Moderation key to prevent skin damage

Artificial tanning, sunlight share pros, cons

Although a deep summer tan may be desirable, many may not understand the benefits and risks of tanning.

"There's no question that there are benefits," said Dr. Kent Bullis, medical director at the Amelia T. Wood Student Health Center.

Exposure to ultraviolet light causes the body to produce vitamin D.

According to the National Institute of Health, vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones.

Bullis also said that exposure to the sun and other sources of light, such as indoor tanning beds, has been shown to improve the overall mood of individuals, as well as treat depression.

He also said that recent research indicates certain types of cancers are more prominent in northern areas, and less common in southern states, which have weather more suitable for sun bathing. Exposure to sunlight is believed to be linked to the frequency of these types of cancer.

One local tanning shop owner said that melanin, the chemical produced in the skin which causes it to darken, acts as an antidepressant and makes individuals more energetic.

Bullis said UV light is divided into two categories. UVB rays can burn the surface of the skin. The longer UVA rays penetrate the deeper layers of the skin, and can damage the tissue there.

Many individuals wishing to tan may have heard negative information regarding indoor tanning beds and the effects on the likelihood of skin cancer. Several local tanning shop owners said that tanning in an indoor bed is no different from tanning under the sun. They also said that any exposure to UV light, from the sun or from a bed, will cause someone to be more likely to develop skin cancer.

One problem beds have compared to the sun is that an individual tanning in a bed will tolerate more radiation, since the skin remains cool to the touch, Bullis said. In the sun, one realizes he or she is beginning to burn, and gets out of the sun.

According to "Indoor Tanning," published by the Federal Trade Commission, "two types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell, are treatable if detected early. Melanoma, another type of skin cancer, can be fatal."

When an individual has more than two second-degree burns, the risk of skin cancer goes up, Bullis said.

One local tanning shop owner said, "Tan skin is healthy skin."

Bullis would disagree.

"Tanning itself is fine damage to the skin," Bullis said.

Bullis said that the skin darkens because it is trying to defend itself from radiation. According to the FTC, tanned skin is more likely to wrinkle and sag than untanned skin.

Both Bullis and tanning shop owners said that it is important to use protective lotions.

Using moisturizers when tanning in a bed can help prevent burning, one local shop owner said.

Bullis said that it is important to wear sun block when out in direct sun, and that people should avoid the sun during the hottest times of the day.

Bullis said that we cannot avoid the sun, but the most important thing is to "emphasize moderation."