It is tempting, if not irresistible, to emulate their beauty by succumbing to the dangers of both natural and artificial sunlight, despite the warnings of skin cancer and premature aging.
The significant difference between the two types of rays are related to their wavelengths, but both cause damage to your skin. While the longer UVA rays penetrate the skin deeper, they also break down collagen and elastic tissue and generate free radicals and oxidative damage, according to Welch.
The shorter UVB rays cannot reach this deep, but they cause mutations in the DNA of skin cells in the higher layers of skin and cause sunburns.
While you are less likely to burn from UVA rays, it is still possible and UVA rays have proved to be linked to increased melanoma rates.
Not only are UVA rays dangerous, but they can also be accounted for rapidly aging skin. "By penetrating deeper into the skin, the longer UVA rays actually break down collagen and elastin and stimulate wrinkling even faster than sunlight alone. This accounts for the 'leathery' appearance of the skin of chronic indoor tanning bed users," says Welch.
However, Dr. Welch is quick point out that "most people get this much incidental light on various areas of their skin during their daily activities, and have no need to seek additional artificial light exposure to make vitamin D."
In fact, despite the health benefit of vitamin D, skin cancer is most commonly seen on the most chronically exposed areas of the body, such as the head and neck, from incidental sun exposure.
Also, vitamin D is readily available in many dietary sources, such as dairy products, fish, liver, egg yolks, and fortified orange juice. Dr. Welch says, "There is no need to encourage wrinkles and skin cancer by trying to make vitamin D with your face!"
Both tanning beds and overexposure to sunlight end up doing more harm than good.
According to the NCI, women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Other types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), which can easily be prevented, will affect 40 to 50 percent of Americans who live to be 65 years old.
According to the NCI, people at greatest risk are those with fair skin; blonde, red or light hair; and blue, green, or gray eyes.
Artificial and natural sunlight exposure is also most likely to affect those who easily burn, have already been treated for skin cancer or have skin cancer in their family history.
Dr. Welch, the NCI and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend the use of spray tans and other sunless tanning products in place of exposure to ultraviolet radiation from natural and artificial sunlight.
"I think the most attractive skin for my patients is healthy-looking skin, without wrinkles, spots, and other blemishes associated with chronic sun damage, so I encourage all of my patients to protect their skin from excessive sun exposure," says Welch.
"[Self-tanners] are very safe, and while they offer little protection against sunburns, they can allow women to have a little 'summer color' without paying the price in premature aging and skin cancer surgery down the road."
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