Health & Wellness Articles

Sun Protection Tips for Healthy Skin

Get the Facts about Tanning, Sunscreen, and More

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More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States and over 10,000 people will die from the disease each year. This number hits even closer to home when you consider that almost one in five Americans is expected to develop some type of skin cancer in his or her lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Once only a concern during the summer months, tanning is now a year-round skin danger with the thinning of the ozone layer and the abundance of artificial tanning salons. The two primary types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation are UVA rays (which deeply penetrate the skin and cause the most genetic damage) and UVB rays (the "burning" rays). The National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization report that both UVA and UVB rays can cause cancer.

Damaging UVA rays and UVB ultraviolet rays slip through your windows and even a healthy jog around the block can wreak havoc on your skin, as the cellular damage from UV radiation accumulates over time. But the prime culprit behind most cases of skin cancer is sun damage from tanning.

What is Tanning?
Many people assume that a tan protects them, when in fact a tan is actually a sign of skin damage. Tanning is the skin’s reaction to UV radiation from the sun or an artificial tanning bulb. When skin is exposed to UV rays, it tries to protect itself by producing a brown pigment called melanin, which darkens the cells of the outer layer of skin (epidermis). Tanning is your skin’s imperfect defense mechanism against further damage, and darker tans cause the most permanent damage.

UV rays damage the DNA of your skin cells and even though your body repairs a lot of the damage successfully, over time the leftover damage can lead to cellular mutations that cause skin cancer. Ongoing, unprotected UV exposure can also age the skin, causing wrinkles, sagging and brown spots. UV radiation is also a major cause of cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye.

Some people have the mistaken impression that tanning the skin is healthier than getting sunburned, but both cause DNA damage to the skin cells, which isn't immediately apparent. According to the National Institutes of Health, by the time a person sees and feels sunburn (about six to eight hours after sun exposure), it is too late. Permanent damage is a delayed effect that takes years to show up, and damage from tanning accumulates over time. Sunburn has been definitively linked to melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer. Some research shows that experiencing just one sunburn can more than double your risk of developing melanoma.
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

  • Is it me

    or

    is the girl in the picture

    giving us the finger

    LoL !


    GREAT article

    Am going to send it to my
    fair-skinned, red-headed son
    so he will use the shot-glass/1 oz
    amouint necessary
    No wonder he ALWAYS gets burned
    although he says he uses lotion


    THANKS!

    - 10/2/2013 12:16:07 AM
  • i have light brown colored skin and it's also sensitive. I'm allergic to sunscreen. I got a sunburn last summer and possibly 2 times in the summer and a couple times in the winter from sun reflection off the snow. I was hoping for a more natural defense against the sun.
    - 2/21/2013 5:05:12 PM
  • I used to consider tanning a "hobby". I still look wistfully at the tanning salons when I go by. I am now almost 49 years old though, and see the results in the mirror every day. - 10/17/2012 11:13:18 AM
  • To HEALTHYJEN11 and anyone else allergic to sunscreens -

    Google sunscreen clothing and you'll come up with reputable clothing companies. The one I use is fabulous! Hats, gloves, even sleeves only to use when driving, skirts, swimwear - the list is endless. - 10/17/2012 9:34:59 AM
  • warning tanners against the danger of UV rays is like warning smokers against the danger of their tobacco and other poisons. we know the risks. however, I CAN stop tanning whenever I want, it isn't an addiction. and it's a LOT cheaper to visit the cancer beds than to buy the cancer sticks. and while smokers complain of having to freeze in the winters for their vice, I'm toasty warm and relaxed all year round. - 10/17/2012 12:24:25 AM
  • Because of my ancestry I have never felt compelled to be a huge fan of sunscreen. I like to get some sun but generally wear long sleeves even in summer and tend to wear jeans all year long unless I am exercising. - 10/10/2012 8:29:03 PM
  • Well ....Dr' Oz has come around( because of new research)... and NOW recomends the tanning beds that use the UVB....saying no more that 5 minutes each time for health - 7/7/2012 7:26:55 PM
  • I burn instantly in the sun, but am allergic to sunscreen... what's a girl to do??? - 6/23/2012 8:56:14 PM
  • 'Scuse me while I have a chuckle up here at 60 degrees northern latitude. With only 5 hours of sunlight on December 26, and the sun inching along a little hop over the southern horizon, UV damage to my skin isn't one of my big worries today! - 12/26/2011 12:05:44 PM
  • Here is a report to help find non-toxic sunscreens.
    http://breaking
    news.ewg.org/
    2011sunscreen/ - 6/28/2011 12:55:06 PM
  • Zinc based sunscreens are the only really effective ones. The sunscreens with ingredients ending in "-one" break down in the sun (!), plus they have those synthetic hormone effects. I use zinc spf 50 waterbabies by coppertone to keep the sun off. - 6/28/2011 12:53:48 PM
  • Regarding questions about sunscreen, when you go to the drugstore look for sunscreens that are made for the face (Neutrogena, Aveeno, etc). On a hot sweaty day, you can use these sunscreens and avoid the stinging eyes.

    You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a decent sunscreen as you'll find if you watch this 2011 video about the recent Consumer Reports sunscreen rankings: http://www.ivilla
    ge.com/best-s
    unscreens-201
    1/4-h-359633?
    dst=iv%3AiVil
    lage%3Abest-s
    unscreens-2011-359633

    And if you are wanting to avoid the greasy feel of sunscreens, you can find those, too. I like Neutrogena. http://www.viewpo
    ints.com/Non-
    Greasy-Sunscreen

    And Avon has a product that is both a bug repellant and a sunscreen.

    Don't forget that many lotions and make-up foundations and powders now include some sunscreen protection. And you don't have to spend lots of money. This site lists eight inexpensive make-up brands with sunscreen:
    http://www.asso
    ciatedcontent
    .com/article/
    816447/what_i
    s_the_best_ma
    keup_foundation.html?cat=69

    The upside is that if you take care of your skin you'll be one of the wrinkle-free people later in life! - 6/28/2011 9:38:52 AM
  • I am also a Melanoma Survivor. Never laid out in the sun, but was always in sports, probably didn't cover up enough when I was younger. I am a 9 year survivor! - 6/28/2011 9:26:13 AM
  • I'm another survivor of melanoma and also have had a basal cell cancer on my face.

    You can get vitamin D from other sources than the sun. Fair-skinned folks can get their daily dose of Vitamin D with a few minutes in the sun. Others may only need 15 minutes in the sun.
    See http://health.usn
    ews.com/healt
    h-news/family
    -health/heart
    /articles/200
    8/06/23/time-
    in-the-sun-ho
    w-much-is-needed-for-vitamin-d

    The rest of the time plan to use sunscreen.

    The Canadians put together a very effective video: "Dear 16-year-old Me." Some of us already made mistakes in our youth regarding sunburn, etc. We can prevent this problem in our children and grandchildren. Go to:
    http://www.yout
    ube.com/watch
    ?v=_4jgUcxMezM - 6/28/2011 9:20:15 AM
  • Is there a good sunscreen to use when doing outdoor exercise? If I use ordinary sunscreen it runs into my eyes when I sweat. - 6/28/2011 7:58:01 AM

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