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Published: November, 2015; Vol 12, Num 6

Planning to Tan This Winter? Not So Fast

Even if you made regular use of sunscreen this past summer, you may notice that you picked up some added color. Depending on your skin tone and how much you lower your sun exposure in the fall and winter, this tan will begin to fade after a few weeks to a few months.

Plenty of people like to look tan year-round, but if you’re one of the 30 million Americans who tan indoors every year, it’s time to re-evaluate that idea. Indoor tanning using a tanning bed, booth or sunlamp exposes the body to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is proven to raise the risk for skin cancer.

Tanning and the Law

In May of 2014, the FDA reclassified tanning beds and sunlamps as having “moderate to high risk” and recommended banning anyone under 18 from using them. At least 42 states and the District of Columbia now have varying regulations restricting access for minors.

Just like the sun, these indoor devices expose the body to UVA rays (which cause premature skin aging) and UVB rays (which cause those painful sunburns). Multiple studies have linked indoor tanning with increased rates of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.

“Although some people think that a tan gives them a ‘healthy’ glow, any tan is a sign of skin damage,” says Sharon Miller, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientist and expert on UV radiation and tanning. “A tan is the skin’s reaction to exposure to UV rays.”

Thankfully, there are some alternatives for those who want to look tan without exposing themselves to harmful UV light.

Sunless Tanning Options

  1. Spray tans, also known as “airbrushing,” use an FDA-approved active ingredient known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to produce a darkening affect in the skin. Spray tans:
    • Last about a week
    • Can be done at home or by a professional
    • Generally produce a tan faster than lotions
  2. Sunless tanning lotions, gels and mousses also use DHA, but contain less than spray tans. These products:
    • Usually give a more gradual tan over time
    • Are done at home
    • Are more cost-effective than professional spray tans
  3. Cosmetic bronzers are very similar to makeup in that they are:
    • Applied at the beginning of the day and washed off at night with soap and water
    • Available in powder and gel form

If you’ve tried sunless tanning products in the past and been disappointed, now might be the time to give them another shot. Quality has increased along with demand in recent years as more people have realized the risks of UV-based tanning.

The LHSFNA recommends protecting your skin year-round by wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30. To order educational skin cancer prevention materials or learn more about what the LHSFNA is doing to prevent skin cancer, visit www.lhsfna.org and click on “Health Promotion” then “Sun Sense Plus” or call 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]