Despite continual warnings about the harmful effects of indoor tanning (or any tanning, for that matter), countless people continue to bake their bodies.
Image: NBC Universal/WENN
With the media circus surrounding the “tanning mom,” who came under fire recently for taking her 5-year-old tanning, this tremendously unhealthy habit is back in the spotlight.
Expert skin safety
We turned to Dr. Tony Nakhla, author of The Skin Commandments: 10 Rules to Healthy, Beautiful Skin and medical director of the renowned O.C. Skin Institute, for more insight into the perils of tanning. And if you think tanning on the beach is somehow “safer” than hitting up a tanning bed, think again. “All tanning is bad. I wouldn’t distinguish one tanning regimen from another,” he tells us. “It’s similar to saying you only smoke one cigarette a day versus a pack a day. Both are bad.”
Harmful effects of tanning
While you may love having bronzed skin, the perceived aesthetic benefits are far outweighed by the negatives. “Indoor tanning causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles and blotchy sun spots,” says Nakhla. This means that the more you tan, the worse your skin will look as time passes. Even more important, sun exposure increases the risk of melanoma (the deadly type of skin cancer) sevenfold. “It also increases the risk of basal and squamous cell carcinomas, the most common types of skin cancer that are for the most part preventable.”
Why we tan
The reason people like the way they look when they’re tan is because the skin looks uniform in color. “Evenly pigmented skin appears smoother to the human eye and, in general, is more aesthetically pleasing,” Nakhla explains. In the short term (about three days to a week) skin tone appears even, but the effect doesn’t last. “In time, with multiple bouts of sun/UV exposure, the skin becomes blotchy as the pigment-producing cells spew pigment uncontrollably,” he warns.
The truth behind “tanorexia”
Nakhla describes the tanning mom and others like her as having a type of body dysmorphia, which means their image of themselves is distorted — they are preoccupied with a certain aspect of their appearance. In this case, people who tan obsessively may be convinced they need to be tan in order to look “normal” or “attractive.”
Despite the fascination we had with the tanning mom, Nakhla says there is a silver lining to the tremendous amount of press she’s gotten. “In many ways, she has personified the harmful habit of tanning and brought to light how truly ugly this behavior is,” he explains. “I think many people who are accustomed to tanning may have been put off by her appearance and perhaps thought twice about their own skin health habits.”
Nakhla shares his top sun safety tips to ensure skin stays healthy all summer – and beyond.
- Remember that there is no safe level of unprotected sun exposure.
- Wear SPF 15 or greater on your face daily.
- Wear SPF 55+ on sunny days or during extended sun exposure.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses.
- Never tan or burn your skin.
- Never use indoor tanning beds.
- Apply antioxidants to your skin like vitamin C, E, and EGT (L-ergothionene), which protect skin cells against UV radiation and harmful free radicals.