That Beautiful Tan May Mean Injured Skin!
TO GET their sun, they flock to beaches, parks, and roof patios. Their objective? That enviable, beautiful tan. Are you one of them? Then be careful! That tan may mean that your skin has been injured.
The Chemistry of a Tan
Your skin is your body’s largest and most exposed organ. When you sunbathe, or work or play outdoors for prolonged periods, you are exposing your skin to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Your body reacts to this dangerous radiation by increasing its output of a protective pigment called melanin. Your skin darkens—and you get your much desired tan. But the beautiful tan is meant to be a danger sign.
Although people who have naturally dark or black skin have greater protection, they also suffer some skin damage under extended exposure to sunlight.
The immediate effects of brief exposure to the sun are imperceptible. But they accumulate slowly over many years. The skin’s connective tissues, blood vessels, and cells are progressively weakened. After about 15 years, premature wrinkling and sagging of the skin will begin.
The damage could be more serious. Medical research has linked the rise in cases of malignant melanoma (skin cancer) with people’s increased exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. This connection is not fully understood, but it is thought that prolonged exposure contributes to a depressing of the body’s immune system.
According to American Health magazine, John A. Parrish, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, connects this with the fact that some 10 percent of your blood is always in your skin. He says that “within a few minutes the equivalent of your entire blood volume has passed through your skin, and it is at a level in the skin where it can be affected by UV radiation.” This radiation may inhibit the production of blood cells that fight infection, leaving the way open for skin cancer as well as the type 1 herpes virus that produces cold sores or fever blisters.
Protect Your Skin
Does this mean that you must say good-bye to sunbathing, to the beach, and even to working in the sun? No. You can protect your skin. The danger really comes from too much baring of your unprotected body. Even a suntan does not protect you. Your clothing does. So do cosmetic pigments like lipstick, powder, and other makeup.
There are sun blocks, such as zinc oxide and iron oxide (red ocher), that can be used. Preparations of these and certain other chemical compounds have been made into sunscreens that can be applied to the skin. With this protection, you can sunbathe or engage in other outdoor activities for two or three hours. Without the use of a sunscreen, it would not be wise to expose your bare body to the sun for more than 30 minutes each day. That is sufficient for absorbing the healthful benefits of sunlight.
Bear in mind, too, that water and snow reflect ultraviolet rays and that clouds do not block them. Yes, you can have the damaging effects of overexposure to the sun in the snows of winter or in the heat of the tropics! So avoid too much exposure under these conditions. Obviously, you would be most open to skin injury during summer or in the tropics during the hours when the sun is high in the sky.
Yes, the suntan is normally a symptom of injury to the skin. But by using protective applications and by wise timing of your sunbathing, you can prevent or greatly reduce serious consequences.
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‘Within a few minutes your entire blood volume can be affected by UV radiation’