The Science Of Sun Tanning

Now that the summer is in full effect, people are flocking to beaches all around the GTA to take in the suns rays and get that perfect tan they’ve been dreaming of all winter. But how many of them¬†actually stop to think about why our skin gets tanned in the first place and what is a safe level of exposure to the sun?

We all know that too much exposure to the sun can be dangerous, causing sunburn or, even worse, skin cancer. Even with this general knowledge, there are still many people that spend hours on end laying in the sun on hot summer days, not knowing how much exposure is considered “too much”.

sun tanning

This is actually a tough question to answer because it is really dependent on several factors, some of which are unique to each person. In this article we break down the science of sun tanning explaining how your body reacts to the suns UV rays and how long is a safe amount of time to spend directly in the sun.

How Sun Tanning Works

Although tanned skin may be considered a thing of beauty in Canada, it is in fact our bodies natural response to protect the skin from harmful UV rays. It is a natural process that happens in many animals, with humans being the only ones that deliberately put ourselves in harms way for this process to occur.

How UVB and UVA rays penetrates into the skin
How UVB and UVA rays penetrates into the skin

To understand how sun tanning works, first you must understand that we are exposed to two types of UV radiation from the sun; UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are what makes people tan and is the majority of what we are exposed to, while UVB rays are more dangerous, potentially causing the top layer of our skin to burn.

When UVA rays make contact with our skin they penetrate deep into the lower layers of the epidermis, causing cells known as melanocytes to produce melanin, the brown pigment that so many of us strive for. UVA rays also oxidize any melanin that is already at the surface of the skin causing the browning process to occur quickly. The purpose of melanin production is to protect the upper layers of the skin from being further damaged by excessive UV exposure by absorbing a large amount of it.

What is considered “too much” sun exposure

In reality, any deliberate exposure to powerful UV rays is too much, according to the FDA. Of course you will be exposed to the sun regardless as you are going about your daily life, but this is considered natural exposure and is actually a good thing since it produces vitamin D. When you instead decide to go lay in the sun for hours at a time just to get a tan, you are purposely damaging your skin just to look good.

sun burn

Even if you do get a tan, the protection that the tan offers is not significant by any means. The recommended protection from the sun is an SPF of 15, whereas the average tanned skin will only provide an SPF of approximately 5, leaving your skin exposed to harmful UV rays. The more time you spend in the sun, the more likely that the suns rays can burn the top layer of your skin, and in the long run maybe even develop skin cancer.

Safe Alternatives To Sun Tanning

It’s understandable that people want to achieve a nice skin color to impress those around them. But is it really worth the risk of damaging your skin or getting skin cancer?

Luckily there are safe ways to make your skin a beautiful golden hue without exposing it to damaging UV rays. The most popular method available is to use a sunless tanning solutions like spray tanning.

spray tanning

Spray tanning uses an ingredient known as DHA which interacts with amino acids on your skins top layer. The reaction causes a brownish pigment to be produced giving you the same glow that a natural sun tan would yield, minus the exposure to harmful UV rays. The only problem with this is that your skin won’t have greater protection from the sun like it would if it was naturally tanned, but at least you’re not damaging your skin in the process.

In reality, we should all stop focusing so much on social norms that tell us what is and what isn’t beautiful at the expense of our health. Instead just be happy for what you have in life knowing that we all have our own unique beauty from within, regardless of the color of our skin.

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