The Hazards of Tanning


Remember Magda from There's Something About Mary? Spooky.

Author: Kara Mae Adamo.

 As the rosy glow of dawn creeps over the horizon, casting golden rays of sunlight across the sky, many of us rise to meet the coming day with smiles on our faces. We dress in light clothes and step out into the morning air—painted a warm flaxen yellow—with a feeling of calm happiness. We soak in the sunshine, pleased with the way the summer sun gives us glowing, tanned, healthy-looking skin.

It is easy, while appreciating every glimmering ray, to forget that we are in danger of over-exposing ourselves. Most sun burns are over quickly and can be soothed with lotions and aloe, so we shrug them off. For people like me—people who have darker skin and have lived along coastal beaches our whole lives—it is particularly easy to forget about it. It is a rare thing for me to burn, and so despite my parents’ ever-present reminders, I have often stretched out under the blazing Florida sun without so much as a drop of sunscreen.

As I get older, however, something really freaky seems to be happening: I’m finding out that my parents are right. About a lot of things. Especially sunscreen.

In honesty, I don’t know why I never listened before. I think it was a combination of my incessant laziness (yes. I was too lazy to put sunscreen on.) along with a very unhealthy attitude towards tanning. Not only am I a native beach-going-Floridian, but I am Sicilian. My ability to out-tan people was a source of pride growing up. All of my friends would freckle and burn and peel and there I’d be, golden brown as dark caramel, relishing in the delightful way my skin would change painlessly.

In our society, sporting a tan is considered an attractive quality. It is for that reason that this country is peppered with tanning salons and tanning oils: to feed the fervent desire to look tan year-around. Sunscreen puts a bit of a halt on the tanning process, and so we young’uns like to avoid it.

This is a bad idea. Say it with me, ladies, “sunscreen is my friend.”

This could be you.

I’ll start my argument off with the thing that will speak to us the loudest: the sun ages you. Think about any time you’ve been to the beach—especially in the south. Florida’s coastline, a retirees haven, is covered with people that have overexposed themselves. You know who I’m talking about. These are the people who eerily resemble The Dancing Raisinetts (yes, I realize I’m dating myself here).Leather-skinned and wrinkly, most of these individuals are nowhere near as old as they look. The sun will dry your skin. It will give you wrinkles, blemishes, melasma and brown spots all over the place. So unless you want to look like a prune permanently, lather on the sunscreen.

Now, that is a purely superficial situation. Eventually, if all goes according to plan, we will all become raisins…just some earlier than others. The real issue here is a bit more serious.

Skin cancer is the most diagnosed of all cancers. Of the many types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most serious and is common in people between 20-39 years old. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 120,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed every year. Last year, nearly 70,000 of these were invasive cases.

So how does this happen?

Basically, it works like this:

There are three types of ultraviolet rays. You should be wary of two of these (UVA and UVB rays). UVA rays are the most harmful, as they are longer and penetrate the skin, basically cooking it from underneath and prematurely aging it. Over time, these are the rays that can cause skin cancer—which can be fatal.

So what do I do?

Now, I don’t live in a cave. I know that there is no way in this universe anyone is going to walk around in a bee suit or hibernate like a bear until Labor Day is over. In fact, the latter wouldn’t do you much good anyway, since you’re still in danger during the winter seasons.

So here are a few tips for those sensational fun-in-the-sun days we all look forward to:

1.)    Wear sunscreen with a minimum of 15 SPF. Depending on your skin type, you may need a higher SPF. The number is based on how much exposure your skin can take before it begins to burn. 8 SPF isn’t going to help you—even if you’re almost un-burn-able. Just because you’re not pink and you’re not in pain (symptoms of UVB ray exposure) doesn’t mean the UVA rays aren’t causing damage. Also: reapply your sunscreen—even if it’s waterproof. You’re sweating it off whether you realize it or not and yes, you do sweat in the water, too.

2.)    Wear a hat. This does go for the ladies—but it especially goes for the fella’s. Gentlemen: if you are balding, please, wear a hat. Nothing is worse than a scalp burn (I got cornrows on a cruise in the Bahamas once and had strips of red along my head…dear Lord, the sunburn/headache combo is the worst.) If you hate hats, then I recommend investing in sunscreen designed specifically for your scalp. The wonders of science have, as it turns out, come up with such a thing. Cool, huh?

3.)    Wear lip balm. Nothing is more unkissable than lips that are chapped and scorched from the summer heat. Regular sunscreen doesn’t really help here…and it tastes funky.

4.)    Wear sunglasses. This one should be a no-brainer. Sunglasses are not only fashionable, but they help when you’re walking and driving around town because they keep the glare out of your eyes. Another thing they do is protect the sensitive skin around your eyes and your eyelids (regular sunscreen will all but blind you and will screw up your sun-day-fun-day). Also: sunglasses help prevent cataracts. If you are in the market for a new pair, I recommend polarized lenses with UV protection. If you can’t spring for the polarized pair, then at least go for UV protection, as without it the glasses will be nothing more than a spiffy accessory. (Hintedy-hint-hint: sunglasses help with glare from the snow in the winter, too.)

5.)    Check the UVI (the UV-Index). The UVI can be found in your local newspaper right near the weather section. It tells you how intense the rays are going to be. Everything is fine at UVI 0-2. If the rays are at UVI 6+, however, stay inside. You can lounge at the pool some other day. It’s just best not to risk it.

Aside from that, enjoy yourself. If you’re particularly prone to acne, I recommend going for sunscreen that is oil-free and noncomedogenic. If you burn with exceptional ease, try going for a sunscreen that has something called “physical blockers” in it like titanium dioixide and micron zed zinc oxide.

Avoid tanning beds. I know they make you look pretty, but they’re dangerous and addictive. Again, do you really want to look tanned and fabulous for the next five years in exchange for a lifetime of prunage? I thought not.

Keep hydrated and try to stay out of direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm. That is when the sun’s rays are at their height and when it is the most dangerous to be basking in the heat. Remember that sand and concrete and water all reflect the light, too, so you’re actually getting far more exposure than you may realize.

Other than that, enjoy the weather. Nothing feels better than relaxing outside on a warm summer day with a cold drink and a book or some music. Just be wary of the dangers and stay on the safe side and you will be able to look forward to many more enjoyable summer days :).

Find your local UVI here:


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