren.|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 08:58|
|I have some eczema. I find that it usually clears up in summer when I get the sun. Does the sun have a good effect on skin conditions such as mine?|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 09:06|
|I know it is bad sunning yourself. But when I go on holiday I always burn at the beginning. I find it difficult to get a tan. What is the best way to get a tan without burning?|
|Lorraine(lorraine-g) Posted: 24/07/2002 09:09|
|Just back from 2 weeks in the sun and it was great. For the first year ever I didn't get burnt but came back with a light tan that should last a few weeks. I would never use a sun bed.|
|Helen(helenosullivan) Posted: 24/07/2002 09:12|
|Modern lotions that give the look of a suntan are fantastic. These products also have a terrific moisturising quality and after application the skin looks brown, moisturised and feels fabulous.|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 09:15|
|Dear Dr. Condren, Your article sends a very clear message to all that a suntan is achieved at a price to our health. Even so, I am one of the people who deliberately seeks out a tan every year on holiday and even though I feel guilty doing so, I really like the tanned look. Also, I am very fair and I know that I am damaging my skin but I still pursue that tan! I must say that I do use plenty of sun lotion but I use a sunbed before I go to give me a base. After reading your article I seem to be doing myself a lot of harm. Have you any good news for me?|
|sara(floraville) Posted: 24/07/2002 09:26|
|The best tan is the Lancone Flash bronzer moose! having said that I will still hope to tan while on holiday but will definately be using factor 15.|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 10:01|
|Can we also be sure that what comes out of a bottle is good for our skins?|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 10:03|
|One of my pet puzzles - why do so many people who go to the gym regularly, presumably in part for their health, also have a session on the sun bed while they are there?|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 10:11|
|Good article. Is there a reduction on the occurrence of skin cancer due to the availability of SPF's? they are a revolution. Perhaps too early to say. How do the figures in Ireland compare to sunny countries? The P20 (all day application) is great, esp for kids.|
|Eileen(Cowboy) Posted: 24/07/2002 12:44|
|our young son got a bad burning in enniscrone last week after only a few hours we had cream on him but through our own fault we forgot to reaplie it often. yet last year in spain we made sure they had cream on all the time and the did not burn at all so beware of the irish sun.|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 16:01|
|I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Condren's advice. I probably fit into the 3 or 4 skin category and despite agreeing with such good advice, I look my best with a 'healthy' sun tan. This year I have been getting my tan from a bottle, looks ok, but not as good as the real thing!|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/07/2002 21:17|
|What would be the best way to get a good suntan when i'm in group 3 i want to get a nice suntan but it's not easy and it hurts when i'm getting it. please help Dr.|
|pauline(lavender) Posted: 26/07/2002 20:44|
|Can you say whether it is a good idea to apply sunscreen(factor 35) to a red haired child all the time she is in the sun. Does it affect the absorbtion of vitamin D, as the child concerned abhors milk and all milk products. Will it have an effect on her bones in the future?|
|Anonymous Posted: 29/07/2002 15:06|
|I must have unique skin I never ever ever burn and I never ever ever tan - I've even tryed one sun holiday and came home as white as I went - my skin is as fair as can be - so what skin type do I come under?|
|Anonymous Posted: 12/03/2003 11:47|
|I have white skin and auburn hair. I never sunbathe because I love the way I look anyway and so does my boyfried. When I go abroad however, I don't like to bare legs that are too lilly white so I use some false stuff to give a bit of a colour. What's so wrong with white skin anyway? Look at Nicole Kidman.. dead sexy and looking much younger than her age!|
|Anonymous Posted: 20/03/2003 11:58|
|I probably fall under group 2 or 3 when it comes to sunbathing; I am very pale(but a pinkish pale) but strangely have dark brown hair and eyes! I am not a fanatic about having a tanned complexion but find when I do have a little colour in the summer it makes me feel healthier and a little more confident in my appearance. I am getting married this coming Sept and am considering having a couple of sessions on the sunbed, which I have never used before. The only reason for this is I dont want to look like the 'Adams family' on my wedding day and I am allergic to most false tanning products! I'm presuming a few sessions won't do much harm? I hope?! I dont intend to make a habit of it.|
|David(djbm73) Posted: 24/04/2003 14:05|
|I suffer from mils psoriasis and I find in the summer, the condition diminishes. Almost goes away for the few months of sunshine we get. Last winter, the psoriasis was getting worse and worse. So, I had one sunbed session and, it began to clear. So, I continued with the sessions and the condition, once again, almost disappeared. I also looked very good and felt healthier. Strange. But as long as I suffer from psoriasis, I will seek out the sun in summer and supplement it with sunbeds in the winter...|
|Anonymous Posted: 09/06/2003 21:43|
|I am dark but I find using high factors gives a more attractive, longer-lasting tan.|
|louise(Louycaff) Posted: 09/07/2003 21:52|
|I am using factor 20,am in the no.2 catagory,why have I broken out in a very itchy nettle rash?I am avoiding the sun completely,will it last long|
|catherine(daly78) Posted: 24/07/2003 14:36|
|I sometimes get what looks like nettle rash on the palms of my hands and i was told that it is only heat rash and is nothing to worry about.|
|katrina(irishting) Posted: 23/06/2004 13:56|
|I am just back from 2 wks in sunny spain, I recommend use a high factor for first few days , i started with 15 for bout first 5 days, then went to 12 for 4 days and 8 aft that last 3 days i went down to protective oil factor 10. I got a lovely tan, first time ever i think getting a healthy even tan, i think the trick was starting high not getting burnt and when i got a kind of base i reduced the factor gradually... woz thinking of going on sunbeds to maintain the tan but am wary of them...have booked a session but may cancel it, never been on them before.... Remember its not worth getting burnt on your hols, wont make you attractive....be careful..|
|Patricia(GMC11099) Posted: 26/06/2004 15:04|
|There is a wonderful product out (all cosmetic companies manufacture it) Use it. The sun is dangerous, and skin cancer is not very nice. It can also kill you. Even black people can get skin cancer. Protection factors are meaningless. Besides, we are Irish, not Greek, Turkish or whatever. Our skin is SUPPOSED to be white. Besides white is fashionable. Look at the models and actresses - white as snow. Smart ladies. They intend to look like a peach rather than a prune, particularly in later life. I am Irish, but live in a continental country, and I never, ever, take the sun. Fake tan is best, I assure you.|
|Canadianchick1986 Posted: 18/04/2006 15:58|
|I\'m from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and sanning beds seem to be all the rage here. Everyone thinks that a sun tan means that you\'re healthy. I\'ll admit, I tend to sun in our backyard about once a week. I tan more than I burn, but I\'ve the freckles and the fair skin. Every summer, I go down to Cuba with a bunch of students and everyday before they head out, I always remind them: \"You\'ll still tan with a factor 30...\" Oh, and please don\'t do what this one girl did. She went tanning for a WHOLE DAY with only slathering on a body shimmer lotion, saying that \"the little sparkles will reflect the UV rays away from my skin.\" Don\'t be stupid. ALWAYS WEAR PROTECTIVE CLOTHING AND AT LEAST A FACTOR 30! Your skin will thank you.|
|- Posted: 20/06/2007 21:26|
|I want to get a suntan fast. I know that it won't happen instantly but I read on another website to get a fast tan go on a sunbed for five minutes for about one week, what do you think about this ? should i do it? and if anybody else has any other infomation on how to get a fast suntan , could you please share it with me.|
|Anonymous Posted: 19/05/2008 12:27|
|Patricia, the sun is not "dangerous", in fact it is the body's only way of restoring depleted viatmin D levels, without which the body will not absorb calcium. The australians back in the 80's went on a big sunblock kick advising you women to use sunblock. 20 years on some are showing signs of osteoporosis. To say protection factors are meaningless is utter nonsense, use the factor that is right for your skin, remember the wonderful effect sunlight has on serotinin and as a result out mental health, not to mention the positive effect it has on skin conditions and like anything else - red wine, red meat, sugar - moderation is key. Be sensible.|
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