Tanning Myths and How They Can Affect Your Health

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Experts say you should wear sunscreen whenever you go out in the sun. BARTON/Getty Images
  • A new survey reports that a large majority of people think tanning is healthy.
  • Experts say tanning is the body’s reaction to DNA damage caused by the sun.
  • They say overexposure to the sun can lead to skin damage as well as skin cancer.
  • They recommend wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, including a hat, outside.

A large majority of Europeans – and people elsewhere in the world – apparently think a tan is attractive and healthy.

The first may be debatable, but dermatologists say the second is completely wrong.

The results of the survey presented to the 31st Congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology this week revealed that 8 out of 10 Europeans say tanned skin is attractive and 73 percent consider a tan to be “healthy”.

Both beliefs were also common outside of Europe, including North and South America, Africa, Oceania, and Asia. According to a survey of 17,000 people worldwide, 67% of non-Europeans consider tanned skin to be attractive and 59% believe a tan is healthy.

However, Dr. Thomas Wangdirector of dermatological oncology at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian Melanoma & Complex Skin Cancer Program in California, told Healthline that tanning is the body’s protective response to DNA damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

“When you get a tan, there’s an indication that DNA damage has already taken place,” he said.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the survey conducted by La Roche-Posay Laboratories and Ipsos nevertheless revealed that 92% of Europeans and 86% of non-Europeans knew that exposure to the sun ages the skin.

“If you’re not worried about skin cancer, just remember that sun exposure can make you age faster,” Wang said.

“About 90% of skin aging is caused by sun exposure”, Dr Angela Casey, a dermatologist at the Center for Surgical Dermatology and Dermatology Associates in Ohio and founder of youth skincare company Bright Girl, told Healthline. “Each day that you apply sunscreen helps your skin stay protected from sun damage. Just like regular exercise and a healthy diet for your body, regular use of sunscreen daily will help your skin to stay healthy and strong.

Most people, including 84% of Europeans and 79% of non-Europeans, said they do not protect themselves from the sun all year round.

In fact, researchers found that only 10% of Europeans and 14% of those outside Europe regularly used sunscreen, wore a hat and protective clothing, and tried to stay in the shade all year round. to avoid exposure to the sun.

Casey noted that not only can the sun damage skin in any season, but even UV rays reflected from water, snow and other shiny surfaces can be harmful.

Other common misconceptions highlighted in the survey were that a tan protects the skin from burns – eliminating the need to apply sunscreen – and that sunscreen is not necessary when the weather is overcast. .

“The extra melanin in tanned skin can give an SPF of 2 to 4, which is slightly better than no SPF at all,” Casey said. “However, an SPF of 2-4 is far from adequate sun protection, and skin can easily be burned after short sun exposure with so little sun protection.”

“This research shows how entrenched the myth of a ‘healthy’ tan is – even among those who have already suffered sun damage or developed skin cancer,” said the lead researcher. Dr Thierry PasseronThe survey’s lead researcher and professor and director of the department of dermatology at Côte d’Azur University in Nice, France, said in a press release.

“The belief that a tan is healthy and attractive is a deep-rooted, learned belief that probably began in the 1920s,” Casey said. “Before this time, tanned skin was associated with outdoor work, usually done by the lower working class. In contrast, the wealthier upper class boasted of being pale-skinned, often using parasols to protect their skin from the sun when outdoors. This attitude changed in the 1920s, when fashion icon Coco Chanel, as well as revered publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, began to associate tanned skin with leisure, wealth, travel and status. social.

Even 72% of people at high risk, including those who have had skin cancer before, consider tanning to be healthy, according to the survey – a figure higher than among those who had no history of skin cancer. skin or other skin conditions related to sun exposure. .

“My patients with a history of skin cancer probably spent more time in the sun than their counterparts who did not have skin cancer. value to recreational experiences, vacations, or work that allowed their sun exposure,” Casey said. “Most of them wouldn’t go back and change those experiences for the trade-off of not getting cancer. of the skin. They associate tanning with important events in their life. As such, many have associated “tanning” with health, vibrancy, pleasure, leisure, productivity, happiness.

Such attitudes die hard, Casey said, and require a step-by-step approach to change.

“My advice is to employ atomic habits. Make small changes in your routine that you can make consistently,” she said. sporting events. Put your sunscreen next to your toothbrush. Remembering to brush your teeth and having your sunscreen there helps sun protection stay front and center. Focus on applying sunscreen to your face, scalp and ears, as these areas are exposed to the sun most days.

Experts have pointed out that sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours to provide full protection, but half of those surveyed who used sunscreen only applied it once a day (and 10% said they didn’t). never use sunscreen at all).

“Most people don’t apply the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the SPF rating on sunscreen products,” Casey said. “In fact, studies show that, in general, most of us apply enough of it to achieve only half of a sunscreen product’s SPF rating.”

The Society of Pediatric Dermatology offers these sunscreen guidelines:

  • For young children, half a teaspoon for the face and an ounce for the body.
  • For older children, teens, and adults, use at least nine teaspoons total, including one teaspoon for face and neck, one for chest, one for back, one teaspoon for each arms and two teaspoons for each leg.

Most sunscreens are only effective for 90 to 120 minutes, experts note.

They say the choice of sunscreen is also important. The Society of Pediatric Dermatology recommended a broad-spectrum sunscreen (blocking both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of 30 or higher. Casey said people with lighter skin should use a minimum SPF of 45.

Direct sun exposure should be avoided during peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommended wear protective clothing outdoors, including a wide-brimmed hat to protect face, scalp, ears and neck.

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