Following hours of work, stress and fatigue, we cannot wait to find ourselves lounging on a sunbed with the UV rays beating down on us. Its warmth absorbed by our skin, our bones and even our soul. An opportunity to breathe out and to relax. Finally… me time.
Our skin tone deepens and our freckles emerge and we examine our tan lines with pride and contentment. We apply after-sun and its smell taking us back to family holidays and joyful memories of playing in the sun – running through the sprinkler in our underwear, playing rounders at the park and gulping down Mr Whippy ice cream from the ice cream van.
We feel good and we feel we look good.
It is, therefore, difficult to believe that this process is fast becoming as dangerous as smoking. In 2010 there were 12,818 new cases of malignant melanoma diagnosed in the UK– the most invasive form of skin cancer. (The numbers are unconfirmed for 2013, but local dermatologists agree that numbers are dramatically increasing as we choose to engage in further tanning sessions and outdoor activities.)
Despite our own perception and that of western society, having a tan is not a hallmark for health. It represents damaged cells and slowed skin cell renewal. The slower the skin turns over its cells, the more aged we appear, the more wrinkles we get and the worse we look in 10 years’ time.
Along with this, UVA and UVB rays found in sunlight damage the DNA within skin cells in the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (inner layer) leading to genetic mutations and ultimately skin cancer. Over 8,000 Americans die from this every year.
UVA Vs UVB
Dubai has also recently introduced UVA only tanning booths to many of its spas and salons. Those without time or patience to sunbathe, need not be without a tan! A quick 10-minute blast of UVA and we are golden, glowing and beautiful. Marketing claims suggesting the use of UVA, without UVB, should provide us with reassurance. ‘UVB being the main contributor to sunburn and skin cancer…’
Whilst it is true that UVB can potentially be more potent than UVA at damaging cellular DNA, it is a misleading claim that UVA is without significant harm. UVA reaches deeper than UVB and is concentrated up to 25 times more in tanning booths than the rays found in sunlight. It is also responsible for deepening the skin tone and therefore significantly speeds up the ageing process. People using sunbeds are estimated to have a 2.5% increased chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5% increased the chance of developing basal cell carcinoma. The former of which is more aggressive.
Immunosuppression has also been reported in UV radiation. DNA becomes damaged and protective cytokines ( a tumour type of protein) are no longer expressed. In healthy skin, these cytokines provide tumour surveillance across the skin’s layers, seeking tumour cells and signalling for other cells to destroy them. Our body’s ability to identify and kill off faulty cells is therefore compromised and neoplasms (tumours) are allowed to develop. And develop quickly.
Protect your skin with new habits
If you are someone who has abused the good nature of the sun, it is never too late to learn new habits and change your skincare routine. Keep out of the sun during midday, increase the size of your sunglasses and sun hats for maximum facial protection. Wear loose, feminine dresses at the beach to protect your shoulders and layer on factor 30, or above, anywhere you can see even a margin of skin. Sunscreen absorbs the UV rays and even bounces a few back into the atmosphere.
For the age damage already endured, medications deriving from vitamin A can be prescribed, along with specific skin care regimes to ‘youth’ the skin and to try and re-obtain its elasticity and life. These cannot be used, however, without SPF 30 or above. Any attempts at anti-ageing are useless without honest avoidance of sun exposure. However natural the end result, it is never as good as primary prevention; sunscreen and shelter.
Although there are treatment options available for some skin cancers, not all will result in eradication of the disease. Metastasis and spread will inhibit our ability to fight cancer successfully. This can be fatal and is a very real, often irreversible, side effect of the sun. So if skin ageing is all that concerns you about sunbathing, think a little more carefully.
Despite this, we need to be realistic. We do not see J-Lo without her bronzed booty or will we ever see Eva Mendez without her chocolate tones. So if there is still a part of your life missing…that aspect of your body that makes an extra stone just a little more bearable…that warmth to your skin tone that makes wearing bright, light, bold colours a little more dynamic…get yourself to St Tropez and spray.
Fake it, don’t bake it.
This post was written by Dr Jenna Burton, a Pall Mall Medical expert.